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And the Answer is…

16 Sep

 

 

 

Melons

IMG_4227And more melons.

Melon BurgerEqual a “Melon” burger

At…

J.G. Melon

 

On Friday you were challenged with trying to Name That Place. I thought the photo hints gave away this 40-plus year old Upper East Side institution. But I was wrong. You were stumped.

And what of that famous burger? Where does it rank on your New York burger meter?

 

And the Answer is…

30 May

Old Town

 

But you knew that, didn’t you. Where else would your burger be sent from the kitchen to your table via a dumb waiter?

Dumb waiter contraption

Dumb waiter contraption

The Old Town has been around a lot longer than David Letterman, whose show helped bring it to recent (the last few decades) prominence.

Old Town

Call me old-fashioned, as many do, but I guess even a bar/restaurant that has been around since 1892 is not immune to the allure of self promotion at the expense of a quieter, classy exterior.

A Trio of Bronx Bomber Burgers

17 Apr

Piper's Kilt

“I don’t know what it is about those Piper’s Kilt burgers, but they are the best,” Eugene crowed at our last get together.

“Better than the Blazer?” Gerry inquired.

“No, not better than the Blazer,” Eugene rescinded. “But still…”

Eugene’s declaration was pretty much lost on all of us with the exception of Gerry, who obviously knew of the establishments in question.

I knew nothing of the Blazer, but was aware of Piper’s Kilt, though not the one Eugene was bragging on, which was in Westchester—and not because of the much heralded burger. The Piper’s Kilt I was familiar with was in the Bronx and I never experienced the burger—or anything else there. I knew of the Bronx Piper’s Kilt because it was a block away from the Kingsbridge Little League field I had become so familiar with last summer and fall. I drove and walked past the place several times during those seasons and took notice of the sign proclaiming the burger being the best in town. Because so many joints make similar assertions, I paid no attention to the claim.

I was however, tempted. Piper’s Kilt looked like the perfect place to escape a few innings with a pint of something cold on tap. Despite the temptation, I never went in. For some reason I thought that sitting in a dark tavern, treating myself to a cold one and relishing a Homer Simpson moment while my kids were out on the field playing might send the wrong message to them.

But now that it was off season, I could no longer use such a lame excuse and after Eugene’s self assured hamburger pronouncement, I believed it was time to put his Piper’s Kilt claim to test. My eating compadres, Zio and Gerry, tagged along to help me assess.

Not only the best in town, the "best in the city."

Not only the best in town, the “best in the city.”

As I often do now when I visit the establishments I wish to chronicle in these pages, I arrived a little early and began taking pictures of the exterior of the restaurant. While I was photographing the sign proclaiming the burger as the best in town, a man in a sport jacket rushed outside and, after telling me he was the owner, asked, a bit defensively, why I was taking the pictures. I mumbled something about how I like to photograph different restaurant signs and send the pictures to my friends. That didn’t seem to satisfy him, so I told him I just like to take pictures of the places I eat and that I heard Piper’s Kilt was good and that I was going to give it a try.

He looked relieved and smiled. “Great, I just was checking. You never know what people do with photos these days on the internet.”

“Yeah, you never know,” I said in agreement.

He offered his hand. “I’m Joe,” he said. I took his hand and introduced myself. “Come say ‘hi’ when your friends get here.”

After I finished with the pictures, I walked in. Joe was at the bar sitting next to another, much older man who was nursing a white wine.

“So are the burgers really that good?” I asked him.

“The best in the city,” Joe said definitively.

“Is it like the other Piper’s Kilts?” I asked. The Piper’s Kilt Eugene raved about was in Eastchester. And I knew there was one other in the Inwood section of Manhattan.

“They do their thing, we do ours,” Joe replied with a sly smile.

“But the burgers are as good?”

“The best in the city,” he again said.

“It’s the grill,” the man at the bar next to Joe and who I was introduced to as the daytime “mixologist,” added.

“Yeah, the grill is like Archie Bunker’s chair,” said Joe. “It’s worn and old, but it’s comfortable. It’s got all his old farts in it.”

I didn’t know what to say. I pictured Archie Bunker’s chair and then tried to remember an “All in the Family” episode where he was farting in his chair.

