The final installment of my favorite dive bars in NYC has me drinking my all time favorite beer -- Natty Boh from Baltimore. In a twist on "Smokey and the Bandit," I drive the drink up from Charm City as often as I can. The B'More grit is washed away and the metallic tint of the can helps the taste of this fine beer. In the Canton neighborhood, Nacho Mama's serves Natty Boh in bottles and in the rare 40 oz bottle. Those 40 oz are like drinking an endangered species. On to the final three bars...
3. Hogs and Heifers -- When I first went to this bar in 1993 there was a Polaroid of Charles Bukowski at the bar, hanging on the back wall by a thumb tack. It stayed for many years until someone stole it and left the tack. Over the last twenty years, everything -- the plastic marlin, the motorcycle, the 10,000 bras, have been covered in a dust so thick, that the outside circumference of the ceiling fan has stalagcites of dust hanging down. Change comes slowly, if at all. When Coyote Ugly became the movie tie in Mecca, Hogs and Heifers went with a "Dick's Last Resort" style of service to compensate. It didn't last long, because the truth is that the bartenders are naturally tough (also beautiful) and if they are rude to customers they generally have good reason. Hogs and Heifers was a dive when the Meatpacking Neighborhood was filled with only blood-stained labcoat wearing meatpackers and negligee wearing transvestite hookers. It has stayed a dive while today the neighborhood is besieged by high-end fashion, twenty dollar martinis, and a price increase at Hector's, the remaining diner. There are two rules as you enter -- no gang colors and no ties (they will be cut off by the bartender). There is a third unspoken rule -- no bullshit. Basically, Hogs and Heifers has zero tolerance for bullshit despite the onslaught of tottering high heels on the cobblestones, folded sweaters, and bottle service. It's true in the age of cellphones, rarely does some drunken cutie get up on the bar and bare her breasts, but the beer costs the same and the music is just as loud. I think if Marty McFly was going to appear in a fourth film -- he would find himself at Hogs and Heifers -- the only place in NYC where one can go back to the future. Still, I wish someone would return that Bukowski Polaroid.
2. Professor Thom's -- I consider the greatest sports bar in America to be Cole's in Buffalo. It has what is needed -- old trophies whose victories were discontinued in the 70s, beer ads from a different time, and walls that have captured the cheers and tears of generations of sports fans. Professor Thom's is a Boston bar in NYC (their slogan is, "Behind enemy lines since 2005") but it's on its way to the sports bar hall of fame. Every Boston team but the Patriots (OK, a few NYC teams too) have won a championship while diehard Proff Thoms regulars have saturated the walls with a winning spirit. The nachos are huge, Steven Wright watches Sox games sitting at the bar, and they once had a beer named after Bill "The Spaceman" Lee. This bar is Yaz hitting the wall, a last second shot by Bird, a flying leap by Orr. I just wish they served dessert. Believe it or not, it's hard to find a good sports bar in NYC - the kind where a guy is watching a streamed game on his laptop at the bar during March Madness because the 17 games on the TVs are not enough. Now, Proff Thoms also does some interesting counter programming - the upstairs loft hosts "Game of Thrones" nights and was once the place to watch "Lost" where drinkers would get a free beer and sandwich with the "Lost" logo on them. There is even a balcony overlooking second ave for balmy summer nights. Plus, every July 4th the unofficial official hot dog contest after party is held at Prof Thoms (the contest sponsor does not pick up the tab, but eaters and competitive eating fans do). If you have been amazed at Joey Chestnut's capacity for hot dogs, you should see his record breaking consumption of "Joey Juice" (Double Jack Daniels and Coke)...drooling is not limited to eating tubesteaks. If you want knowledgeable fans, cute girls, good food, and wise ass managers, plus lobster on Mondays head to Prof Thoms.
1. The Village Idiot (defunct) -- The slogan for The Village Idiot was, "the bar you've been practicing for." You wouldn't know it by looking at it... a sloped wooden soaked bar that tilted towards the left center so much that one seat caused beer drippings to fall into one's lap. The walls were falling apart, the bathroom was a mess, and the back room was filled with smoke whether someone was smoking or not. The owner -- a voluminous but kind man named Tom, would drink Guinness until he passed out leaning on the bar, but the stories that followed the man are legendary. One liquor rep who accompanied Tom on a junket to the Kentucky Derby said that he bought out the liquor cart and then emptied it almost by himself. When he wanted to hire new bartenders he simply wrote in chalk on the board outside the bar, "Shameless sluts wanted -- no experience necessary." Indeed many of the Idiot's beauties would flash the construction workers during their "power hour" liquid lunches, often making over $300 in that single hour. Mary Dawn, whom I fell in love with one Winter, would often cover her nipples in duct tape to add to the mystery. The Village Idiot reveled in its low class nature -- in the 90s there was a fish tank with snapping turtles and one could purchase three goldfish for a dollar and feed the turtles. I don't think PETA was aware but the regulars who came for Lily or Mary Dawn's brand of humor (and drinking) didn't complain. I loved the place. I loved the bartenders and occasionally they loved me back -- but only for short torrid affairs with no hangovers. As proof that the Village Idiot didn't change (nor its acrid smell) the night the smoking ban in NYC went into effect everyone thought that their clothes wouldn't smell of smoke the next morning -- they were wrong -- their clothes smelled like Jagermeister. That smell was captured in the coin box of the "Creature from the Black Lagoon" jukebox that my buddy Levi acquired from Tom, when the bar was closing. Levi would let people smell the inside of the machine and they always identified it as the Idiot's signature odor. Plus, the fruit flies in it wouldn't die, but Levi sold the machine for his highest price ever -- the buyer had never seen art work so pristine as if the machine was brand new. Levi mentioned, quite truthfully, that sunlight had not hit the art in twenty years -- the back room had no windows and the despite creatures from the beer lagoon puking by (and once inside) the machine -- the pinball art was perfect. So was the bar. Tom would own a bar, but set the low prices and when the neighborhood gentrified he would move on. Today, you can see the beginnings of the next Idiot at places like Spanky and Darla's, The Duck, and most notably, The Patriot which has some of the Village's flair, but needs time soaked booze to pickle the place to perfection. One can find old photos of past Village Idiot bartenders but online is only one of the beautiful temptress Mary Dawn -- ripped tank tee shirt, cowboy hat, and Jack Daniels raised like the Stanley Cup. It is a moment in time, for a bar long gone, that I had the pleasure of witnessing. Belly to the bar, drinkers craved that history in a bottle and the Village Idiot opened its doors and its heart for our livers and lives.
Crazy Legs Conti is an organ donor but wonders if his liver is already listed on Ebay. His twitter handle is ColemansBandG and his CB Radio handle is Off-Beige.