Thursday, October 7, 2010

That "Old Man Bar"

When cold weather settles upon Manhattan the idea of ducking into a cozy pub becomes especially appealing. Oneal's on the Upper West Side used to be one of my favorite cold weather stops until it shut down last June. Sadly, it was one of many neighborhood landmarks lost to the recession. But drinking establishments where bars have been polished smooth over the years, where the bartenders take pouring seriously, and where conversation is king can still be found throughout New York City. One of those bars is Dublin House.

Other bars in New York have more appeal but somehow a dim hideout, described in an online forum as "an old man bar that smells of old man sweater," inspires love and loyalty in all its patrons. A bit of quick research reveals that countless glowing, personal reviews exist about such an unassuming place.

Years ago, while I was still in high school, friends and I would stop into Dublin House for after-school pitchers of beer. We were newly eighteen at a time when New York's drinking age was lower and anything laminated sufficed as proper identification. We would pool our babysitting money, settle into one of the large booths in the back, and tackle our homework. Tom Petty and Bob Seger blasted from the jukebox as we shouted our conversations, smoking Marlboros bought from a cigarette machine. But the history of Dublin House stretches much further into the past than the lax 1970s.

Shrugging off a damp coat and a chill at Dublin House feels as good today as it probably did to the bar's first patrons more than 80 years ago. Back then sailors would dock at the 79th Street Boat Basin and make their way toward a blinking sign in the distance - the same neon harp that lights the bar's entrance to this day. For many sailors, Dublin House became their first stop in Manhattan the momnet they set foot on land.

Dublin House started operating in 1921 during Prohibition. "Special arrangements" with authorites made it possible for the bar to continue selling alcohol discreetly right through the country's "dry" years. Since then the bar has remained unchanged, doing uninterrupted business through economic downturns and the financial crises that periodically threaten New York. Today it's still the sort of place where anyone - man, woman, sailor, or even a young adult with proper identification - feels welcome. It's a genuine New York neighborhood bar.

Reading online you'll discover that Dublin House often receives compliments garnished with an affectionate put-down. Here are a few of my favorites:

"I can't define it but you can tell a pub has a heart when it's got old geezers and dogs in it. Dublin House has a heart."

"Unfortunately for my Dublin House patronage...when selecting bars...I use my eyes (I like eye candy), my tongue (I like microbrews, nice wine), my ears (I like music), my stomach (I like food), and another organ (see 'my eyes' parenthetical). But if I ever get around to following my heart, I'll find my way back to the Dublin House more. This will probably have to wait, though, until my other organs aren't functioning quite as well as they do today..."

"Now THIS, my friends, is my future. A dark bar with absolutely no frills and a real nice, old school bartender. I'll spend my final afternoons hunched over a table with a beer in hand, chatting to the youngin's who happen in, and hopefully have someone to share old memories with."

"A bar that almost resents you knowing about it."

The next time there's a chill in the air, consider warming up at your favorite New York haunt or find one to love in Best Bars of New York, by Jeff Klein and Cary Hazlegrove. Or just stop by "that old man bar" on West 79th Street. You'll find it under a neon pink harp.


  1. Hi City Girl,

    Nice write-up. I used to drink at the Dublin House when I was working around the corner a few years ago. At the time, dive Irish bars were still relatively common in New York, but it had a nice old-timey feel - even then it felt like an older Manhattan. I'll have to visit again when I'm in the area.

    A couple of times when I've been in UWS, I've gone to Malachy's on 72nd. Not quite the same look but still a working class tavern, something NYC has less and less of. Lively, on a Sunday afternoon at least.

    How interesting that the sailors used to come up from the docks on 79th. You couldn't even imagine that now . . .


  2. Hi City of Strangers,

    Dublin House is such a neat, old fashioned bar. I hope we never lose it. I'm guessing it will be there for quite awhile since it does steady business all day and gets so crowded on certain nights. Let's hope it will stay in business even as so many other bars like it disappear.

    Malachy's sounds nice in that old fashioned way - especially on a Sunday afternoon as you mentioned.


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