Thursday, November 10, 2005

Harlem Hop

I headed up to Harlem today to meet my buddy Bernie. Bernie is the guy that picks me up at 8:00 A.M. for 1:00 P.M. games so we will have enough time to tailgate. The next home game is an 8:30 P.M. game against New Orleans and he is picking my up at 1:00 P.M. for that one. It’s a good thing we don’t live on the west coast. He would have to spend the night so we could get to the stadium early enough.

We got off the A train and started looking for bars. The first one we found had a sign on the door saying that the owner would be back in a few minutes so we decided to keep looking. Then we found one that was closed, but at least the door was open and there was a guy in there cleaning up so we asked him where we could find a place that was open. He gave us directions to one and headed out.

928) Lenox Lounge

This place is on Malcolm X Blvd (Lenox) between 124th and 125th. This is a great looking place that has an art deco interior. It has been around since the 1930s and was recently renovated. Over the years it has showcased a lot of great jazz talents such as Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane. Their pictures still grace the walls. It has a large dark wood topped bar with brown and tan panels in front. The bar chairs are wood with light blue seats and backs The bar back has mirrors with tiered shelves above black coolers. The lights above the mirrors are panels of frosted glass sandwiched between wood. Above the lights is a narrow mirrored panel. Kind of an interesting effect.

Against the wall opposite the bar are settees with round tables and chairs in front. Lights between the settees are large finned white glass fixtures that look a bit like torpedoes. There are ornate mirrors against the back wall. The floor is nicely patterned with small hexagon tiles.

Now for some reason the bartender didn’t want me to take a picture of her. I can understand that, but she also didn’t want me to take any pictures of the interior. Maybe you can only do so if you are a known photographer working for some publication. I notice that the place has been photographed and the pictures published in the past. It is quite a famous place. Well, just because they wouldn’t let me take a picture doesn’t mean I can’t post a couple.

They still have pretty decent jazz in here at night.

I had an Old Crow and water. I don’t know why I felt like bourbon and water today, maybe because of the décor. And Old Crow was a bourbon I used to drink when I was but a youth.

929) Sylvia’s

Sylvia’s is just down Lenox a bit, and they still list their address as being 328 Lenox Avenue. Sylvia’s is best know as a soul food restaurant, and justifiably so. It originally opened in 1962 and only sat 35 people. Now it occupies almost the entire block and has a capacity of 450. Because it is broken up into several rooms it still manages to feel small and homey. And Sylvia is still a presence keeping an eye on everything and making sure everyone is happy. Strangely enough, Sylvia has branched out into a line of beauty products and you can see them on display by the door. Seems a bit out of place, if you ask me.

Although this is primarily a restaurant there is a little bar with a pink and gray marble top and a shelf behind it with liquor, although not a large selection. They didn’t carry any bourbon. Luckily they did have scotch though. The guy who served us our drinks poured with a heavy hand and even asked us if he put enough in. We figured we better stop him while there was still room to add water.

While we were sitting at the bar Sylvia popped behind it to mix up some sort of a ghastly looking things that had Southern Comfort, Amaretto, pineapple juice, something red, and who knows what all else.

I had a Johnny Walker Red and water.

930) Paris Blues

On the corner of 121st and 7th Avenue was this classic place. We were told that it is the oldest bar in Harlem and I have no reason not to believe it. It was most definitely a neighborhood bar where everybody seemed to know each other and before it wall all over you knew everybody too. There was a Twins fan in there so I got a another chance to make my case for Kent Hrbek getting into the Hall of Fame. To his credit he didn’t laugh in my face, like some of my so called friends do.

There was a good sized bar with a wood-grained tile top, a wood paneled front and a ledge for your foot. Behind the bar were pale pressed wood cabinets and shelves with glass doors. There were also two semi-cabinets that had a lot of inverted bottles on devices that let you pop out a shot by pressing against it with a glass.