“What I mean is that the grill is so old, it’s really seasoned. That adds to the flavor of the burgers,” Joe explained.

“ Gotcha.”

Zio walked in and I introduced him to Joe and then Gerry followed. The three of us sat at a high, bar table surrounded by pictures of New York Yankees.

We were only a few miles from Yankee Stadium and though there was a “David Wright” burger on the menu, the Yankee options were more plentiful. There was the “Derek Jeter,” the “Robinson Cano” and the “#7; the Mickey Mantle.”

"Hey, Mick, how come we all get plaques but Joe and I don't have a burger named after us at Piper;s Kilt?"

“Hey, Mick, how come we all get plaques but Joe and I don’t have a burger named after us at Piper’s Kilt?”

Gerry chose the “Cano,” a burger with Swiss cheese and Canadian bacon. Zio decided on the “Jeter,” bbq sauce and fried onions, while I went with the” #7, the Mickey Mantle:” a burger with cheddar, bacon, and onion rings.

While we waited, Joe graciously sent over beers for Gerry and I while Zio stuck to his usual Coke and lime. The burger platters arrived all with French fries, while the #7 included lettuce and tomato along with the chili and onion rings.

Cano, Mantle, and Jeter, clockwise from the top.

Clockwise from the top: Cano, Mantle, Jeter.

I took a taste of the chili before administering it onto the burger.  I didn’t think #7 would have approved. I decided not to harm the burger in any way by the sub par chili. The burger itself, on the other hand, would have made The Mick happy, as it did me.  I couldn’t say for sure whether it was the quality of the meat, the way it was cooked to order, or that grill—seasoned most likely by the millions of burgers that had come before mine—that gave it that distinctive burger flavor. And did it really matter what made it so good?

Zio enjoyed his “Jeter” while Gerry had no problems devouring the “Robinson Cano” though still was admittedly partial to the burger at the mysterious “Blazer.”

Thankfully Joe didn’t put me on the spot and ask me if I concurred with him that the Piper’s Kilt burger was the best in the city. I would have had to told him the truth; that it was not. But I would have told him it was real good and without a doubt, the best burger I’ve ever had in the Bronx, if that is any consolation.

Walking out I thought about Joe’s earlier analogy regarding the grill and it was beginning to make more sense to me. The Piper’s Kilt burger evoked the safe and familiar and eating it was probably as much as a comfort to me as Archie Bunker’s chair, which I believe now resides in the Smithsonian Institute, was to him, farts and all. And really, how much more can one ask of a burger than that?

"Sorry, Edith, I've got gas from that chili burger."

“It’s that chili burger again, Edith.”

The Happiest of All Hours: WXOU Radio

27 Feb

WXOUWhen I was a kid, I used to listen to the transistor radio at night and pull in AM radio stations from as far away as St. Louis and Detroit. I knew then that the stations west of the Mississippi River began their call letters with a K and conversely with a W east of the river, where I was from. I knew this because at night, when the stations’ signals were clearest, I could hear St. Louis Blues hockey games and in the summer, Jack Buck calling St. Louis Cardinal baseball games from KMOX in St. Louis.

I found out later, the early 1990’s to be precise, that there was a KCOU in Columbia, Missouri that is the University of Missouri’s flagship radio station. I know this because on the Upper West Side there  was a no-frills, some might say, dive bar called KCOU. Maybe the owners of KCOU went to the University of Missouri. I didn’t know and I never asked. It was just the name of a place I would go to early and often; mainly for the bar’s happy hour which began, I believe, at four in the afternoon and lasted until eight at night. The happy hour featured a two-for-one deal on anything you wanted—there were no restrictions as many bars institute now where the two-for-one deal applies only for “well” drinks made with the house booze, usually far from top shelf.

WXOU

At KCOU my preferred cocktail at the time was a Stoli on the rocks with a wedge of lemon. And the bartenders, who of course I became very friendly with, would not skimp on the pour, generously filling the four ounce glass to the rim. Along with the drinks, big bowls of salted peanuts or mixed nuts were complimentary. On many nights those bowls of nuts, which were replenished whenever emptied, would serve as my evening meal.

