Thursday, July 28, 2005

Hell's Kitchen Revisited

I decided to wander up the West side a bit from Madison Square Garden. I headed over to 9th Avenue so this put me into the neighborhood affectionately known as Hell’s Kitchen. I have hit a few bars there before, most notably Siberia, Bellevue, and Holland.

688) Uncle Jacks’s

I didn’t have to wander too far to get to Uncle Jack’s at 440 9th Avenue between 34th and 35th Streets. Kind of an opera house meets bordello look about it, but I mean that in a good way. There is a long wooden bar with a brass rail. Nice wooden bar chairs with plush burgundy leather seats and brass tack studded backs. About eight places by the window were set up nicely for lunch. Fringed patterned cloth shaded lights hanging over the bar contributed to the bordello look. A very elaborate bar back with amber lit arches atop ornately carved wooden columns. One oval gold framed mirror with “Jack’s” written in gold sits under the center arch. There are glass shelves holding liquor mounted on the brick wall under the other two arches. Tiered shelves under those hold more liquor. Coolers with wooden doors and more shelving for liquor and glasses down below. Tall candles in pewter holders and a couple of silver ice buckets holding champagne bottles also sit behind the bar.

A large chalkboard above the arches lists the restaurants offerings. Now $70 for a lobster at Docks seems a bit high but $85 for a porterhouse steak for two here seems quite reasonable. There is an upstairs dining area with curved balconies that are decorated with red drapes and these reminded me of opera boxes. There are also gold fringed red velvet drapes gracing the windows and entryway up front. The high ceiling is pressed tin or copper. There is a little model of a steer showing the cuts of meat hangs on the wall up front.

This is a very elegant place and a good start to the day. A stiff drink and a friendly bartender. A lot of good sports talk (the Yankees/Twins game was just starting). The bartender and I agreed that we both dislike Dolan and Isaiah Thomas, have mixed feelings about Marbury, and hope Larry lasts.

I had a Tanqueray and tonic.

689) HK

Ah, Hell’s Kitchen, what has become of you? On the corner of 39th and 9th Avenue sits this new, not sure what it is supposed to be, a diner or bar. The subtlety of it, the small HK on the awning and door (HK, Hell’s Kitchen, get it?) with the HK made to look like a little picket fence.

It was so very cute I almost wet myself. Then design the place to look like an ultra-modern version of a roadside diner and the picture is complete. Decent looking cocktails though, if you like peach or chocolate martini thingies. Here is a review of HK that I lifted off the internet and I guess everything that this person liked about the place turned me off:

“Yes! That is what I thought when I saw HK being built. I knew it would be the trendy hot spot that Hell's Kitchen needed... 9th Ave is a dump and can get to you when you live there but HK is so good. The Portabella Mushroom Sandwich is to die for and if you're trying to be healthy you can get it with salad and no cheese… My favorite. Oh and the Espresso Martini's are so yummy!”

Eeew, a yummy espresso martini. And 9th Avenue is not a dump. It has character as you will see from the next two places that I visited. Ah, but then these are just my feelings on the subject.

The bar had a pale green glass top with a wide brushed aluminum edging and a grey metal front. Square metal bar stools with gray vinyl seats. Two levels of white shelves behind the bar held a decent selection of clear liquors for those precious drinks served in martini glasses. They do have a nice selection of tequilas though and a fair selection of bourbons and scotch. Yellow orchid blossoms in small metal vases embedded in the bar top and large arrangements of flowers that included something the Mysterious Chinese Woman calls “lobster claws.” There are three nice televisions behind the bar but no sports, even though the Yankees/Twins game was in progress. I guess this is more of a VH1 crowd because that was what was playing.

A very large mirror at the back made the place look much larger than it was. It has pretty much of a stark, white interior with large garage door type windows that can roll up. These separate the interior from the tables on the sidewalk. The place was packed with new neighborhood arrivals and a couple of old-timers who happened to be transvestites. Maybe there is still hope for the Hell’s Kitchen yet.