There was a pool table in the back but it was covered with a cloth. It looked like it was going to be used for food because there were a lot of tinfoil containers and racks. I think I was told what was going on but it didn’t really register. One of the patrons, Danny, insisted on buy us a drink when we were finishing up the one we bought, and who were we to say no. He turned out to be a poet and has a book out called Grass Root Poems from a Grass Root Poet. His full name is Daniel W. Brown. I couldn’t get him to write a poem about my visit though. The bartender, Sue, joined our conversation and we ended up having a grand time.

Sue, The Conivial Bartender

There were pictures on the walls including a couple of President Clinton, and an upright piano against one brick wall. It probably gets some use late at night. There was kind of a semi-enclosed room off to one side with a few sofas and tables back there.

I had an I.W. Harpers with water. Well, actually, a couple of them.

931) Showmans

This was the place that we stopped at first but the owner or manager or someone was out for a few minutes. It was on our way back to the subway at 375 125th Street. Well another great place. Supposedly it has the longest bar in New York City. It is a nice green marble topped bar too. Green flying saucer like lights hang above it. This is a great place and convenient to the 125th Street A line subway stop. It is a well-known jazz club with no cover and a 2 drink minimum. Thursday night is tap dance night and I can only imagine that that would be a real hoot.

Showmans has been around since 1942 but in its current location, its third, only since 1998. Over the years a lot of greats have played here as well, Sara Vaughan, Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, Eartha Kitt. There is a good sized stage in the back and back-lit photos from the original location hang behind the bar.

The Manager, Mona, And The Bartender, Tanya On Stage

I wish I could remember more about this place, but the drinks were starting to catch up and we weren’t slowing down here. It was our last stop before heading home and I had at least three of whatever I was drinking. I know it was bourbon and water, but don’t know if I ever found out the brand.

We met an interesting fellow, and that is putting it mildly. Frank Minaya was the third black basketball player at Seton Hall in the 1950s. He earned two Masters Degrees: A Master of Science (MS) in School Administration from the City University of New York and a Masters of Arts (MA) in Technology from Columbia University. In 1960s, produced the first full-length feature Bahamian film called Banana Boat Beat and created one of the most famous nightclubs in The Bahamas, Frank's Banana Boat.

Frank Minaya is a direct descendent of the former freed North American slaves brought to the Dominican Republic in the early 1800's. He established Inmobiliaria Minaya y Willmore, S.A. landholding company which, for the last three decades, has focused on accumulating property on the Samaná peninsula. He created a Cultural Art Therapy Programme within Her Majesty's Prison focusing on the creation of Bahamian National Crest sand sculptures. He created first Bahamian Fire Prevention and Safety Programme and donated the first fire truck to the island of Bimini. He also produced Fire Safety, Public Service Film 'From New York City to Bimini' which was shown during Prime Time on ZNS.

Not done yet, he facilitated introduction the Irving Burgie musical programme into all Bahamian primary schools and brought the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture together with the Bahamas National Archives to document Bahamian Heroes, established the Bahamian/Dominican/American Partnership which facilitates humanitarian projects in The Bahamas, the Dominican Republic and the United States.

Well, you get the picture and in fact here is a picture of him after receiving Bahamian Consulate awards.

And now he can say he met Bar Man.

Bernie, Frank, And Bar Man

I had bourbon and water, several actually, and then it was to the subway and on to home. If my buddy Bernie sends me more details of what went on yesterday I will add them. He is a professional partier and I am just an amateur. Also, we spent a lot of time just chatting with people.

A great day with four places hit, and all of them were interesting and enjoyable. Now that I know how easy it is to get here I will be back one night to take in the entertainment. That tap dancing on Tuesday intrigues me no end. 931 for the year and just 69 to go.


dan said...

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nancy said...

I had a teacher who came in as a permanent sub in 6th grade ('59-'60. His name was Frank Minaya nd the school was PS 73 in the Bronx. he told us his team had won the NCAA championship. He was the best teacher I had in all of elementary school and the only one who made me feel good about myself in any way. I have wanted to find him for a long time to tell him how much it meant to me that he was my teacher. I think he is the same Frank Minaya who is mentioned in your blog. If this could be confirmed, I'd be more than appreciative.

Thanks so much.

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