Monday, July 25, 2005

The Good Old Days

I headed back to the Yorkville area and met with mixed success. I got there a bit too early and ran into a bunch of bars that don’t open until somewhat later in the day. I will be going back tomorrow to see if I can hit a few of them. Then I began to notice a number of bars that were in the process of being remodeled or just up for sale. These were mostly the smaller bars, the one that were once staples in most New York neighborhoods. They are not just to small to remain profitable given the escalating rents. Makes me wish I had embarked on this venture years ago when these were still around. They tend to be more colorful and, in my opinion, much more interesting places to drink in. Aces and Eights, on 1st Avenue between 86th and 87th Streets, is an example of a bar that is no more.

It will either be gone entirely or remodeled beyond recognition. At any rate, it is closed now.

676) Reif’s

Now this bar, at 302 East 92nd Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues, is the real deal, opening in 1942 and looking as though it hasn’t changed much since. There was an old wooden bar with a foot rest. The chairs looked fairly new, dark wood with black vinyl seats and somewhat fancy backs. The back bar is fairly simple, several large plain mirrors with tiered shelves above old wooden coolers and drawers and metal ice chests holding bottled beer and vodka. A couple of chalkboards had beers and beer specials written on them. Dusty rose walls above the mirrors. The brick wall opposite the bar had narrow mirrors above a narrow ledge with stools in front. Pictures of old baseball players and customers hung on the wall above the mirrors. There is a decent sized back room that had a nice pool table and a Black Buck Hunter game.

A couple of old regulars were in there talking about their health, the heat, and the cost of funerals. Somehow this led to a discussion of Ocean’s 11, Monty Python, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Elvis imitators (they knew one) and Frank Sinatra. One of those conversations you generally only get into over a drink or two. I enjoyed myself.

I had a bottle of Heineken.

677) Fiona’s

Fiona's, at 1664 1st Avenue between 86th and 87th Streets just thinks it is old. It is a nice enough place but another one that is relatively new and newly remodeled. It probably once was one of those old neighborhood bars but, despite the bartender thinking it is old, it has only been around for eight years. Now, in my mind, that is not an old bar. It does have a nice long wood bar with an ornate front and a brass rail. The bar chairs have patterned cloth seats. A very elaborate bar back in the same color wood as the bar, kind of a cherry wood color. It has columns, arches, cabinets with glass doors, wine racks, mirrors, and down below coolers and cabinets with wood doors and brass hinges and handles. Inverted dome shaped lights over the bar rimed with ornamental metal work.

Half a dozen televisions featured either sports or a spelling bee. There is a fireplace in the back and high-backed booths along part of the wall opposite the bar towards the back. Globe lights sat atop the columns at the end of each booth. The wall behind the bar, at least the part not covered by the woodwork, is brick and the rest of the place is a combination of wood paneling and mustard colored paint. Pictures of gentlemen in 1800’s formal attire and a few mirrors decorate the wall opposite the bar while more serious paintings of landscapes and picnics adorn the back wall that also has a fireplace.

I had a Guinness.

678) Cilantro

This was a neat looking Mexican restaurant at 1712 2nd Avenue that I was fully prepared to like, until it came time to get a drink. They had a nice selection of tequilas so I felt fairly confident in ordering a margarita, up, with a salted rim. Well, before I could blink I had a very large margarita glass filled with a sweet, yellowish-green liquid that had no discernable taste of tequila. This was a pity, because the place had a nice enough authentic look to it. The curved wood topped bar was edged with a metal strip held in place with more rivets than were necessary. The front of the bar was copper sheets. There was a rough wood footrest and wood bar chairs. The bar back is kind of cool, an adobe look to it painted with a pastel landscape. There is an arch in the middle with two frozen margarita machines, so maybe I should have been a bit suspicious, but these are fairly common in Mexican bars and restaurants. Tiered shelves on each side of the arch held the liquor. There were small metal and glass candleholders with lit candles sitting on the bar.

There were neat inverted cone shaded lights hanging over the bar and blue and orange spots lighting up the wall behind the bar. Up front by the windows is a sculpted smiling sun lit from below. The wall opposite the bar also looks like adobe and has the same type of pastel landscape painted on it. Some interesting larger lights that consisted of electric candle like bulbs in a glass and metal construction hang from the ceiling. Banquettes with wood backs and cloth cushions line the wall opposite the bar and there are tables and chairs in front of them. More table and chairs sit in the front and there is a back room with more seating.

There was a guy in a postal worker uniform sitting at one end of the bar asking the bartender to turn up the volume of the music because it was playing Lou Bega’s Mambo No. 5 (A little bit of…). He was pretty much in the bag and as he came back after having stepped outside for a cigarette he asked me, somewhat conspiratorially, whether I thought anyone would turn him in for drinking instead of doing whatever it was he was supposed to be doing. Delivering the mail, I suppose. I told him no, I thought his secret was safe.

I would have liked this place a lot more if I didn’t get so sticky from my drink that I had to go wash up after I finished it. It must have had a fair amount of some kind of alcohol in it though, because I did get a bit of a buzz. And it was a large drink. There was a place where a bunch of us used to go called The Iguana that used to lace their frozen margaritas with Everclear, a 190 proof pure grain alcohol, so maybe that is what they used here.

I slurped down my margarita and headed on home.

Not too bad a day, three for the day bringing me up to 678 for the year and leaving 332 to go. I have to step up the pace a bit though because I have things to do this weekend and a party to celebrate the wedding of the daughter of a friend of mine next weekend. That will take a few days away from my quest and I still need to make 749 before August 20th. The pressure is almost unbearable, I may have to have a drink.


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