First of all let me note that Spell-Check just let me use the word “barfly”! I take that as a good omen for the rest of today. Now where was I?
I’ll begin at the beginning. It was on a weekday afternoon, in a soon to the closed bookstore, in August of 1975, that I came across the book “New York’s Pubs, Bars and Taverns”. That book was one of the few possessions I had when I landed in my first apartment in New York City in November of 1976. At the time I was working at two restaurants in a city packed with promise but sadly lacking an ambience. Being “in the business” I set out to visit every one of the pubs, bars and taverns mentioned in the above noted book.
Those were the days that entry-level and middle-management jobs were staffed by young men and women lodged in the five-story apartment buildings that line the first and second Avenue in Manhattan from 59th to 86th Street. The New York City bar scene was developing celebrity bartenders with fans in numbers that rival those of the celebrity chefs of today. The story of the original TGI Friday’s is something you should “Google”. The city itself was in not such good shape. In fact, entire neighborhoods in Brooklyn, northern Manhattan, and the South Bronx were abandoned to the rats, rodents and rubble.
While this was happening, the bar business especially in Manhattan was creating a market for customers and staff alike. It would be an overstatement to claim that this was the beginning of a turnaround that has resulted in the New York City of today. Nevertheless, if reality is 9/10 perception, it could be deduced that the lifestyle of today’s New Yorker has been built on the shoulders of the bartenders who reigned in the late 1970s.
The excitement that was generated, even in the two restaurants that I worked at (New York magazine noted in November of 1978 “One of the successful long-running restaurants near Lincoln Center, it has the least to recommend it. It is one of those places that get by on atmosphere, with waiters in monastery customs, stained glass all around, and dripping candles.”). Nevertheless, it was a rare night we did not have a full house at least for two settings. It was an exciting time to be a barfly. Although that job lasted just a year or two, it was only the beginning of my appreciation of the food-service industry. And so, for purely professional reasons, I have ever since been proud member of that fraternity.
This is the first in a series of pieces that when put together will explore the importance of pubs, bars and taverns to urban survival in the very existence of the United States of America.
I invite you to follow along…