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Thursday, November 15, 2012


I'll admit that when I was young I was sceptical of bars, but that was understandable as my entire knowledge of them was my mother's warnings about the evils of bars and the alcohol sold within. I never knew my father to go into a bar. Then I turned 18 the same year they changed the laws to allow 18-yo.'s to vote and drink, so I got to vote for McGovern (r.i.p.) and enjoy ice-cold Heineken as we commiserated on Nixon's self-destructive soon-to-be-Watergate-contaminated victory. We went to a bar to celebrate Nixon resigning too!
Really I grew to absolutely love bars in New York City. Nigel and I pounding pints of Guinness or lager, smoking cigarettes, & scarfing down chips.

It was going to Irish-owned and staffed bars in the island of Manhattan that made me understand and appreciate good bar tending. There is also for bar patrons a certain etiquette and code of acceptable behaviours and real men understand and adhere to these and pass them on to the next generation, like not annoying the staff or other patrons, holding your liquor, paying your tab and tipping your server appropriately. Bar tending to me is one of the world's most important, vital and perhaps underrated professions in this world. I am not talking about people who tend bar while they are waiting for a call-back(talking on the phone to their agent or other actor friends) for a show/movie/play or to pay their way through college (leaning up in the corner with face in a book) though these situations do not necessarily preclude being a good bartender.

Patrick Conways on 43rd near to Vanderbilt hard by Grand Central was owned by two young brothers named Clancy and they were nice though business-like fellows. Their bar was always staffed by fellow Irish people. The bar men were just that, bar men. I never saw a woman behind the gleaming, immaculate, mahogany. For sure the restaurant had plenty of young Irish girls waiting the tables and working in the kitchen and dining rooms including the owners' sister. In my time I remember 4 of the barmen who went on to own their own bar and each of these was an attempt at replicating Patrick Conways' gleaming brass, wood and tile. We became such regulars, my brother Patrick, my friend Nigel and myself, that Friday didn't feel like Friday if we didn't see Sean, Liam, Martin and Edmond. The clientele was almost exclusively business people and the bar staff behaved accordingly -friendly but resserved, attentive but not intrusive in other words professionals.
In fact, the brothers themselves opened a second bar at 34th Street and 3rd Avenue called Patrick Kavanaughs which was similar but more of a neighbourhood place. The two brothers sold out eventually and returned home to Dublin as the nascent Celtic Tiger began to roar.  There were great Irish barmen all over Manhattan from the Plaza, to the Abbey, to Dempsey's, to the Central, to The Blarney Stone, to Swifts. 

The great NY bars were places for men, and not in a chauvinistic institutionalised way, but in the sense that men could congregate, be at their ease, talk or be silent, get drunk or not, spend a lunch hour, meet old or new friends, kill time or make a rendezvous for further perambulation with or without the social pressures of female society as one chose.
A good bar is and should be too a shelter from driving rain, blistering heat, or importantly the cold, cruel world. I've never been one to bend a barman's ear too much with personal tales of woe, save the one or two who were my pals outside of their place of employment, and even then I thought it best to make sure those were rare occurrences. 
My teetotal wife doesn't understand bars further than the fact that I am happy in them  and it is where I meet up with my like-minded pals ("Why don't you go play with your friends?") and that's as ok with me as it is with her.

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