The Happiest of All Hours: Malachy’s Donegal Inn Edition

24 May

When I first moved to New York back in the good old dirty days, there was a neighborhood bar that became my local hangout called The Donegal. I frequented the place, on the corner of 72nd and Columbus, with my team after softball games on the Great Lawn, when the Great Lawn was a much used dust bowl, not the fenced-in grass museum it is now.

And since it was close to my apartment, I would also spend time by myself there watching numerous sporting events; the Yankees, boxing, and especially the New York football Giants. This was well before satellite television and when all we in New York got to see on Sunday was either the Giants or the Jets no matter how bad both teams were.

There was a white-haired, bespectacled Irish bartender named Timothy who knew me as a regular and treated me well, buying back frequent rounds for myself or whoever I was with.

The place was dark and dingy; the tables and chairs rickety. There were relics on the walls; photos of old baseball players, movie stars, and other dusty mementos. It was a gathering ground for a number of older gentlemen and a few ladies who still lived at the nearby SRO’s that, at the time, were a big part of the neighborhood. There was food; burgers, fries, eggs, chicken wings, and a few sandwiches. It was a dive, which was, of course, an attraction to me.

Malachy’s Donegal’s fine furnishing, just like I remembered it.

The Donegal also had what we used to call a “big screen” television. The picture, projected from the front, was usually blurry and had a bluish tinge to it. But we liked its unique “bigness.”

I remember watching a Monday Night game where the Giants were playing the Dallas Cowboys that resulted in a close loss for the Giants and then a shoving match with a loud Cowboys’ fan. With respect to the Donegal, we took the shoving outside.

I moved away from New York for awhile and when I returned, the Donegal was not quite the same. Timothy had disappeared. The neighborhood was changing. And I found other dives more appealing. After awhile, I noticed that the Donegal was renamed Malachy’s. I never returned to Malachy’s until recently, when I found myself in the neighborhood during the Happiest of Hours. I wondered if there would be anything I would remember about the place.

Though the name was changed to Malachy’s,  when I returned from my happy hour there , I did a search online for the Donegal and discovered that Malachy’s official name was actually Malachy’s Donegal Inn. So the bond had not  been totally severed.

Malachy’s Donegal Inn

103 W. 72nd St

As soon as I entered, I was pleased to notice that, despite the many years I had been away, not much had changed, with the exception, most prominently, of the numerous flat screen television as opposed to the one “big screen” I remembered. But that was to be expected.

The day’s specials.

There were plenty of seats at the bar and the tables were all empty. A few gentlemen were drinking beer from bottles and talking loudly in the otherwise quiet bar. They reminded me of the patrons I used to know at The Donegal and I wondered if any of the same SRO’s still existed around the now very lofty real estate of West 72nd Street.

From where I sat, I could look up and see The Babe.  It was nice to know he hadn’t moved from his spot in over 25 years.

The Babe surrounded by Christmas lights, circa 1983.

Roberto Clemente was in his same place as well, but the wings’ special was a new and welcome addition.

Gary Cooper and the Brooklyn Dodgers had always been part of the Donegal’s scenery.

As had The Duke.

I ordered the only “exotic” beer I remembered from when I used to visit: a Bass.

Getting $15.50 back from a $20 made me “happy.”

While I drank the cold beer, I overheard the gentlemen at the bar discussing old movies. “Wasn’t Cagney in a picture where he was in AA?” one of the gentlemen asked the others.

No one answered him.

He took a sip from his bottle. “Or was it Alan Hale in that picture?”

“Junior or Senior?” someone asked, but that pretty much ended the discussion.

A man with a cellphone to his ear took the seat next to me. The bartender came over.  The man ordered a beer and asked to look at a menu. After giving him a few moments, the bartender returned.

“What’s good?” the man asked.

“The specials, brisket or the pastrami,” the bartender replied.

“What do you suggest?”

“Apples or oranges,” the bartender said, a look of impatience on his face.

“Pastrami,” The man said. The bartender nodded and took the menu back.

Peanuts or pistachios are always a good go to option when hungry.

A few minutes later, the bartender returned with the man’s sandwich. I glanced at it. The pastrami looked lean, juicy; the sandwich surrounded by fries. I had to admit, it looked damn good.

I finished my beer and thanked the bartender. Just because Malachy’s was no longer The Donegal, was that really a good reason to desert what had been a comfortable refuge for me? Had I been a bit too hasty in my split with the place?

The regret I was feeling as I walked out was cut short by the realization that I could always return, preferably on a Sunday, where along with an unlimited dose of NFL action, I could take full advantage of the 20 cent wing special.

“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

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