‘Wait… , Tony said as he turned halfway towards us on a dark early morning as we drove up I70 to the comically far away Denver International Airport. ‘Once you get out to New York, you’re all planning to head up to Green Point, Brooklyn tonight? And you are also staying in Manhattan?”
Our driver (and bartender at one of our more frequent local bar stops) pauses for dramatic affect.
‘Green Point? Manhattan? Does everything you do have to do with cocktails?’
‘Apparently so.’, Kelly grinned. ‘Though we didn’t plan it. It just always seems to work out that way.’
… and we were off, still in search of that elusive ‘Best Cocktail in the World.’ Several hours and after a long flight later, Kelly and I landed back in New York City. It’s been a couple years since our last visit and both of us were happy that this was a true vacation. Sure, we had a commitment to see family while out here, but this was not one of the all-too-common business trips that we normally find ourselves on.
‘Green Point? Manhattan? Does everything you do have to do with cocktails?’
Growing up in Philadelphia, as well as living in Boston, my relationship with NYC was always kind of weird. The city had always been more of a brief stopping off point for me as I traveled up and down the coast, never spending that much time there (a few hours here, a night there…). That all changed over the last eight or so years, when I was finally able to bring Kelly out to see the city for herself. She was so enamored with the frenzy of the city and the people she’s met on the East Coast, that I was able to finally relax and slowly grew to appreciate the specific kind of madness that is NYC as I saw it suddenly fresh through her eyes. Finding some great bars (PJ Clarke’s, Pegu Club, Fanelli’s Cafe, etc.) certainly helped as well. NYC has now become a regular stopping off point for both of us whenever we have to make our way back (and always reluctantly for me) to the city of my birth.
Another bonus was that we were not alone on this particular trip. Our friends, Nick (one of the hosts of the Modern Drunkard Podcast) and Amity came out from Denver with us for quick vacation and see some of the places we always find ourselves talking about. Luckily, they are also very much like Kelly and I in our ways of travel. When on vacation, other people generally see the historic sites, go to a show, do a tour in a ridiculous aquatic bus, and such. Not us (at least, not generally). Sure, we wander about the neighborhoods, but Kelly and I pretty much visit the bars. We have always felt that you get a better view of a city and the people through the local drinking establishments.
We were also meeting up with another buddy of ours from Denver, who happened to be visiting New York at the same time as we were. There were so many of our normal Denver social group along for this East Coast trip that Nick was referring to the whole event as ‘Boozeapalooza 2015’ – a bunch of cocktail enthusiasts who train at altitude (at 5280 feet) drinking at sea-level. Epic.
Day One. First Stop: B Side (204 Avenue B, New York, NY 10009)
Our buddy, Eric, had already been in the city for over a week (another East Coaster, who was also out visiting family) and it was late afternoon when we slid into B Side outside Tompkins Square to meet him. After a much too early flight and several hours in a flying coffin, we were all ready for a drink. While Eric was quite familiar with this bar, this was the first visit for all of the rest of us. B Side was just what all of us needed: dark enough to keep out the glaring light of regular society, and good drinks for NY-cheap prices.
“… and apparently David Cross used to tap dance in the back,” Eric commented as he motioned towards the dark back end of the bar. Kelly and I started to relax, reacquainting ourselves once again with the thick soupy air of the East Coast. After we started our second round (another whiskey for me and a Bell’s Porter for K), we started looking around more at the bar we found ourselves in. It’s the kind of bar that seems to be slowly disappearing – a bare bones, neighborhood, no-frills beer-and-a-shot bar where the bartender has much better things to do than listening to you gripe about your problems.
It’s the kind of bar that seems to be slowly disappearing – a bare bones, neighborhood, no-frills beer-and-a-shot bar where the bartender has much better things to do than listening to you gripe about your problems.
“Did you see the sign?” I nudged Kelly. “A CPR Kit is located behind the bar.’’
Kelly nodded and took another sip. “Wonder how much they need it? I bet they serve a lot of PBR.”
Day One. Second Stop: Ramona (113 Franklin St, Brooklyn, NY 11222)
After our second round at the B Side, Eric suggested that we move out towards Brooklyn, out around his old stomping grounds. After a quick ride on the subway (and a much longer walk through Brooklyn) we arrived at Ramona in Green Point. None of us were actually familiar with this bar, as it was kind of new. However several weeks before, when we were planning our trip, this was one of the bars that was suggested to us by local friends as a ‘must visit’ while in the area. It was easy to see why: a dim modern lounge with some vintage designs and craft cocktails. It was early in the evening when we arrived and still not very crowded, so quite easy to get a drink (an Old Fashioned for me and a Victoria for Kelly.) I found their version of the cocktail a bit too sweet, but apparently not off putting since I quickly ordered another.
