Tag: New York

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New York Dive Bar Drinking

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.


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Three Sheets to the Wind and the deleted scene

I’ve just finished a first read-through of the first half of the new book, which has involved slashing lots of stuff out because I write too long. It reminded me of last time I did this, two and a half years ago. I had to cut about 40,000 words from the first draft of Three Sheets, and some good stuff ended up on the cutting room floor. I fought to keep the following scene in because it’s one of my favourites, but I lost. It makes me laugh whenever I think of it, and I hope it raises a smile for you too. I’m just east of Greenwich Village, New York. It’s late afternoon during a long day of pub crawling, when I still have a couple of hours to kill before meeting Garret Oliver for the first time…

An hour later, walking again when the rain has slackened fractionally, I spot a bar painted all black outside, with red curtains pulled closed across the windows. Through the door, all I can see is a dull red glow. The smell of a university gig venue wafts out.

A stag’s head perches above the bar, almost hidden under a collection of lacy red, black and pink bras draped from its antlers. A sign taped on the mirror behind the bar reads, “Do not touch the bartenders.”

I order a Sam Adams. The guy leaning on the bar next to me, bulging T-shirt and wispy ponytail, snorts with derision when I speak. All the guys perched at the bar are drinking bottles of Bud, apart from one who is nursing a Pabst Blue Ribbon. I didn’t think they even made this stuff any more. I find out later that there is a growing market for ‘relic beers’, the brands that disappeared in the Beer Wars. Now brewed under licence as budget brands, they sell for nostalgic reasons, but also benefit from the protest against globalisation and saturation marketing. In Portland’s one anarchist bar Pabst outsells Miller Lite.

Something tells me that my friend here is not drinking it to demonstrate solidarity with the anti-capitalists. I’m at the corner of the bar, and the guy who sneered at my Sam Adams is talking across me to another guy whose arms are covered in tattoos. “Yeah, when I was doin’ time, I used to do a lot of painting. Guys would come up to me all the time and ask me to do tattoos. The whole thing – they had the needles and ink ready to go. I’m like, no, no, I don’t work on skin. But they just kept on and on.” He shakes his head and takes a long pull from his bottle.

“So… did you do ‘em?” asks the tattooed guy.

“Well, no. I told you, I don’t work on skin.”


They go back to contemplating their beers in silence.

I become acutely aware that I’m carrying a Saks Fifth Avenue bag. This is only because I always buy underwear whenever I come to New York because it’s half the price it is at home, but these guys don’t know that, and my poncey craft beer has just arrived (in a Bud Light glass, admittedly – maybe the barmaid is trying to protect me.) Suddenly, with overwhelming certainty, I realise I am Niles Crane.

There’s one vacant stool at the bar, between the Sam-Adams-hating Prison Artist and the – really rather large – tattooed man. I decide to head for a table instead. This means I stand no chance of being able to strike up a conversation, but maybe that’s for the best.

I can choose between two tables: one right by the exit, the other by the jukebox. The only other seating in the place is a long bench running around two walls. A pool table dominates the centre of the room, a Galaxian video game and a pinball machine the remaining wall. I take the jukebox table, to prove (to myself) that I’m not totally chicken.

Someone has scrawled above the juke box in pink chalk, “Play 4202 and Jamie will dance.” I wonder if Jamie is the barmaid on duty. She looks like she might dance, if the music was suitably industrial: tall, stick-thin, dressed head-to-toe in black with lace, rips and piercings throughout. Or maybe Jamie is a boy’s name. He might be one of my new friends at the bar.

A couple of guys go outside for a fag (sorry, I really should say ‘cigarette’ while we’re in here). Even here the no smoking rule is observed. They come back in, and now the barmaid goes out. Then the guys all follow her back out to chat to her while she smokes. Suddenly I’m entirely alone in the bar, with a big bunch of guys outside blocking the exit.

The bar is called 2 by 4 because it’s on the corner of 2nd Street at 4th Avenue. (You can visit next time you’re in town). But now the name suggests a piece of two-by-four; a hefty chunk of wood, such as you might use to beat someone to death. Once you’ve broken all the pool cues.

Perhaps now I could go and check out what 4202 is, but I really, really don’t want them to think I’m about to put on some music in their pub. I waver too long, and they drift back in. My exit clear, I dart out and head west, carrying my Saks bag low.