Friday, September 17, 2010

Old Town Bar

Sitting in the Old Town Bar, a quiet Saturday before the lunch-time rush. The bar is empty except for one woman. She's seated in the corner, reading the paper, like she sits there every day. Like she's been sitting in that same spot every day for the past 30 years.



She has gravitas. She could be a Susan Sontag--or someone who went to parties at Susan Sontag's apartment. I enjoy watching her read the paper. She does it well, peacefully and consciously. She looks up and around, then back down at the paper.



I look at her, then look away, up at the lamps over her head, at the ceiling over the lamps. It is a wondrous ceiling. Then I look back at the woman. She sips her brown drink, turns the newspaper page. All of it with gravitas.

I wish that all the bars of the city were filled with women like this one.



I get up to use the men's room, a room like few others, with a stained-glass ceiling, golden light, and urinals like marble monuments.



When I return to my booth, new people have come in to the bar. They drop their shopping bags and pick up their cell phones. They order white wine and commence their loud, boastful, complaining chatter.

They block my view of the woman. The atmosphere shifts. The peace is gone. It's over. But for a few moments, it was there.

28 comments:

EV Grieve said...

I was there the other weekend ... a lovely afternoon, and a decent mix of neighbors-shoppers-tourists. Had almost given up on it. Recent visits have found the bar three-deep with stupidity.

Jeremiah Moss said...

you have to hit it at the exact right moment. and that moment doesn't last long.

Jimmy Higgins said...

What about Old Town's well-known ban on cell phones? Did the bartender shut that guy down?

Anonymous said...

Don't you wish that the management would forbid cell phones in restaurants and bars? Apparently the mayor and council haven't gotten around to it...

Yesterday I was treated to another loud, ridiculous convo. on a city bus -- about a guy who doesn't take his work problems home, or home problems to work, but has no problem sharing all of his problems on public transportation.

Carol Gardens said...

Yeah, this place is great. The usual weekend crowd not so. But, as you mentioned, extraordinary urinals. (Yes, I snuck a peek.)

Ken Mac said...

those moments are rare all over this town.

Goggla said...

One of my favorite bars, especially in the middle of the day before the 5 o'clock crowd. They make great sandwiches, too.

I took this pic a couple of months ago, which pretty much reflects every experience I've had in there: http://www.flickr.com/photos/goggla/3759469909

BrooksNYC said...

Such a beautiful bar when it's quiet. I try to go after lunch and before the hordes get off work.

Guess I should have more sympathy for bored bartenders, but I'd like to see television banished from all but sports bars. I recently met friends at what had once been a great old dive in Allentown, PA, and there were no fewer than eight flat-screens on the walls. Not watching wasn't even an option.

Grade "A" Fancy said...

Oh, yes, hitting the Old Town at the right moment is quite the luxury.

I can't imagine why new places don't build phone booths, and old places keep theirs available, for people who must talk on the telephone. There could be a way to make it attractive and alluring.

Brooks, do you have a TV-B-Gone? Sometimes it's tough to get away with (it changes the lighting in a very dark room) but in the right instance and when no one's watching the set, it's great to be able to use the remote to turn it off!

Marty Wombacher said...

I agree with Jimmy Higgins, Old Town has a strict rule on no cell phones, I hope the guy at the bar got thrown out. Also, this was the bar where they filmed the original opening for the David Letterman show when it first aired on NBC. They have great hot dogs there. A great, classic NYC bar.

Jeremiah Moss said...

though they are illegal in the US, you might check out:

http://www.phonejammer.com/home.php

not from my personal experience or anything (ahem), they work well in enclosed spaces like buses and trains, though their battery life stinks. in a bar it would be hit or miss. still, having that power in your hand is a good feeling. you can really screw with people's heads.

not that i know from personal experience or anything.

The New York Experience said...

Great post Jeremiah.

Jeremiah Moss said...

Goggla, beautiful shot. it looks ancient.

BrooksNYC said...

@Grade "A" Fancy:

TV-B-Gone??? I never even knew such a thing existed. I'm looking into it, and thanks. Progress!

Perhaps the next generation device will be TV-X-Plode. Now that would be truly fantastic.

Anonymous said...

Best wings in manhattan. Guiness is always good, but their burger has fallen off a bit over the last couple of years. But still always the go to spot in that hood. All the other fancy stuff on Park pales in comparison.

Claribel said...

Such a terrific week of posts. Thanks Jeremiah. And thanks too to those of you who commented today. It's heartening to know that you're out there. My daily dose of bitterness goes down much easier.

Susan May Tell said...

haven't been there in years but it was always one of those comfortable, down-to-earth places. google - really like the photo.

Jimmy said...

Made me feel like I was sitting in the bar....thanks for the drink Jeremiah....

Andy Reynolds (anonymous is for pussies) said...

I just rediscovered a bar right under my nose. Tile Bar. Nice wood bar, tile floor (used to be a tile shop), tables and chairs along the opposite wall, good juke box and great framed B&W photos of old NYC, including my favorite of the elevated train up First Avenue (shot at Houston). The bonus is a great crowd of local regulars, who definitely do not feature the college/douche crowd. (And I thought I was cantankerous re NYU!) And a few guys who are really up on their local history, one of whom grew up in Stuy Town. And $3 happy hour drinks.

kate said...

I dunno, your stay seemed as ephemeral as the tourists who came in after you. You got there, gawked over a lady who looked like she'd been there for years (because she was quietly reading and drinking something brown in a glass...obnoxious of you), pissed in their toilet and talked about it like it was magic, and then acted as though you had the right to be angry when someone else came in and obscured your view of the monkey lady in the zoo.

You were a tourist too, my friend, and moreso, an entitled one.

Brandon said...

Jeremiah,

Please visit Ridgewood, Queens. I think you will find the New York you love is there in full blossoming glory... get off the M at Forest or Fresh Pond Rd, hit the Cozy Corner Tavern. I think you'd love it.

Brandon

JMe82080 said...

Hi, Jeremiah ... I just wanted to write to say I'm a big fan of your blog, and love the commentary on New York City's grittier, more colorful past. The latest blog on Old Town Bar gives the reader a very real image of what that place is like. I love how it used to be featured in the opening credits when Letterman was on NBC. I'm a big New York City history buff myself, and have a new website, RightHereNYC.com, which gives info on old bars like this one among other fascinating old NYC landmarks. I also have a blog, RightHereNYC.blogspot.com, which chronicles my walking tours around the city. Check it out when you can!

Anonymous said...

kate you are mean. the lady & the bar reflect his sensibilities. the other people do not. im always looking for my kind of a place too. we all are.

City Of Strangers said...

Ha! A great reminder of why I used to go to the Old Town. And why I don't go too much anymore . . .

They had a long time ban on cell phones. One of the bartenders said they stopped enforcing it because it just got too overwhelming . . .

T.

Joe Bonomo said...

Great...

Caleo said...

I agree with others... you really outdid yourself this week with a slew of excellent posts.
Keep on keepin' on.

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks, everyone, for the positive feedback. funny, i wrote this Old Town post awhile back and thought it was "too quiet" to bother posting. i guess you never know...

Goggla said...

All these comments inspired me to drop in to Old Town where it is currently 1/4 full and I am posting this...from my cell phone, mwahaha!
Happy Sunday, everyone.