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The Wurst of Oktoberfest

25 Oct


When Gerry announced that we were going to a German place in Astoria called Max’s Bratwurst und Bier, I commented that it was apt for an October destination. “It will be like our own little Oktoberfest,” I told him. Not that I knew really what an Oktoberfest was beyond a celebration of German heritage with beer, schnitzel and sausages, and oom-pah music. “And it will please Eugene,” I added, knowing Eugene’s affinity for food festivals.

“Zactly,” Gerry replied.

The small corner bier hall on 30th avenue featured picnic tables in an enclosed porch as well as an interior, dining room. They even provided blankets if the October weather got too chilly while drinking and eating at the picnic tables. To make sure who the blankets were for, there was a sign in the basket that read: “Not for dogs—for humans.”

We were a couple of blocks from two other restaurants our group previously visited, chosen by Zio who lived nearby, including De Mole (The Mole-A in Astoria) and Ukus (A Bosnian Taste in Astoria). Gerry’s choice also was made in deference to Zio who had been under the weather lately. But despite Gerry’s concern, Zio was still too wobbly to make it over to our version of the Oktoberfest from his nearby love nest.


What’s an Oktoberfest without beer?

The menu at Max’s featured an array of German sausages and a few exotic ones made with alligator and rattlesnake. Keeping in the German spirit, we avoided the exotic and stuck with the traditional. The schnitzel’s offered were a temptation, but since bratwurst was their signature dish, I decided on the “wurst plate,” which offered a choice of two sausages and two side dishes. Mike from Yonkers and Eugene also chose the wurst plate while Gerry veered slightly with the curry wurst, a plate of sliced sausage covered in what was said to be a hot curry sauce. What constitutes hot for Germans, however, is not on the same level as, say, Thai or Indian, so the heat in the curry wurst barely caused Gerry to blink.


Curry Wurst

Of the many sausages, the two I chose were rindwurst, smoked beef bratwurst, and the grobe baeurnbratwurst, a mild farmer’s sausage. Each of us ordered different varieties but sharing was problematic. Even in the spirit of Oktoberfest, who really wants to share someone else’s sausage?


The Wurst Plate

What we did share, however, were two orders of the Max’s light, fluffy potato pancakes served with chunky apple sauce and sour cream. And though I do not consider myself a potato pancake aficionado, Max’s were better than any I’ve had during Hanukkah or any other Jewish holiday.


Potato pancake

As we enjoyed the moist, tender wursts, accompanied by German, vinegar-based potato salad, red cabbage and cold German draft beers like Radeberger Pilsner, Spaten Oktoberfest, and HB original lager, we glanced at the Cubs/Dodgers playoffs on the restaurant’s televisions. At this self made Oktoberfest, there was no oom-pah music or beer maidens in Bavarian garb and for that we were grateful. We did, however, need to finish up in a timely matter, meaning we had to prod Mike from Yonkers to stop with the deliberate little bites. It wasn’t so much that we needed to get home to catch the finale of the baseball game, instead all of us were anxious to witness the third part in that very popular reality show: the presidential debates.


And as a testament to Max’s wursts, even the unappetizing  reality show  that was our post dinner entertainment, could not erase the good taste of all those sausages.

dsc00634Max’s Bratwurst und Bier
4702 30th Avenue

The Happiest of All Hours: Spring Training at the Yankee Tavern

23 Mar


Pitchers and catchers have long ago reported. They are now playing meaningless games in Florida. It is officially Spring. What better time to celebrate the season than for a Happy Hour beverage at the practically vacant Yankee Tavern.


A fresco of two catchers

During the baseball season, fans spill out onto 161st Street before and after Yankee home games at the Yankee Tavern. Whether the Yankees win or lose, those crowds just do not make for a Happy Hour. What better way to enjoy this legendary dive than during the “exhibition” season. There are seats, many of them, at the bar. A meaningless Grapefruit League game is playing on one of the bar’s many screens. All I know that the game does not involve the Yankees.


Grapefruit baseball

When the man behind the stick asks me what I want, I can hear him and he can hear me. We converse. He wants to know what my preference is. I tell him I would prefer something local. He ponders that for a moment.


The man behind the stick at the Yankee Tavern

“The only local beer is probably Yuengling,” he says. I quickly Google on my phone and see that the Yuengling Brewery is in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, which is approximately two and a half hours from Yankee Stadium. Despite the plethora of micro and imported beers now on the menu at the Yankee Tavern, I go with the “local.”


The local beer

The late afternoon sun is streaming in through the high windows of the Yankee Tavern. I notice a fancy espresso machine behind the bar. A few patrons wander in who are, apparently, regulars as the bartender addresses them by their first names and pour them their drinks without asking what they want.


I can hear the excellent juke box playing the Temptations, “Just My Imagination.”  I can watch  Grapefruit League baseball in peace.


