Thursday, August 02, 2012

Two for the road

A mere four or five hours of drinking is rarely enough for a man such as Dr Manhattan. When he took me out on the town in New York a couple of weeks back, he was not content with our splendid little crawl down fifteen or twenty blocks of 3rd Avenue. No, he wanted to show me a piece of history - so, for a nightcap, he took me to the Old Town Bar on 18th Street, one of New York's most venerable watering-holes, established in 1892. It's a long tall room, with a magnificent marble-topped bar that stretches over 55ft. The mosaic-tiled floor and mahogany fittings seem untouched in the last 120 years. The gents is a tourist attraction on its own: its giant-sized Hinsdale brand urinals celebrated their centenary a year or two back. Yet, despite its celebrity, the place still seems refreshingly down-to-earth, a proper neighbourhood boozer. Definitely a place to look up again on my next visit. My only gripe with this bar is that it closes indecently early (well, midnight); we only caught it just in time for last orders.

The Doctor, of course, despite it being a 'school night' for him, was still not yet quite done at this early hour. Oh, no. When we got kicked out of the Old Town, he took me to Lillie's on the next block south for our final drink or two of the night. That was... an experience. But I'm afraid I didn't feel the love. Lillie's (named after Lillie Langtry, I'm told) supposedly tries to style itself an "Irish bar", but I could see nothing Irish about it whatsoever, apart from a few of its whiskey selections. The space is almost identical to the Old Town, but while that 18th Street bar has commendably preserved an authentic Victorian feel, its 17th Street neighbour has refurbished with rococo excess: the riot of tack and the overbright lighting detracts from the few original elements (another long marble bar) remaining. Alas, it would seem that over-the-top decor and bright lighting are what delight the young and well-heeled Manhattanites of today. While the gorgeously fusty Old Town Bar was almost devoid of customers, its gawdy counterpart was still packed out with yuppies well into the early hours of Monday morning. It might be quite fun to visit with a group of friends, or if scouting for a pick-up (we encountered at least one expensive prostitute working the room), but it's not the kind of place you would make your 'local'. Well, I wouldn't, anyway.

Still, it was a thought-provoking end to a very entertaining reunion with the good Doctor, and to my reintroduction to New York City after an absence of several years. I must try to get back there more often.

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