Day One. Third Stop: Krolewskie Jadlo (694 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11222)
“How the hell do you pronounce that?”, Nick asked me as all of us walked up Manhattan Avenue.
“I’m not going to even try.”
After several rounds at two different bars, all of us were suddenly thinking about dinner. The consensus was to hit something local, and since we were in a Polish neighborhood, Polish food was a forgone conclusion. Chan (a friend and fellow cartoonist who also joined us) suggested Krolewskie Jadlo, a place around the corner that she’s always wanted to try. The flanking suits of armor outside the doors sold the place to the rest of us. It was a long meal of blood sausage, wild boar, goat cheese pierogi, venison meatballs, and several polish beers. The dinner was firmly in Kelly’s top 10 best meals – heavy and rich and utterly delicious. She was convinced that she wanted to eat the goat-cheese pierogis forever and always.
“This is the place,” Eric said. “Like all the best neighborhood coffee-shops or bars, your local becomes your living room.”
Day One. Fourth Stop: Boulevard Tavern (579 Meeker Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11222)
Luckily, our next stop was quite a walk from the restaurant, so we were able to work off a lot of our meal before arriving at our next destination of the evening: Boulevard Tavern.
“This is the place,” Eric said. “Like all the best neighborhood coffee-shops or bars, your local becomes your living room. The place you spend way too many nights in. This bar has been around for about a hundred years. From what I understand, the original Boulevard closed down years ago after some people died here. Then, I think it became a place called ‘J.D.s’, until the new owners came in, renovated, and found the old Boulevard sign. This was my local for years while I lived in the neighborhood.” … and it was a great place. Once inside, Eric instantly started talking to the bartender. Looking around, it was a very comfortable neighborhood bar, pool table in the back, where you could see the history surrounding you. Just walking in had most of us lamenting the closing of Gabors here in Denver (long story), where bars seem to have a shelf life of only a handful of years before turning into drug stores or crummy pizza places. This bar, with its exposed brick walls, long bar, and small walled courtyard in the back (where you could smoke, and where Eric told us they used to have weekly afternoons grilling and hanging out) made all of us wish for just such a place in our neighborhood. We took our place at the bar, ordered some Yuenglings, and settled in for the night.
Update: Like so many other old bars in rapidly changing neighborhoods, we just heard that it looks like the Boulevard Tavern is closing.
Several hours later, K and I wandered out to participate in a new sport: finding a cab back to our hotel (in East Village). It took some time, but we were eventually successful, finding a cab driver with GPS who, after asking us the best way back to our hotel (“ummm…maybe via the Williamsburg Bridge? I think that’s the one near our hotel?”) drove us straight back to the hotel in record time.
Day Two. First Stop: Old Town Bar (45 E 18th St, New York, NY 10003)
The next afternoon, after some wandering through the East Village and Union Square, we all met up for lunch (and a couple Guinness) at Old Town Bar, a couple blocks outside Union Square. This place was more familiar territory for K and I, as we had discovered the bar years ago and have made it a stop on most of our visits in the city. It’s another historic bar that has been here for decades (since 1892), watching the neighborhood change. A dim interior, even in the middle of the day; a beautiful old marble and mahogany bar (55 ft long); 16 ft high tin ceilings – it is a bar and diner all in one. One of those places that isn’t easy to find out in Denver. How historic was this place? A poster of 100th anniversary gala for their urinals (their urinals…. and that was back in 2010) was hanging on the wall. The service was slow, but the chili and clam chowder were warm and filling, and the Guinness poured correctly. And watching the dishes go up and down in the old dumb waiter was mesmerizing.
How historic was this place? A poster of 100th anniversary gala for their urinals (their urinals…. and that was back in 2010) was hanging on the wall.
Day Two. Second Stop: White Horse Tavern (567 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014)
After lunch we started simply walking through the West Village just to see where the day was going to take us. And after a bit, we ended up in the White Horse for several more rounds of Guinness.
Now, when hearing that we are heading out to NYC, most of the Drunkards I know (other than asking about McSorley’s) always comment, “You will be hitting the White Horse, of course.” Well… yes. We have to visit and pay respect to the ghost of Dylan Thomas and his local bar. Once inside the White Horse, his presence is hard to miss. His picture, his painted face, his words: all over the place.
We settled at a table by the window (way too many of us to set up at the bar), had a couple pints of Guinness, had some more friends join us, and watched Hudson Street pass by for a couple hours.
