Something to do when you need something to do, and you find yourself in the lower reaches of the Upper East Side, or wanting to get away from wherever you are, is to have a meal at Donohue's Steakhouse and then drinks at the nearby Subway Inn.
Grieve has written about Donohue's before, and he's got the history down, so I won't repeat it. Suffice to say, the decor--dark booths, red tablecloths, nautical paintings--are straight out of a certain childhood, back before the term "child-friendly" was invented. It's the sort of place your parents took you because they wanted to go for dinner someplace "nice," someplace grown-up. The sort of place where you had to behave yourself, and God help you if you didn't, because your mother would take you for a dreaded trip to the ladies' room where she'd straighten you out good.
But now you're the grown-up and you can go to Donohue's on your own, order a cocktail and a big plate of food, like meatloaf and mashed potatoes with string beans. Classic. This was comfort food before "comfort food" was a "thing." It was just food.
And there's no need to turn on your cell phone here--the phone in the wooden booth in back works just fine.
Now that you've had your meal and called some friends to join you, head down Lexington to 60th Street and the Subway Inn. New York describes it well, "This hole-in-the-wall has been serving up brewskies since 1937, and it looks as if some of the original patrons haven't left their bar stools since it opened."
Alex has a story about the Subway and its volume. It's still loud. The best part may be the weird green lighting at every table. That, and the Christmas decorations, and the crapped-up booths, the checkerboard floor. The Subway Inn will remind you of other bars that have been lost. Especially, for some reason, the topless dive bars.
You'll get into a long, misty conversation about "Remember the Baby Doll Lounge?" and "God, I miss Billy's Topless," where they also had Christmas decorations, it seemed, year round. And because it is Christmastime, you can't help but recall the night when a Billy's dancer dressed up as Mrs. Claus, took off her top, then licked her nipples and stuck dollar bills to them while she shimmied.
You wonder where she is now. Where did all those dancers go? You order another round. The queasy, aquatic green light casts you back in time and keeps you there.