Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The 3rd Avenue crawl

It's a curious facet of Manhattan's development that the richest bar-crawling areas are a couple of blocks in from the shore on each side of the island. You might have thought that the riverfront would be prime residential real estate, but in fact most of the shoreline is dominated by docks, and much of the area immediately inshore is given over to warehouses or other industrial use. The high-tone areas are mostly clustered more towards the middle of the island. Close to the river, it's mostly a bit of a wasteland, not much residential property, and what there is often very low-end. It's on the third block in that you start to find a lot of amenities for the working-class population. And so 3rd Avenue and 9th Avenue are the two best bar strips in the city.

The other week I hooked up with former Beijing drinking crony Dr Manhattan. Since he now works in Manhattan, and indeed near the lower middle reaches of 3rd Avenue, we arranged to meet there for a night of debauch.

On a few of my previous excursions to the Big Apple I had stayed in the Vanderbilt YMCA, which is in Mid-Town, in the upper 40s midway between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. The nearest bar I'd discovered on one of those trips, and still one of my favourites in the city, is a no-nonsense Irish boozer called Muldoon's. I therefore nominated that as our initial rendezvous.

Muldoon's is, I believe, unlike so many bars of its kind in America, genuinely Irish rather than faux Irish. The bar staff always sound pretty authentic to me, anyway (and on this occasion, one of them was a dazzlingly pretty blonde girl). And it has something of the subdued, occasionally funereal, atmosphere of pubs in the 'old country', where people slump solitary at the bar, silently contemplating their own thoughts. If you feel yourself in need of a spell of gloomy introspection (and I often do!), this is just the place. It is pretty much the perfect template of a bar for me: a long narrow space, low light, lots of aged wooden fittings, and a LONG wooden bar - just the right height for leaning. 

There's another fairly similar - but rather livelier - Irish bar called O'Neill's a block or two further north, which often has some great traditional musicians playing there. Alas, I didn't get to go there this time because the Doctor was lobbying for us to wander southward. He had his heart set on a bit of country/bluegrass music at a place about sixteen blocks away, but... that's a modest walk, and it was intermittently spotting with rain, so we had to duck into another bar en route to break our journey. There were many to choose from, but I plumped for the endearingly named Black Sheep, another Irish joint, uncannily similar to Muldoon's inside: LONG bar, good selection of Irish whiskies, tasty bar meals, and a chirpy, fresh-off-the-boat barmaid (although a sceptical Dr M wondered if she was in fact a resting actress who was merely putting the accent on; I am reasonably convinced it was authentic). Its distinctive quirk is that the bar top (which must be a good 25 yards long) is entirely covered with 'pennies' (1-cent coins); trying to estimate how many coins there are in total is quite a challenge to booze-fuddled powers of arithmetic.

I could quite happily have spent a longer part of the evening there - the curly fries were excellent and the barmaid was charming - but Dr Manhattan would have his music, so we pressed on to the Rodeo Bar at the corner of 27th Street, an expansive C&W joint that I think my friend The British Cowboy would approve of. Most of the space is given over to a very decent looking BBQ restaurant (although I didn't have a chance to sample the food), but the narrower left-hand side of the establishment is more of a bar, with the long room focused on a small stage at the far end. There are live music shows every night, mostly of a country-ish flavour, and the majority of them FREE. The Dr and I were fortunate enough to catch the excellent Dysfunctional Family Jazz Band (you can check out some of their music here). I found myself becoming rather smitten with their gorgeous singer Melissa, but I gather she's married  to - or divorced from?? - one of the other band members, or something....

The most memorable thing about the Rodeo, though, is that in the music bar section their bar is actually... a chuck wagon. Yep, they have rolled a complete (well, they might have removed the engine) mobile taco stall into the bar to dispense their drinks from - check it out.

This had been a thoroughly excellent evening: three great bars, cheap drinks, superb free music - not a single disappointment. Ah, but it wasn't over yet. Oh no, this is Dr Manhattan we're talking about....

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