“running away from me…”

I finish my Yuengling, leave a tip, and head back out to the subway overlooking a vacant Yankee Stadium as the sun sets over the adjacent Major Deegan Expressway.

yankee tavern

Yankee Tavern

72 E 161st



The Happiest of All Hours: A Touch of Dee (St. Patrick’s Day edition)

19 Mar


A Touch of Dee

I’m not Irish, but that doesn’t stop me from having a beer on St. Patrick’s Day—or any other day for that matter. On this St. Patrick’s Day, I found myself in front of A Touch of Dee on Lenox Avenue in Harlem.

Making my way past a group of vociferous young men hanging out in front of Dee’s, I tried the front door, but it didn’t budge. Could it be closed? And on St. Patrick’s Day? As if that meant something where I was.  But a moment later I heard a buzz and the door opened for me.

Inside there were two women behind the bar and two customers at the bar nursing drinks. “Happy St. Patrick’s Day,” one of the women, a bartender whose named I later learned was Corinne, said to me.

I replied in kind and inquired about a Guinness.

She shook her head.

“Any draft beer?”

“No, just bottles,” she said indicating the bottles in the refrigerator behind the bar.

I peered through the glass and saw Coronas, Coors, Beck’s, Miller Lite, Miller High Life, and Budweiser along with small, individual-sized bottles of red, white and rose wine.

“I’ll take a Miller High Life,” I said and Corinne brought and opened the cold long neck clear bottle for me.

Was it ordained that I had to have a Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day? A  Miller High Life would certainly suffice.

The St. Patrick's Day special at Dee's.

The St. Patrick’s Day special at Dee’s.

There was 1970’s funk coming from the jukebox  and as I sipped the beer, I surveyed the clutter around the room and behind the bar. I noticed signed softballs; remnants from the numerous softball games at the dilapidated Colonel Young ball fields across the street, a coffee mug with the inscription “It’s Better to Give a Shit Than to Receive One,” a Hello Kitty figurine, a statue of a southern gentleman in a green jacket on top of the bar’s jukebox, assorted photos of the Obama family, Christmas ornaments, and, as a nod to St. Patrick’s Day, a few green Irish top hats. There was also a Happy Birthday garland strung across the back of the bar.

“Whose birthday?” I asked Corinne.

She looked surprised at the question and I pointed to the garland.

“Oh that’s an old sign,” she said with a shrug. “But it’s always someone’s birthday around here so we keep it up.”

It's always someone's birthday at Dee's.

It’s always someone’s birthday at Dee’s.

I nodded that I understood.  By the time I was almost done with my beer, Corinne had placed plastic martini glasses filled with green and yellow candies around the bar instead of pretzels or salted peanuts.

St. Paddy's Day bar snacks at Dee's.

St. Paddy’s Day bar snacks at Dee’s.

“We don’t have green beer,” she said. “So this will have to do.”

“It works for me,” I said, but didn’t dare sample one.

A few more gulps and my bottle was empty.

Back out on the street I could hear the helicopters in the distance hovering over Fifth Avenue and the Upper East Side. The parade was wrapping up. If I rushed I could get there before it ended. Or to a pub with Irish music that served green beer and Guinness.

But why would I want to do that?

A Touch of Dee's


A Touch of Dee’s

659 Malcolm X Blvd (Lenox Ave)



The Happiest of All Hours: Bronx Beer Hall

12 Nov

Bronx Beer Hall

“Happy hour is two for one,” the bartender, a woman in a black “Bronx Beer Hall” t-shirt told us as we settled into chairs at the bar in the relatively quiet Arthur Avenue Retail Market where the Bronx Beer Hall was located.

Despite the calm inside, Eugene was having trouble hearing. “Whats’ that?” he asked the bartender while bending over the bar, his hand cupped over his ear in a feeble attempt to hear her.

I was with the Westchester contingent; Gerry and Eugene of the Adventures in Chow City group for a pre-meal drink before one of our interim dinners at a restaurant a block up on 187th Street.

“She said it’s two-for-one,” I said to Eugene in a voice loud and clear enough so he could hear me.

“Buy one beer and you get the second free,” the bartender, who we later learned was a senior at nearby Fordham University, explained.

I was very familiar with the happy hour concept as was Gerry and, I’m sure, so was Eugene. Maybe it was the cavernous indoor market that made it hard for Eugene to hear. Or maybe it was just that he was old and nature was taking its course. I wasn’t far behind him in age, but I could hear the bartender clearly as well as the falsetto singing voice of Anthony Gourdine, also known as “Little Anthony,” as “I’m on the Outside (Looking In),” played in the background.



The beers on tap were mostly Bronx-made, which made me, even without tasting one, very happy. Some were made by the Jonas Bronck’s Beer Company while others were from the City Island Beer Company.

One of the day’s specials was the “Kingsbridge Kolsch” made by the Jonas Bronck’s Beer Company. I was given a sample and immediately after tasting the fragrant icy blonde I ordered a pint. “I’ll have one of those also,” Eugene told the bartender.

“Big Apple Cider,” Gerry said to her, also one of the blackboard specials.

“Cider?” I had never known Gerry to order cider, hard or not.

“It’s supposed to be good for gout,” he said.

I didn’t want to know more than that.