Day Two. Third Stop: Paulaner Brew Pub (265 Bowery, New York, NY 10002)
It was several hours later and a slow crawl back across the city. At K’s and my suggestion, we tried to stop for a drink at another one of our favorite stops: Fanelli’s Cafe (94 Prince St, New York, NY 10012.) However, our timing was quite off and the bar (small to begin with) had already filled up in the early evening with no room for any of us. So, we quickly scrambled for a back-up plan. Kerry, an old friend of mine from Boston, lived in the neighborhood and suggested that all of us meet up at the Paulaner Brew Pub on Bowery. Not a first choice for any of us, but after a day of walking (with an ever growing crowd of friends joining us who were all getting quite hungry), we were just looking for a place that all of us could fit. The Paulaner just fell into place. The best thing we can say was that the beer was decent and non-offensive, though the service was spotty. The space was in the vein of many of the newer brewpubs that have been opening up recently – minimalist warm wood and steel, with lots of industrial architectural findings. It’s a looks that is interesting, but has been done to death. Still, lots of big tall beers to drink.
Day Two. Fourth Stop: The Double Down Saloon (14 Avenue A, New York, NY 10009)
After some thankfully needed food, Nick’s was the loudest voice saying (since it was not that far away) that we had to walk over and visit the Double Down Saloon, off Houston. This was a much needed stop, especially since they were an advertiser in the Modern Drunkard and Nick wanted to drop off some of our most recent issue. I cannot travel anywhere with Nick without him mentioning this bar in some way, normally with a weird creepy wistful look in his eyes. His ever present goal was to visit all the Double Downs in the nation… which isn’t that hard of an accomplishment since there are only two (with the original in Las Vegas and already checked several times off his personal bucket list.)
It had also been several years since K and I have been back to Double Down in NYC. While we always enjoyed the bar (and their pint-sized whiskeys), it’s always been a place that you have to watch yourself (from their pint-sized whiskeys). Add in their ‘Assjuice’ shots (a drink consisting of all the remnants of liquor bottles, regardless of type, mixed into one bottle) along with their stiff pours, a night can quickly run out of control, which in certain circles is just the way that it should be. We were members of just that certain circle.
His ever present goal was to visit all the Double Downs in the nation… which isn’t that hard of an accomplishment since there are only two.
The Double Down was dark with a red light overcast, loud punk rock, graffitied walls, with the vague smell of puke, stale beer, and late nights that brought with it too many memories of college and the several blank years afterwards. All of us had our drinks and spread out through the bar knowing that we were not going to be leaving anytime soon. I tried to have conversations with people around me, but was constantly getting momentarily distracted by the flashes of porn playing over the high mounted TVs in the corner. Midgets were doing rude things to various women, played on a loop.
After an hour or so, another buddy (and Denver cartoonist) walked into the bar. Is there anyone left in Denver that I didn’t know? He was happy to see us, and after getting his drink, asked “Wait… you’re on vacation out here and you’ve just been hitting bars all day?”
“Pretty much. We are professionals.”
“Oh, honey, we’ve been training at altitude,” Kelly added, as she got up to go have a smoke, “… like Olympic athletes.”
The Double Down slowly filled up around us as the regular Friday night crowd came in. Our group expanded as well, as more and more people that Eric or I knew joined us. One of his friends started yelling at me in over the crowd and the music. It was the only way to be heard. Hearing her thick Jersey accent was more of a homecoming than I could ever expect.
“You never met a Jersey girl, have you?”
“What the hell are you talking about? I grew up in Philly. I’ve met plenty of Jersey girls. Too many to count.”
“Well…,” she replied in that particular attitude that comes from Jersey (I think they hand them out along with a birth certificate, a backward baseball cap, and your choice of a Giants or Eagles jersey) “… you never met one like me.”
“I think I may need a new liver,” I said after my third shot of ‘Assjuice’. No, it did not go down well.
Nick nodded as things were slowly going wobbly. “I made one with charcoal, surgical tubing, and a bicycle pump if you want to give it a try.”
It was getting late and K and I slowly realized that it was time to go. Those flashing flags started popping up behind the eyeballs once again. Once outside, a pair of young men approached us.
“Excuse me… do you know where we can find club where men dance?”, one of them asked us in a sort of comically ridiculous German accent that sounded like a bad Schwarzenegger impression done by someone who actually never seen one of his films before, but has seen ‘Hans and Franz.’
“No, not really,” Kelly commented slightly confused.
“Well, do you know where two young men can go to have sex with sheep?” The one not speaking made a rude gesture, and they both tried to stifle their giggling.
Kelly rolled her eyes. ‘Oh, darling… if you’re trying to shock us, you’ve got to try harder than that. And really, you’d have more luck looking for some sheep if you drove to Wyoming.”
She started laughing as we walked away from the pair. Another typical night at the Double Down.