The cocktail of choice at KCOU.

The cocktail of choice at KCOU.

The bar had an eclectic juke box and was usually very quiet at least until eight when the imploding frat scene that was taking over the stretch of Amsterdam Avenue where KCOU was located would begin to infiltrate the space. By then, after too many two-for-ones, it was lights out for me anyway.

To my dismay, the frat scene implosion eventually forced KCOU out of its Amsterdam Avenue location. But I quickly learned that there was a sister “radio” bar named WXOU on Hudson Street, diagonally across from the legendary White Horse Tavern.

Though a subway schlep from where I lived uptown prevented WXOU from replicating KCOU’s home away from home status, I would make my way downtown often enough to enjoy the similar happy hour atmosphere at the cozier WXOU. The bar had the same two-for-one policy and even the complimentary bowl of nuts in the identical white bowls that I was familiar with from KCOU. The juke box was, I was happy to see, almost a carbon copy of the uptown version. The major difference was that WXOU was much more popular than its late uptown brother. In the West Village, the happy hour at WXOU was a hit; the chances of a frat implosion on this stretch of Hudson Street was remote.

Once upon a time at a dive named...

Once upon a time at a dive named…

After probably a decade long absence, I returned to WXOU recently and discovered, happily, that it was pretty much exactly as I remembered it. The posters for the movies “Stranger than Paradise,” and “Once Upon A Time in America,” were in the same spots they were when I last visited. Same with the picture of the old Brooklyn Dodgers and the portrait of Jackie Robinson. The WXOU radio clock still stood where it did before; in the back of the bar near the restrooms. I flipped through the juke box selections. They were still top notch.

Jackie Robinson was still there.

There were changes, however. The happy hour, which I noticed now began at three, was no longer two-for-one. Pints of draft beers were a mere four dollars and, like it had at pretty much every drinking establishment, the beer list expanded to include microbrews and beers from Belgium that I never knew existed back during my “two-for-one” period.

I ordered a Spaten, a German beer from the bartender, a female with multiple colorful tattoos on her forearms. Along with the beer, I was given a bowl of nuts. Upon further inspection, the bowl of nuts included some of that other crunchy, salty stuff; pretzel pieces, honey coated almonds, mini-crackers, and those salty sesame sticks.

Spaten and nuts

Spaten and nuts

I sipped the beer and stared at the “All Cash. No Red Bull” sign above the bar. It was still daylight outside and from my perch at the bar I watched the activity on Hudson Street. Fathers, more than mothers, I noticed were accompanying their young children home from what must be a nearby school.

WXOU

I finished the pint—and then another. The Animals were on the juke box: “We’ve Gotta Get out of this Place.” I was in no rush to leave this place, but I gathered my belongings and collected what remained of my money on the bar, minus a tip.  The last thing I did before I left was to grab a handful of the crunchy salty stuff from the white bowl and while walking out, tossed a few  into my mouth.

The view from my perch.

The view from my perch.

WXOU Radio Bar
558 Hudson Street

And the Answer is…

19 Nov

On Friday I posted the photo below and challenged you to Name That Place.

I thought it was a “gift” to all of you, it would be that easy to identify. But maybe we all aren’t up on our city history as we should be. No one was able to identify the place in question. No one knew that the “gift” had to do with the history of the place.

There just aren’t that many saloons in this town anymore where a starving writer can create in a “nurturing atmosphere.”

It seems Ludwig Bemelman did a lot of writing in saloons. He has a bar named after him about sixty blocks north in the Carlyle Hotel, while  back on 18th Street, O’ Henry got his own “Way.”

 

The Happiest of All Hours: Paris Blues

26 Oct

I was taking pictures of the scaffold-shrouded exterior of Paris Blues when a man’s head popped out of the door.

“Come on in,” the man said to me.

“I plan to,” I responded.

And after taking a few more pictures, I walked into the dark bar.

I took a seat and noticed a third person hunched at the end of the bar near the door sleeping comfortably.

It had been several years since I’d been to Paris Blues, but not much had changed inside except for the small stage where, at the time I walked in, another man was fiddling with a drum set.