Kingsbridge Kolsch

Kingsbridge Kolsch

The beer was cold and delicious. We chatted with the bartender who, with the exception of only two other customers, had only our group to attend to.

“You get a lot of Fordham students in here?” I asked knowing the proximity to the Fordham campus and recalling my own now very distant college days and how loyal I was to the two-for-one institutions near my university.

She shook her head with a smile. “No, we are the only place around here that actually cards them.”

“You didn’t card us,” Eugene said, feigning outrage.

She smiled at his quip and then said, “We get people who come in here shopping. A lot of old people. Seniors…you know.”

Gerry looked at me. I looked at him. Was she going there to be funny or did she not know any better. Either way there was no need to dwell further on the Bronx Beer Hall demographic. My beer was empty. It was time for the second of the two for one.

I glanced at the t-shirts for sale in the t-shirt booth next to the bar. Most were Italian-themed with stereotypical slogans like “fuhgeddaboudit” and “Leave the gun, take the cannolis.” There was a whiff of tobacco coming from the adjacent cigar factory, La Casa Grande Tobacco Company. Our bartender wanted to know if we were interested in food from Mike’s Deli, one of the most popular spots within the market. We declined, telling her we were eating at a nearby restaurant.

Witty t-shirts for sale.

Witty t-shirts for sale.

While we sipped the delicious Bronx beers, Eugene began reminiscing about the “old days,” back in White Plains and if we knew so and so who was once very pretty but, “you should see her now.”  And then he started talking about his recent 40th high school reunion including listing off several names of people unable to attend due to the fact that they were no longer alive.

I drained my second pint while over the loudspeakers in the now almost deserted market, the Crests were singing “Trouble in Paradise.” Another two-for-one round of Kingsbridge Kolsch was a temptation. I hadn’t eaten; more beer on an empty stomach would be a serious mistake.

Beer among the sausages.

Beer among the sausages.

“Where’s the bathroom in this place,” Eugene wondered out loud.

“I was gonna ask the same question,” Gerry said.

I looked at my empty glass; only a thin foamy head remained on the bottom of it. If I have learned anything over the years, it was to know my limitations.

“Follow me” I said

And that was that.

The Bronx Beer Hall
Arthur Avenue Retail Market
2344 Arthur Avenue



A Neckbones’ Beer Pairing Tip

14 Jun

I’m sure you have often wondered what beverage might best be paired with a bowl of black ink fettuccine, cuttlefish, shrimp, clams and chorizo? Well wonder no more.

Bronx BeerIn my educated and borough-biased opinion, nothing brings out the briny goodness of the dish more than the frothy essence of a cold Bronx Brewery ale.

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.

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.


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.


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

The Happiest of All Hours: Winnie’s Bar & Restaurant

12 Dec

winnie's 018

I’m not one to partake in karaoke. In fact, I don’t recall ever being present during karaoke hours at a bar or club, though maybe I have been. I’ve probably actually gone out of my way to avoid karaoke and if a local pub I had been frequenting began to institute karaoke sessions, that pub would most likely be crossed off my list. Thankfully, it’s a long list.

My feeling is that I would rather put my dime (a figure of speech) in the juke box and hear the real deal than listen to amateurs obliterate the same tune.

I know it’s a cranky attitude to have. Why should I care if people have fun making fools of themselves? I don’t really. I truly believe there is place in this world for karaoke. There’s also a place for restaurants where you need to make a reservation a month in advance. It’s just that neither are my kind of place.

But though at times I’m intractable, I can make exceptions and recently I found myself sitting at the bar at Winnie’s, a Chinatown institution best known for its wild karaoke nights. Of course, I was at Winnie’s during the Happiest Hour, which, for me, is much earlier than the 8pm starting time for karaoke.

They are sensible about the dancing. But no cussing?

They are sensible about the dancing. But no cussing?

Instead of listening to inebriated folks doing their best to cover already bad pop hits, the place was practically empty and the only sound was from the “People’s Court” on television.


While I sipped my very cold $6.50 Tsingtao, two hapless couples were haggling over an altercation that occurred because of a faulty refrigerator bought on Craig’s List. Though the beer tasted good, I began to think that maybe even an amateur with a microphone might be a better listening alternative than to the drek coming from Winnie’s only TV.

I finished the beer but didn’t order another. The dispute had not yet been resolved on the People’s Court, but I wasn’t sticking around for the verdict. Outside there was a drizzle and across the street people were huddled under cover within the atrium of Columbus Park. Winnie’s was surrounded by court houses and the next time I’m summoned for jury duty, I’ll know where to go to relieve the agony of fulfilling my civic responsibility.

Nothing wrong with a place that has a pay phone, karaoke notwithstanding.

Nothing wrong with a place that has a pay phone, karaoke notwithstanding.

For now, though my stay inside Winnie’s was brief, I figured I could extend the happiest of hours. In a way, I might actually discover “double happiness.” After all, I was in Chinatown. The possibilities were endless.

Double Happiness at Winnie's.

Double Happiness at Winnie’s.

Winnie’s Bar & Restaurant

104 Bayard St


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

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