Saturday, August 31, 2013

Old NYC Bar Tour

I was in the city early a few days ago and decided to walk around the Union Square area before heading into work. I remembered that the Old Town Bar and Restaurant was in the area and decided to make that my first stop.

Located at 45 East 18th Street 212-529-6713. This bar has been in continual operation since 1892 and makes it one of the oldest bars in NYC. The place has a classic mahogany and marble bar which is 55 feet long and has tin lined ceilings which are 16 feet tall. The large glass windows, which are opened in the summer lends a nice touch of natural light to the ambience. Speaking of ambience, the bar is not loud with music. This is so customers can actually engage in conversation with each other without having to scream. That is a nice refreshing change of pace. But by no means was the bar quiet. The bar was buzzing with the clink of forks on plates, glasses being toasted and varied conversations coming in and out of earshot. I decided that a beer would be an appropriate choice (though I hear that a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned at The Old Town is amazing). Since I like to have beers that I normally can't get, I chose The Anchor Summer Beer.  Here is how the beer is described on the Anchor Steam website:
The crisp, clean flavors of Anchor Summer ® Beer are refreshingly light, a thirst-quenching American-style filtered wheat beer.

Released each year in advance of the summer season, Anchor Summer ® Beer is an all-malt beer, with over 50% of its malt derived from malted wheat. It is fermented with a traditional top-fermenting "ale" yeast, yielding a clean, balanced flavor that highlights the refreshingly light flavor of malted wheat. The head is unusually abundant due to the natural protein deposits of wheat, with a thick consistency similar to meringue.
Now the beer that is shown on the website had a different color than the one I was served at the bar. The tap did say Anchor Summer so I'm going to assume that I did have the Summer Ale. I found the Anchor Summer to be quite refreshing and full bodied. It was a dark beer.  One thing that caught my eye was the beer list on the menu. They had Ballantine Ale. Talk about old school.

The next stop took me Eastward to another classic New York City bar. I ended up at Pete's Tavern. Pete's Tavern is located at 129 E 18th St, New York Corner of Irving Place 212-473-7676.  Pete's Tavern makes the claim to being the oldest continuously operating restaurant and bar in New York City doing so since 1864. That honor fell to the Bridge Cafe (1847) located near South Street Seaport. But the Bridge Cafe (as with the Paris Cafe) has had its doors shuttered since Hurricane Sandy slammed into NYC this past October 2012. So whether or not Pete's claim is true or not, there is definitely some history involving Pete's.

According to Pauline Dolinski in her article entitled Historic Pete's Tavern in New York City Operating Since 1864 dated September 10, 2010 from the Examiner website:
Pete’s Tavern in New York City first opened in 1864. A tavern has operated in this location every since, which gives them the claim to being the oldest continueously (sic) operating bar and restaurant in New York City. Yes, that means the tavern even continued through Prohibition, when it operated as a speakeasy disguised as a flower shop. Before becoming a tavern, the building housed a “grocery & grog” shop, which meant a liquor store. Pete’s Tavern, located on 18th Street in Gramercy Park, is a historical landmark.

Pete’s Tavern takes pride in its historical traditions, and claims that “Today it looks exactly as it did when its favorite regular O, Henry dined here. Back in 1905, at the first booth by the side doors, is where he wrote the classic short story “Gift of the Magi.”
Let's jump back to the present. Since Pete's has an ale aptly named Pete's 1864 Ale, I decided to have a pint which came in a nice frosted glass. As with the Anchor Summer, Pete's 1864 Ale was dark and very full bodied. I decided that I needed a bourbon to pair with this ale. I ordered a Blanton's Single Barrel bourbon with a few rocks. I was definitely not disappointed by my choice.

Here is how Blanton's is described on their website:
The finest bourbon in the world comes from a single barrel. That’s the way Colonel Albert B. Blanton first bottled his private reserve bourbon nearly a century ago. Blanton believed the “center-cut” or middle sections of Warehouse H were the best for aging his bourbon. Personally tasting and choosing each barrel, these barrels were reserved and bottled for ambassadors, dignitaries, family and friends becoming the world’s first single barrel bourbon. His time honored tradition lives on today as only a handful of barrels from the center of Warehouse H are selected to become Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon

The taste profile is sweet with citrus and oak. A creamy vanilla nose features hints of nuts, caramel, orange and light chocolate. Blanton’s Original set the standard for single barrel bourbons. Best served neat or on the rocks. 46.5% alcohol by volume
For a 93 proof bourbon, this went down nice and smooth. It indeed did have a nice sweet taste to it. I could pick out the citrus flavors. I found it to be a nice pairing of the Pete's 1864 Ale and the Blanton's. Next and last stop was arguably the most well known of NYC's oldest bars: McSorley's Old Ale House.

A little disclosure here. For as many times as I've passed by McSorley's Old Ale House, I've never gone in. The place was rocking. It was amazing to see all the old pictures and newspaper clippings hanging on the wall. If anything evokes history it's this place. McSorley's Old Ale House is located at 15 E 7th St, New York 212-473-9148 between Bowery/Cooper Union and 2nd Avenue.

As you can see from the picture above that McSorley's Old Ale House makes a claim that it was established in 1854. There are some discrepancies concerning that date. In his article Streetscapes: The Bridge Cafe;On the Trail of New York's Oldest Surviving Bar from the New York Times, Christopher Gray delves into which is the oldest bar in New York City concerning research into the municipal archives of New York City. In the article, it is believed that the above mentioned Bridge Cafe is the oldest continually running tavern/saloon/bar in New York City. As I also mentioned above in relation to Pete's Tavern, Superstorm Sandy severely damaged the Bridge Cafe and it is still closed. I'm not sure if that affects the title of oldest bar in New York City. But back to McSorley's.

For those of you who have never been to McSorley's Ale House keep in mind that they only beers they have on-tap are McSorley's Dark and Light ales and you get two small mugs of beer with each order.

 The ambiance is one out of someone's scrapbook. The browned newspaper clippings, the old political posters from elections gone by and other historical memorabilia take up every free space along the walls. Though women can be found throughout the bar, I can imagine the days when only men were allowed entry into the bar. In another historical tidbit, women were finally allowed entry to McSorley's in August 1970 after then Mayor John Lindsey signed a bill into law prohibiting discrimination in public places based on gender. For more information, give a read to the blogpost Women Like Beer Too by Dana on Off The Grid: The Blog For the Greenwich Village Society For Historical Preservation website dated August 20, 2012.

I recommend when in NYC, and you want a taste of what drinking in Old NYC must have felt like, go on in to these establishments. You won't be disappointed.

Sisco Kid