I got swept up in the cocktail atmosphere of the place and ordered a margarita. It wasn’t too bad considering it was made from a mix. Not too sweet, a bit of lime tartness, and a subtle taste of tequila. I wonder if I am developing a fondness for these things. I must fight the dark side.

690) Why Not

Now we are getting to my kind of place. It is located on 9th between 39th and 40th and is nestled (if nestled is appropriate in this context) between the Bellevue Bar and Holland. In fact, this bar used to be Bellevue Bar. Tracy sold it and moved next door. Probably easier to just open up a new bar then to fix up this place, given what it used to look like. I think the place got sold about the same time Tracy and Jimmy Duff (who is hosting my 750th bar celebration) parted ways.

The bar has the same boxcar dimensions as the other bars in this neighborhood (except for Siberia, which is big). It is fairly new and for some reason I originally thought it was a gay bar. When I entered there weren’t enough people to tell but the bartender was a babe.

Cathy, The Babe

When I asked her if it was a gay bar she laughed and said no. Then she called over the owner, Joe, and we talked a bit about Bellevue, Tracy, the scene in general, and Jimmy Duff. He knows both the guys and the bars here have kind of a clubby feeling to them because everybody seems to know everybody. He said Tracy probably was spreading the rumor that this was a gay bar to discourage his customers from defecting. He said this in a joking way, however.

This isn’t a bad place at all, although it doesn’t yet have the well broken-in ambience of the other places in the area. Bellevue must somehow have brought their ambience with them when they moved. The bar top here is kind of black linoleum with a decent wooden arm rest and a wood paneled front. There was a black linoleum foot rest. The tubular metal bar stools have very soft black vinyl seats. Small green glass shaded lights hang over the bar. Brick walls behind the bar and in back and dark green walls above light paneling opposite the bar. A nice pool table in the back along with a dart board. A fairly clean set-up behind the bar with low mirrors and three tiers of liquor on illuminated Lucite shelves. Quite a nice little place, if I do say so myself.

I had a Pilsner Urquell and then Joe bought me another along with a shot of Blackhaus Blackberry Schnapps. I think that this was because during our earlier conversation I had mentioned that Tracy was drinking blackberry brandy when I first met him.

691) Café Andalucia

Right across the street is this place that, quite frankly, I would probably have missed if Joe didn’t suggest that I go there. It kind of looks like it should be just a café if you walk past it but it turns out to be a very neat bar. On top of that they have octopus on the menu and pitchers of sangria. I will have to get the Mysterious Chinese Woman to this neighborhood one day, a something a bit out of the ordinary for her. Hell, we can hit all four bars in this small area and make a night of it. Woot Woot, I am getting excited already. Probably won’t be until next year though, sigh.

The bar in here is also black linoleum or Formica (must be the local style). Also a black linoleum topped foot rest. The wooden barstools have swiveling wooden seats, so much fun. There is all kinds of great original artwork on the bar that I believe is by the owner, Guillermo. Much of the artwork has, shall we say, an erotic content. Nothing vulgar though. Old white painted coolers behind the bar, a couple of televisions, and a bit of the standard old dive bar clutter on the old-fashioned cupboard like affair behind the bar. There is a chalkboard with food specials listed and the prices look good, Cod with a green sauce for $9 for example.

The bartender, Irit, was very friendly and when she found out about my quest gave me a list of bars to try in her neck of the woods, Bayside.

Irit, The Helpful Bartender

I will have to catch the train one day and head out there. Sounds like it could be a lot of fun. She said there are about 30 bars along one strectch.

I had a Tanqueray and tonic and then some guy came in and we started talking and the bartender joined in and then somehow shots of tequila started to show up and, well, one thing lead to another until it was time for Bar Man to head home, strangely content and wonderfully fulfilled. It is days like today that Bar Man loves his work (and there seem to be a lot of days like today). I hit four bars today making 691 for the year and leaving 309 to go with 58 to complete before August 20th.

Tomorrow I am scheduled to do a radio interview at 3:30 P.M., prime drinking time for me. I am going to head out early and try to get a couple bars in before. Maybe I can just do it by cellphone. For anyone in the Florida area it is WKRX.


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