Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Make New Friends, But Keep The Old

I headed back to the same general Times Square area that I visited on Friday, but this time stayed away from the in-your-face touristy places. Instead I hit a couple of older bars in the neighborhood and a couple of newer ones as well.

697) The Rum House





Located at 228 West 47th between 8th and Broadway is this piano bar that is affiliated with the Edison Hotel, right next door. The separate entrance and somewhat funky interior keeps it miles apart from the standard hotel bar, especially ones like the one I was in Friday at the Hilton. The place was empty when I got in there a bit before noon but it probably kicks it up a notch or two at night. The main, non-piano, bar is L shaped and has a hammered coppered top with a wood paneled front and a brass rail. Black wooden bar chairs have padded black vinyl seats and backs. Two large round ceiling fixtures have what look like electric versions of kerosene lanterns hanging from them. The bar back is fairly plain wooden shelving. Not much in the way of decoration back there, mostly framed licenses, special tax stamps, and, most colorful of all, the poster that shows you what to do if you encounter a choking victim. There were 5 very old and browning $2 bills in a picture frame and a Cheerios box that also added a bit of color. Four televisions were tuned to either FOX or ESPN and the big story seemed to be Rafael Palmeiro’s steroid use. One does have to wonder how you can take steroids inadvertently. I mean, do these guys just slurp down anything someone hands them? Oh, and by the way, my forearms just happened to grow two inches.

The V shaped piano bar in the back is smaller and plain wood. Pictures of performers and happy customers grace that corner of the room.

I had a bottle of Bass Ale.

698) Hurley’s





Not far away at 232 West 48th Street is this bar that has been around since 1892, but not in this location. Interestingly, in the 1930’s when John D. Rockefeller decided to construct the Rockefeller Center (sounds a bit like Donald Trump) Hurley’s refused to sell their property (no eminent domain back then, I guess) and so the 6th Avenue façade of the 70 story RCA building had to be redesigned with a recess to accommodate the four story bar.

Even if it is in a new location, there is the real ambience of a classic, and classy, Irish bar with the requisite gregarious Irish bartender, as classic as the bar itself. There are good sized dining areas both upstairs and in the back. Opposite the bar are a couple of high round tables with chairs and one comfortable looking booth with a fringed shaded light hanging over the table and a large gold-framed mirror on the red wall.

The bar has a dark patterned marble top with a wood front and a brass rail. Cherry-wood looking bar chairs with padded burgundy leather seats offered a comfortable place to park one’s butt. A fairly ornately carved bar back with arches over mirrors behind tiered shelves for the liquor. Two good sized brass beer stations on the bar each had 10 spigots for a decent selection of beers. Lots of baseball caps were mounted above the mirrors, mostly with a nautical theme to them. There were three good sized plasma TVs and lots of pictures of old New York and framed memorabilia on the walls, including a somewhat obligatory, for an Irish bar, picture of J.F.K. There were more nautically themed pictures up front. The walls were covered in a combination of dark paneling and golden-tan wallpaper with a subtle leaf design.

I chatted with the bartender about bars in the neighborhood, how they were changing, and the few classics that remained. He gave me a couple of good selections that I will be following up on in the not too distant future.

I had a Tanqueray and tonic.

699) Social



Moving up 8th Avenue to 795, between 48th and 49th Streets is this newer looking bar that doesn’t quite smell broken in yet. Nicely done though. This place has three levels to it as well as a rooftop area. There is another full-service bar on the second floor as well as a VIP-like lounge area. The bar itself, at least the downstairs one, is old looking with hooks under an overhang for garments, purses, and whatever. The bar has a darker wood front and a tile foot rest. Wooden bar chairs have black leather-like seats held in place with large, silver-headed tacks. Two silver beer stations were mounted on the bar with 10 spigots each. Must be a new standard set-up. The same ten beers were poured out of both stations though so there wasn’t a real large selection, nothing too esoteric. Blue Moon Belgian Ale was probably the best bet, if you like that type of beer. There was a decent enough bar back but not overly ornate, more manufactured looking than carved. There were three built in plasma televisions above five rectangular mirrors. The mirrors on each end and in the middle were longer than they were high and had, respectively, “Beer,” “Wine,” and “Spirits” etched on them. The mirrors between them were higher than they were wide and had “Social” etched on them. Tiered shelves held the liquor.

The wall opposite the bar had high banquettes with brown high backs and narrow seats and a foot rests below them. Below the seats were multi-colored tiles that matched the narrow band immediately in front of the bar. Above the banquettes were tiny, shiny square mosaics. Towards the back, next to the seating, the wall was brick and there were small tables, a ledge for drinks, and more stools. A couple of light fixtures hung from small recessed squares of tin ceiling and red lights above grained plastic provided the rest of the light. There was also a raised dining area in the back. I will have to drop back later in the evening one day to see how this place fills up.

I had a stiff Tanqueray and tonic, no complaints about it at all.

700) Latitude



Heading back down 8th Avenue towards the subway I passed this place at 783 8th Avenue between 47th and 48th. This place was also three stories and had a roof-top area. Not that surprising because I found out it had the same owners as Social and opened at about the same time, somewhere around St. Patrick ’s Day. My nose knew that other place wasn’t broken in yet. Well, as I have mentioned earlier, this area, still in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, is undergoing a massive change and someone is betting big money that it is going to pay-off. You have to have confidence that there is a customer base to open two big places within a block of each other. I wonder if these guys have anything to do with HK.

I liked this place a lot better than Social, but that might just have been because the bartender was friendlier, at least to me. Now don't get me wrong, the bartender at Social was in no way unfriendly, she just had more customers to deal with and couldn't give me as much of her undivided attention (pout). I didn't even get the chance to warm her up enough to ask if I could take her picture. Oh well, Michelle more than made up for it.

Michelle, The Mixologist


For some reason this place had a vaguely Asian look to it. I think it was the lights; they had a Japanese lantern look to them. The setup behind the bar also had clean lines and reinforced the Asian look. Nothing over the top though, not like they had pictures of dragons or Samurai or anything. They did have a lot of televisions. There is even a television above a fireplace in the back. Instead of the standard 10 spigot station they had three pairs of stations with 5 spigots each. Probably the same under-the-bar setup though. The walls were interesting, gray, looking somehow like pressed stone. The floor looked kind of like solidified lava. Lot’s of money went into these places and, again, I would like to come back and see how they are doing at night. They seem to have a primarily Mexican menu.

I chatted with the bartender and she seemed interested in my journey. She was relatively new to New York and really hadn’t had a chance to check out too many bars in the area. She had friends coming in to town and said she would use my blog as a guide as to where to take them (she also seemed to share an affinity for dive bars). I, of course, graciously offered my services as a guide and she said she might take me up on it. I will probably end up with the Mysterious Chinese Woman chaperoning the tour.

I had a Tanqueray and tonic and then, being in a conversational mood, asked Michelle to make me her favorite cocktail. She whipped me up a most tasty concoction that she called a Mojito. Well, it was very good, but it wasn’t really a Mojito, which calls for rum. She used Cachaca instead, but with the same recipe as a Mojito. It was quite good though. I tend to like Cachaca, at least the good stuff, as an interesting alternative to rum. She used a brand called Ypioca that seems to be gaining in popularity. I recommend that you try it, either as a substitute for rum in a Mojito or in the more traditional, for Cachaca, Caipirinha. Or, branch out a bit and try some other Cachaca based drinks, the Batida for example, which basically substitutes pineapple for the lime.

A most pleasant day. Quite a change from Friday (except for B.B. Kings). I hit four bars and made the 700 Club. Just 300 to go for the year.

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