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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Saturday, 23 October 2010

New York Dive Bar Drinking

This city is like an abscess that I can't stop poking.  It makes London look like Somerset.

After Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' Empire State of Mind and Paloma Faith's New York, and of course the big daddy (why is that phrase sticking in my head?) New York New York,  I've been wondering why people write so many songs about NYC when no one does anything similar for London.  Sure, there are songs about London, songs set in London, songs that are of London, but no direct hymns of praise to the city like those NYC regularly gathers.  It's simply more impressive.  (Waterloo Sunset may be one of the best songs ever, but even it addresses London obliquely).

Stop to look around you at New York's awesomness though, and you're likely to be knocked into the road by someone who cannot stop or slow down and WILL NOT change their straight course down the pavement for anyone or anything.  I blame all the coffee: at 10pm, the Starbucks queues are almost out of the door, and there's one on almost every corner.

There are no people on bikes here.  Clearly that would be instant suicide, even for London's most hardy don't-give-a-shit weavers and pavement riders.  And there are no grocery stores - there's no Tesco Metro grab something to cook on the way home culture here.  Even shops that call themselves delicatessens don't sell fresh bread, fruit or vegetables.  What I thought was a clever move renting a self-catering apartment now starts to look flawed.

It's Friday night in Manhattan.  I've been in town for six hours.  I only had four hours sleep last night and my body clock is now suggesting it's 2am, but I need to stay awake for a couple more hours to try and beat the jet lag, so I look for a bar.  I know where the craft beer bars are, but when I start trying to walk there from my aparthotel in the garment district I realise my legs won't carry me more than a few blocks, so I look for somewhere closer to home. There were scores of Irish bars around here when I looked earlier, but now I can't find any.

And then, on West 44th Street just off Times Square, I come up trumps.

I'm not sure whether I should tell you about this place, but if you're around NYC it's probably already old news to you, and if you're not, well hopefully you'll fuhgedaboudit before you're next here.

Jimmy's Corner is about fifteen feet wide and every surface is crammed with framed photos of boxers.  It stretches back into a neon fairy-lit, jumbled haze for about sixty yards or so, but there's one spare stool at the bar so I grab it.  This is no Irish theme bar, no tourist destination.  It's what locals call a dive bar, but we use that word differently in the UK.  A British dive is run by someone who doesn't give a shit, makes no effort, just sells bad drink to people who need it.  This 'dive' may be shabby, but love and tradition are worn into every part of it, layers deep.  The mirrors behind the bar are almost covered in autographed dollar bills.  The bar top consists or laminated photographs of Jimmy (if it's him) and other bar staff meeting boxers, celebrities such as Paul McCartney, and a generous smattering of topless women.  Simple A4 signs, posted at regular intervals along the bar, read LET'S NOT DISCUSS POLITICS HERE.  There's a signed photo of someone out of The Sopranos.

The first pint of Sam Adams lager goes down without touching the sides.

I nicked this fantastic photo of Jimmy's Corner from the Time Out New York website.  I hope no one minds, because I daren't take a photo myself.  As this was the woman who served me, I think you can see why.
Everyone here is watching the baseball game.  Greying, careworn men with New York Italian or New York Irish accents order beers and tequilas, roar at the screen and argue over the rules.  The New York Yankees are playing the Texas Rangers and have to win this game to stay in the series, or cup, or whatever it is.  I order a second pint and watch, uncomprehending, as A-Rod hits what I would call a six and yet the score doesn't change - still 1-0 to Texas.  I watch for an hour, and the score gets to 1-1, and stays there.

I love this place.  It's not about the beer (although Sam Adams seems to be a regular fixture next to Bud, Bud Light and Rolling Rock in pretty much any New York bar now.  And if you're about to comment that 'yeah well, Sam Adams isn't really a craft beer now it's just as bad as Bud and anyway there are way better beers to try in the US such as x, y and z,' then congratulations on missing the point so impressively).  It's about finding pubs or bars that just have that feeling.  This is the kind of place you'd return to night after night, eager to establish a quiet routine, because it just feels like the kind of place you want to be.

Later, I'll Google it: apparently Jimmy Glenn was a boxing trainer who met Ali.  The walls are lined with his personal effects, and he still works here.  Despite its location, they reckon tourists accoutn for only 5% of custom.

But for now, I'm too tired to read or write any more.  It's 3am London time, which means I've been awake for 21 hours after only four hours sleep the night before.  I think if I go to bed now, I'll sleep through.

I get to my room ten minutes later.  I check the game: 5-1 to Texas.  I have no idea how this is possible.

G'night.

10 comments:

Libarbarian said...

On a visit to NYC in 2004 a friend and I stepped into Jimmy's one afternoon to get out of the rain. The rain stopped,the day turned to night and we never left. At least, I don't remember leaving.

Last NYC trip we got to know Tommy the Eternal Bartender. He regaled us with tales of Hell's Kitchen in the 70's.

Alan said...

One of your best posts, Pete. Sorry to be missing you on this run.

Eddie86 said...

It's about finding pubs or bars that just have that feeling. This is the kind of place you'd return to night after night, eager to establish a quiet routine, because it just feels like the kind of place you want to be.


Couldn't agree more

Paul Ruschmann said...

Thanks for an absolutely wonderful description of a NYC "dive bar". I grew up across the river in NJ, back when the drinking age in New York was 18, so I knocked back beers in quite a few of these establishments. Aside from adding Samuel Adams to the tap list, they probably haven't changed much since then.

Gary Gillman said...

Well said. I have passed by the place many times but never gone in. Occasionally though I will try a beer in a "normal" New York bar. The Gingerman is both normal New York bar and primo beer geek territory, so I'd rather hit two birds with one stone. It's just a different crowd there, not so much sports, more the business crowd.

Stout, to a lesser degree (West 33rd), is similar (it specializes resolutely in bottled and draft stout - not even a porter on the menu!).

Incidentally Sam Adams Lager is an excellent craft lager by my lights.

Gary

Gary Gillman said...

Pete, there are plenty of places that sell salads and various kinds of cold and hot food to take away in mid-town. They are spread through the mid-town, you'll find them.

Lexington Avenue has a number of groceries too where you can get milk, bread, cheese, cold cuts (the ubiquitous Boar's Head brand), fruit and veg. The Lex Ave groceries often are festooned with garden plants and flowers for sale outside. They sell beer too in the cold chests, often with excellent selections.

Gary

Martyn G said...

There are some wonderful bars to try in Brooklyn - so move your butt out of Manhattan. No doubt you'll quickly find all the cask beer that's going, sadly it still doesn't take too long. Favourites of mine when I was living in NY city are within 150 metres of each other on Atlantic Avenue in downtown Brooklyn. The Brazen Head and Pete's Waterside Bar (which isn't by the water!). Great cask and craft beers in both - Tuesday has all night Happy Hour in the BH. If you go, give my regards to Lou who runs the place. They will hopefully remember Martyn the Brit!

Anonymous said...

This is New York, the city that never sleeps. You can order in 24/7. Even beer! Or have your groceries delivered to your door about 5 minutes after you've bought them.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

We're like ships passing in the night, old cock.
Just back from NYC with Mrs Professor Pie-Tin where we successfully negotiated the " Professor Pie-Tin's 10-bar Piss-Up In Interesting Places Without Tourists ".
We managed Jimmy's No 43 but not your Jimmys.
But yeah, great town for bar hopping.

creamaledrinker said...

Well put. Hope you having fun in Rochester and will visit again.