This city is like an abscess that I can’t stop poking. It makes London look like Somerset.
After Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ Empire State of Mind and Paloma Faith’s New York, and of course the big daddy (why is that phrase sticking in my head?) New York New York, I’ve been wondering why people write so many songs about NYC when no one does anything similar for London. Sure, there are songs about London, songs set in London, songs that are of London, but no direct hymns of praise to the city like those NYC regularly gathers. It’s simply more impressive. (Waterloo Sunset may be one of the best songs ever, but even it addresses London obliquely).
Stop to look around you at New York’s awesomness though, and you’re likely to be knocked into the road by someone who cannot stop or slow down and WILL NOT change their straight course down the pavement for anyone or anything. I blame all the coffee: at 10pm, the Starbucks queues are almost out of the door, and there’s one on almost every corner.
There are no people on bikes here. Clearly that would be instant suicide, even for London’s most hardy don’t-give-a-shit weavers and pavement riders. And there are no grocery stores – there’s no Tesco Metro grab something to cook on the way home culture here. Even shops that call themselves delicatessens don’t sell fresh bread, fruit or vegetables. What I thought was a clever move renting a self-catering apartment now starts to look flawed.
It’s Friday night in Manhattan. I’ve been in town for six hours. I only had four hours sleep last night and my body clock is now suggesting it’s 2am, but I need to stay awake for a couple more hours to try and beat the jet lag, so I look for a bar. I know where the craft beer bars are, but when I start trying to walk there from my aparthotel in the garment district I realise my legs won’t carry me more than a few blocks, so I look for somewhere closer to home. There were scores of Irish bars around here when I looked earlier, but now I can’t find any.
And then, on West 44th Street just off Times Square, I come up trumps.
I’m not sure whether I should tell you about this place, but if you’re around NYC it’s probably already old news to you, and if you’re not, well hopefully you’ll fuhgedaboudit before you’re next here.
Jimmy’s Corner is about fifteen feet wide and every surface is crammed with framed photos of boxers. It stretches back into a neon fairy-lit, jumbled haze for about sixty yards or so, but there’s one spare stool at the bar so I grab it. This is no Irish theme bar, no tourist destination. It’s what locals call a dive bar, but we use that word differently in the UK. A British dive is run by someone who doesn’t give a shit, makes no effort, just sells bad drink to people who need it. This ‘dive’ may be shabby, but love and tradition are worn into every part of it, layers deep. The mirrors behind the bar are almost covered in autographed dollar bills. The bar top consists or laminated photographs of Jimmy (if it’s him) and other bar staff meeting boxers, celebrities such as Paul McCartney, and a generous smattering of topless women. Simple A4 signs, posted at regular intervals along the bar, read LET’S NOT DISCUSS POLITICS HERE. There’s a signed photo of someone out of The Sopranos.
The first pint of Sam Adams lager goes down without touching the sides.
|I nicked this fantastic photo of Jimmy’s Corner from the Time Out New York website. I hope no one minds, because I daren’t take a photo myself. As this was the woman who served me, I think you can see why.|
Everyone here is watching the baseball game. Greying, careworn men with New York Italian or New York Irish accents order beers and tequilas, roar at the screen and argue over the rules. The New York Yankees are playing the Texas Rangers and have to win this game to stay in the series, or cup, or whatever it is. I order a second pint and watch, uncomprehending, as A-Rod hits what I would call a six and yet the score doesn’t change – still 1-0 to Texas. I watch for an hour, and the score gets to 1-1, and stays there.
I love this place. It’s not about the beer (although Sam Adams seems to be a regular fixture next to Bud, Bud Light and Rolling Rock in pretty much any New York bar now. And if you’re about to comment that ‘yeah well, Sam Adams isn’t really a craft beer now it’s just as bad as Bud and anyway there are way better beers to try in the US such as x, y and z,’ then congratulations on missing the point so impressively). It’s about finding pubs or bars that just have that feeling. This is the kind of place you’d return to night after night, eager to establish a quiet routine, because it just feels like the kind of place you want to be.
Later, I’ll Google it: apparently Jimmy Glenn was a boxing trainer who met Ali. The walls are lined with his personal effects, and he still works here. Despite its location, they reckon tourists accoutn for only 5% of custom.
But for now, I’m too tired to read or write any more. It’s 3am London time, which means I’ve been awake for 21 hours after only four hours sleep the night before. I think if I go to bed now, I’ll sleep through.
I get to my room ten minutes later. I check the game: 5-1 to Texas. I have no idea how this is possible.