New York City
One of my best friends, Tommy, a fourth generation Kansas City native, invited me to join him in NYC for the New Year. He had a free apartment. How could I not go?
I arrived at Penn Station around 3 in the afternoon on Wednesday. The temperature, comfortable, in the low forties so I walked the thirty blocks or so to the swanky apartment off Union Square Tommy appropriated for our carousing. The small building has eight stories, each floor a single apartment.
The slow, small elevator opens into the apartment Tommy’s taken over. Owned by a gay couple Tommy has known for a million years; they are traveling and very generously, offered their home to Tommy for the week.
Our adventure began with the goal of visiting the five oldest bars in New York City. As fate would have it, two of the venerable watering holes were in our immediate vicinity.
McSorely’s Old Ale House, opened in 1854 was our first destination. Sawdust on the floor, no TV or music, beer the only alcohol served. Two variations. Dark or light, a reference to the color of the brew, not some watered-down swill.
My favorite quirk is the bar’s sole appetizer, cheese and crackers. Served in an unopened, wax-paper sleeve of saltines, a plate of slices of American or cheddar cheese, accompanied, inexplicably, by slices of raw onion. I am immediately reminded of Grandpa Simpson saying “So I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style in those days.”
After a brew or two we meandered to Alphabet City and The Library, an Avenue A. No historical significance, just a dive bar full of contemporary versions of Damon Runyon characters.
What made the non-descript bar forever memorable was the movie projected silently, on the back wall. Caligula. As in the hardcore porno made by Penthouse founder, Bob Guiccione.
Guiccione attempted to make the mainstream “adult” movie in 1979. Gore Vidal wrote the first draft of the screenplay. The cast includes Peter O’Toole, Helen Mirren, John Gielgud, and other legitimate actors, as well as scores of Penthouse models. It appears the movie’s budget was primarily allocated for casting, leaving next to nothing for wardrobe. Most of the cast has none.
It was a tad surreal, sitting and chatting, others around us doing the same, while a glance away, close-ups of orgies filled the wall. A Clockwork Orange came to mind.
Back in the East Village, we dined at a hole-in-the-wall Sri Lankan joint named Sigiri. The restaurant was inexpensive, and served huge portions. No credit cards accepted and BYOB. A convenience store next door sold beer.
Thank heavens. Sri Lankan “mild” is spicier than “American hot.”
After dinner we wended our way back to the apartment with two stops. The first was at the Village Pourhouse, an old-school sports bar where the waitresses, anachronistically, wore hot pants, even in the end of December.
Our last stop was Pete’s Tavern, the “youngest” of the five oldest Knickerbocker liquor lockers on our list. It opened in 1864. The bar brags that O.Henry, a regular, penned The Gift Of The Magi in his favorite booth there.
Unlike McSorely’s, Pete’s has made concessions to time and if you didn’t know it, you couldn’t tell how old the bar actually is.
I preferred McSorely’s.
All in all, a very good first day.
Thursday brought rain. I spent the morning in the neighborhood Starbucks writing. Tommy slept in. For lunch we visited an old friend of mine, Lisa, an attorney for the NFL.
She gave us a tour of the NFL offices, overflowing with memorabilia, the walls alive with multi-media displays. One of the coolest stops on our tour was the conference room filled with small and large monitors and other technology. It is the room where on game day, league officials review questionable calls occasionally overruling refs on the field.
The three of us lunched around the corner at Hillstone, an upscale, wood-paneled joint overflowing with New York business people, impeccably dressed, and looking way-too-serious for my tastes.
Following lunch, Tommy and I found a theatre where La La Land was playing. What an ideal way to honor Debbie Reynolds’ memory. It is a traditional, light-hearted musical, perfect for a rainy day while nursing a hangover.
We had dinner with a couple old friends of mine at the Gramercy Park restaurant, Friend Of A Farmer. There was much to catch up on. We commiserated over the state of the union, and speculated what 2017 Shall bring.
Much alcohol and food was consumed. We had 8PM reservations and basically shut the restaurant down.
The night ended at Javalena, a Tex-Mex tequila bar for an unnecessary nightcap, toasts, and hugs.
All in all, I cannot imagine a more enjoyable way to bid a miserable year adios.
Stay in touch. Connect.
P.S. A little obvious but still hilarious.