The stage at Paris Blues

Live music was new—at least to me. The man who had gestured me inside was now behind the bar. He mumbled something about the other man up on the stage with the drum set.

“Taught him everything he knows about drums,” the bartender, who told me his name was Jer, short for Jerry, said.

“You play?” I asked.

“Used to,” he said.

Live music at Paris Blues

The younger man up on the stage snorted and soon their conversation turned to the Jets.

“They lost because they were playing scared,” the younger man said.

“No, they weren’t scared,” Jer said, ‘They lost, that’s all.” And that effectively ended the conversation.

A super-sized television set behind the stage that I knew had not been there when I visited last was on to a late afternoon rerun of  Bonanza.

The beer options, according to Jer, included Budweiser, Corona, “Heiny,” and Sugar Hill. I was in Harlem. I thought it only fitting to choose the latter.

The beer of choice in Harlem

After serving me the beer, Jer moved around the bar and roused the sleeping man who silently got up and went outside.

Paris Blues, Jer told me, had been open for 43 years.

“How many of those have you been working here?” I asked.

“’bout 30 or so,” he answered.

African American icons proudly on display.

I really didn’t know why it had taken me so long to return to Paris Blues. Trombonist Frank Lacey, who I once saw perform with trumpet player, Roy Hargrove on the French Caribbean island of Martinique, was scheduled to perform later that evening.

“You get lots of tourists here?” I asked as I sipped more of my beer.

Jer nodded. “Japanese, Germans, busloads of ‘em. They’ll be in here tonight.”

On the television, a rainmaker had brought rain to the Ponderosa and a little girl was healed of a television sickness. The Cartwright men all smiled at the end and then the familiar theme song played.

Happy hour entertainment.

I finished my beer and thanked Jer.

“Come on back,” he said as I was leaving.

I told him I would.

The man who had been sleeping inside was sitting on a bench outside the bar. I nodded at him and headed down the street. It was beginning to rain in Harlem. After about a block, I turned around.  I could see the man on the bench slowly get up from his seat. I watched for a moment as he walked back into Paris Blues.

Paris Blues
2021 Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd
Harlem

Beer Therapy

12 Oct

Life presents many complex problems.

Beer is not one of them.

The Happiest of All Hours: Jimmy’s Corner

25 Sep

Jimmy’s Corner
140 W. 44th St

There was a time, during my first decade in New York City, when I would wander the Times Square area. Maybe I would take in a two dollar double feature on 42nd Street. It could be a horror bill like Mark of the Devil: Part Two (“banned in 10 countries”) paired with The Last House on the Left (the original), soft core porn Emmanuelle 2 with The Cheerleaders (“They don’t bring it on, they take it off”), or kung fu epics like Five Deadly Venoms and Drunken Master.

Always plenty of entertainment options on 42nd Street.

There were a few bars in the area including one with an outstanding juke box that played the music of Fela Kuti, not far from where that funky Nigerian band leader was celebrated in a Broadway musical, and had bawdy female bartenders who had tattoos a generation before multiple tattoos became a requirement for a coed to even consider pledging at a Sarah Lawrence sorority.

Always plenty of leg room at the grindhouses.

That bar is long gone—disappeared even before the grindhouses where I watched the abovementioned movies were sanitized. But there is a remnant in Times Square that does remain from that era. Another bar. This one also had a memorable juke box though the music tended more toward soul, jazz, blues and R&B. And after a recent visit, I’m happy to report that the tunes on the jukebox in Jimmy’s Corner are still magnificent.

Some of the tracks from Jimmy’s juke box.

“Cheaper to Keep Her,” by Johnny Taylor was playing when I walked in. Knowing that Jimmy’s can get crowded, I stopped in before the after work rush and had my pick of seats at the bar. Jimmy’s doesn’t have any advertised happy hour and needn’t. The prices for his drinks will always make one happy. What made me happy was the $4 pint of Sam Adams poured for me.

I hadn’t been to Jimmy’s in years and I noticed that, since my last visit, there was probably not an inch of space on the walls and behind the bars that now hadn’t been covered with photos of boxers, fight posters, framed newspaper articles, and anything else to do with the “sweet science,” sports or Jimmy Glenn himself, the owner of Jimmy’s and a former boxing trainer.

