A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Friday, May 06, 2005

May. 6.

Special Feature -

Vintage Bar Crawl - Benjamin Franklin may have discovered that lightning conducted electricity, invented bifocals, and founded UPenn, but his greatest contribution to every college student's life is a quote. "Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy," Ben once wrote. With wisdom this powerful, it's no wonder America honored him on the hundred dollar bill.

And so Vince and I set out on a sodden Friday night to get a little happier. Our mission was to hit some of the oldest bars in New York, thanks to this feature from Forgotten NY, to combine a little history with a lot of suds. The following is a short wrap-up of the revelry.

Chumley's - 86 Bedford St., West Village

Chumley's was our first stop, a clandestine and unmarked building that doesn't hint at the fun it houses inside. The building begun as a blacksmith's shop in 1830 and during the Prohibition Era, it became a popular speakeasy, which explains its lack of advertising. Its popularity hasn't abated since then, with even the large bar area mobbed. Somehow though the crowds only feel like part of the zany fun. The walls are the stuff of a librarian's dreams, with more authors per square foot than a Barnes and Noble (although the patrons are more frathouse than Random House). The beers are pretty wonderful though, with Chumley's wide selection of their personal brews. I went with a Wing of Prayer Wheat ($6), which, reminiscent of Hefeweizen, was light and outstanding.

Ear Inn - 326 Spring St., Soho

Ear Inn, way out by the West Side Highway, was established in 1817. That it's lasted so long was no surprise because of the three bars we visited, its atmosphere was the most mature and relaxed. The decor didn't hide the bar's status as the oldest still-functioning bar in the city but it also didn't feel like a novelty, making it both classic and classy. The one downside was that it didn't have its own beers, although the draft selection was certainly respectable. I went with a Boddington's Pub Ale ($6), and Vince and I got a table by the wall. He watched the Wizards eliminate the Bulls and I drew on the table with the crayons provided. Between the packed Chumley's and the experience at McSorley's to come, Ear Inn almost felt like a respite.

McSorley's - 15 E. 7th St., East Village

McSorley's was the last stop on the Vintage Bar Crawl and it ended up being my favorite. I readily acknowledge its faults -- the fleet of fratboys, the tourists, the crowds-- but the positives far outweigh the drawbacks. The huge space prevents any sardinesque closeness, the decor is dirty, sawdusty and overwhelming but very fun, and best of all, there are only two beer options: the McSorley's light and the McSorley's dark. For a measly $4, I sampled both in two tall, skinny mugs. Both were excellent. It's obvious why McSorley's is a perpetual institution, and I'm already planning on going back for more loud barroom excitement. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised if all three of these bars are still around for another century and a half, so my great-great-great grandkids can get mullered in them too.

And be sure to look out for The Grape Escape, a wines-by-the-glass crawl coming in July.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

your blog makes me wish i lived in new york. yum!

7:13 PM  

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