Miscellaneous Rumbles

NYC dive bars and the curated jukebox

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Well we have made it home from our two weeks in NYC, and man are we pleased to escape the heat! Where we live gets plenty hot in the summer but it's the famous "dry heat". So weeks around 100F are manageable if not particularly pleasant. But we managed to visit NYC during a record setting heatwave and it was so humid we were drenched in sweat as soon as we hit the street. It made the walking we love to do in New York rather a chore...

So visiting bars made more and more sense! We started off with McSorley's in the East Village as suggested by you folks here.Great interior, full of some of the most impressive old crap I have seen outside an episode of American Pickers. Yes there is sawdust on the floor - I suspect some of it has been there since opening years ago! My wife ended up using the Gents facilities by mistake, so poorly was the Ladies labelled. As for drinks, for some reason you get two beers when you order one. No reason was offered. But it was just as well as the glasses were rather small. We made the mistake of ordering food with our first drink rather than after many - my suggestion? Don't eat there. Just drink.

Then we tried a speakeasy, Please Don't Tell, at 92 2nd Ave. This was rather more successful, but not for the drinks or atmosphere. We loved it because it was quiet and we had the opportunity to chat with the bartender and a woman called Sawyer who tends bar at another dive The International Bar on 1st Ave. We had a great time learning about various dive bars and the issue of the curated jukebox. Sawyer was passionate about the music played at the various bars - apparently more bars are using web-connected jukeboxes which let drinkers choose any song ever recorded which leads to problems. She told of times when an old-timer would play an old-timey song so then a young punk would choose something he though more appropriate and before you know it the whole mood of the place is upset.

Sawyer is a fan of the curated jukebox, where every song suits the theme of the bar. So at the International it's '60s-'70s rock, at Doc Hollidays it's country and rockabilly, etc. We noticed this in most of the dives we visited and it really helps establish the vibe.

So without going through every single bar let me mention some "highlights": Doc Hollidays was hilarious - a very serious bouncer asking for our ID (made my wife's night) and a bright, busty barmaid with a potty mouth (in a nice way!), with dust and cobwebs over the western-themed crap everywhere - even cowboy boots nailed to the ceiling. Duct tape was put to good use on the seating to hold vinyl together where they noticed it, but they may have missed a few torn seats here and there...

Rudy's in Hell's Kitchen used even more duct tape - this time bright red - to entirely cover the booth seats. We declined the complimentary hotdog with every drink having learnt our lesson at McSorleys. The most notable thing at Rudy's, other than the giant pig outside and the crush of students inside was the signs advertising the prices of the beers. Rather prominent they were! Middle-aged bartenders "dad-dancing" behind the bar were, um, entertaining.

Our favourite though was the International Bar. When we arrived as promised Sawyer was delighted to see us. There was less crap decorating this place and the music was excellent - not too loud but still managing to make the place feel like a bar. We loved the bouncer - a large man-child who sleepily nodded to us as we entered. As we sat at the bar we could see him precariously perched on his under-sized stool, somehow avoiding falling as he nodded off continually. His somnambulant sense of balance was a wonder to observe. Sawyer was the life of the place, attentively serving drinks and suggesting things to try when I asked about American whiskeys. She suggested a not-too-expensive bourbon which I actually liked! You could tell that the regulars liked her. Great vibe and bonhomie. Classic dive bar with neon in the window. We loved it.

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Thanks for the write-up, Jimmy! Hope you good people weren't drunk all the time and you've seen some more of NYC in spite of the heat.

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Glad you guys had fun. Nice review.

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Looks like a great trip and you did the dive tour proud.

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Sawyer is a fan of the curated jukebox, where every song suits the theme of the bar. So at the International it's '60s-'70s rock, at Doc Hollidays it's country and rockabilly, etc. We noticed this in most of the dives we visited and it really helps establish the vibe.

100% agree. I'd prefer no jukebox at all one filled with music that doesn't fit the bar.

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Haha thanks guys! The first few days were brutal. But it did cool down enough for us to really enjoy the Hiline Park which I would recommend to anyone visiting New York. It still impresses me how much trees cool things down. Trees are wonderful things and I have as many as I can fit in my small garden at home.

Contrary to what some would have you believe I think in general the people of New York are some of the friendliest in the world, and in the USA in particular. And the roads are terrible compared to those in Australia! When our son collected us from Perth airport I couldn't believe how smooth the roads were after NY!

I should also mention the rather grand Old Town Bar on E18th St. Fantastic room! Food was extremely ordinary to bad but the beer was good and the ambience was wonderful, if a little loud.

In our experience US bartenders are yet to master the art of pouring a lager. Some of the Irish bartenders managed ok and the Thais at a Thai restaurant we visited in Hell's Kitchen did a great job with their Asahi. Lagers need a decent head on them. Without the head they don't taste right and they go flat faster. It's not quite so important with ales but they should still have some head (avoiding the obvious filthy jokes!). I suspect it's the years of terrible generic lagers foisted on the people of the US that has led to this but as beers improve so the need to pour them properly increases. And there are some great beers being produced in the States now. More ales than lagers but hopefully this might change.

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And you escaped, too, without bodily harm!

Tell all your friends...

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Haha yes! I still love New York. We have visited many times since '88, and it's so different every time. And yes, we manage to escape every time. Kurt Russell got nuthin on us. I still have both eyes.

And Sascha - we never really got drunk. Sad but true - I seem to have too much sense these days... Or maybe I'm saving it up for Europe in December? Weihnachtmarkten, gluhwein, schön pils und schnapps - we are really looking forward to that.

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Weihnachtmarkten, gluhwein, schön pils und schnapps - we are really looking forward to that.

Hmmm... Lecker!

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It's cool here now so I cooked chicken schnitzel with panko crumbs tonight. Sehr lecker! Und knusprige.

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Great news Jimmy! I'm glad you had a great time and I thought of you during the heat wave and wondered how you'd navigate around.

You have to really graduate to the the food at McSorley's but I do love the cheese and hot mustard....just tasty bits to entice more beer. Although I think I like the food because my insides have been well trained for such fare and many nights of debauchery in NYC.

Come back again soon!

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Glad you managed to ‘escape from new york’ And the heat. And glad you had a great time .

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Wy wife and i were just talking about our latest trip to New york - and yes, we did have fun! I'm still getting over how debilitating the humid heat was - I mean it gets REALLY HOT here but never have I felt as knackered by heat as I did in New York.

We did go to some "classier" bars too - I enjoyed Brazen on 44th St - I guess it's in Hell's Kitchen. Really good, friendly Irish bartenders, great range of beers and we had huge US style hamburgers there. Compared to Perth it was frighteningly expensive, and Perth here is not cheap. The beer wasn't expensive by itself, but once you add food, tax, tips - whatever - it adds up fast. Beer costs a little more here but the bartenders earn a lot more than in the US, get paid holidays 4 weeks a year, superannuation (a bit like 401K I think) and we don't tip.

One other difference between where we live and New York I realised just now - everywhere has doors in New York. Here when we go to a cafe, a pub, a clothes store, whatever - it is rare that you have to open a door. Everything is just open regardless of time of year. I can think of one pub here which has double-doors but it's the only place I can think of which is not open all the time. Only banks and guitar stores have doors here. I'm not really sure of why this could be significant but it's interesting to me!


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