Wise words.

That I could actually see the walls was also something that had changed since my last visit. Back in the day, before the smoking ban in bars, the place was so thick with it, only night vision goggles would penetrate the haze and, unlike now, the non-smoker needed to go outside into the cold for a puff of pure Times Square oxygen.

Does DeNiro count as an ex-boxer?

The phone rang over the music while I sipped my beer. “Oh hi Jimmy,” I overheard the bartender say into the phone. Knowing the Jimmy was most likely Jimmy Glenn.

“We’re running out of the Belvedere,” the bartender said. “Only two bottles left.”

Jimmy Glenn is not a bar owner in abstentia. He is a constant presence at the bar. I remember once when a softball team I was playing with had its end of season party at Jimmy’s. We had the narrow back room to ourselves and had food brought in. Jimmy would come back frequently to make sure we had everything we needed; that we were being well taken care of. As I recall, we were.

Jimmy and a playful friend.

“No, it’s quiet,” the bartender said into the phone. “No rush, Jimmy. Take your time. I’ll see you later.” And then he hung up.

I got up and headed to the men’s room. Just outside the door was a framed fading article by Daily News’ columnist Mike Lupica written in 1978. I read the headline and wondered how Spinks (Leon or Michael) could bring hope to Times Square. I didnt’ read the article to find out.

Hope?

I was almost done with my beer. Tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons was playing “Blue Ammons” on the juke box.  I drained the pint, gathered my stuff, and thanked the bartender on my way out.

Jimmy’s Corner: 2012

Once outside I walked, maneuvering between neon-ogling tourists, to Broadway.  As I made my way to the subway at 42nd Street, I passed both Mickey and Minnie Mouse and before I entered the station, Cookie Monster was there to wave goodbye.

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.”

The Happiest of All Hours: Tap A Keg Edition

6 Apr

Tap A Keg: A Hell of a Joint.

2731 Broadway

Like the Subway Inn, the first installment of The Happiest of All Hours Subway Inn, it had been several years since I visited the Tap A Keg. And I remember distinctly why I have stayed away for so long.

I, along with the softball team I played for, used to frequent the place after games uptown in Central Park. Beers were cheap;  a prerequisite, the juke box eclectic—they had an impressive selection of blues, and you could bring in pizza or anything else you wanted to eat without complaint by the establishment.

One year, however, we began to notice that in addition to the assortment of scruffy regulars at Tap A Keg, there were now a number of four-legged patrons. The place had become a refuge for dogs and their beer-drinking owners. They walked free throughout the bar, some big, some small, some curiously sniffing around our post-game sweat and scavenging the pizza scraps on the floor.

Time for a cigarette and a squirt..

I had no problem with the dogs; their presence contributed to the dive’s diversity. That is until one day, a not very well trained, four-legged regular could not control its bowels and did it’s “bizness” in the middle of the bar.

There is no escape from the dogs of Tap a Keg…even in the men’s room.

Now I have had dogs. There’s one padding around our apartment as I write this. Sometimes they f**k up; they make mistakes. I can forgive them for that. But what I couldn’t forgive at this hell of a joint,  was the negligence of its inebriated owner. The steaming mound sat there as I sipped my beer and munched on the house popcorn. And it sat there while I ordered another bottle. After the second beer, I knew the Tap A Keg romance was over. There were limits on what one could tolerate in a dive.

Tap A Keg’s “no leash” policy.

I returned to the Tap A Keg recently to see if anything had changed. The dogs still roamed free. The regulars were still scruffy. The bar prices had not been  affected by inflation. The popcorn was still complimentary. The happy hour extended. The juke box as good as I remembered.  And, thankfully, the floor was poop-free.

Tap A Keg’s table art.

After listening to Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Member’s Only” on the juke box while sipping an ice cold Corona, I decided it was time to let bygones be bygones. I could now accept the concept of “pet friendly” in a dive bar.

Blues for man’s best friend.

After all, there were much worse things than pet friendly. The place could become “kid friendly.” Then it would truly be a hell of a joint.

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