Behind the Bar: Closing Time

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The death of a neighborhood saloon is a traumatic event that hits its habitués as hard as the death of a loved one.

Several years ago, New York’s legendary East Side watering hole P.J. Clarke’s changed hands and shut down for renovations. I’d polished a barstool at P.J.’s since 1968, and at the closing party, bold with drink, I demanded from one of the new partners a vow that they wouldn’t mess up the joint. They didn’t, and when the doors reopened, all the thousands of regulars came back and hardly a photo was out of place. It was a rare happy ending.

A few years later and a bit further uptown, when the celebrity community that anchored Elaine’s came to pay its last respects to the establishment’s late owner, Elaine Kaufman, it knew the comfortable refuge could not survive. Hoping to keep the gang together, a former patron started a Facebook group called “All the People that You Knew at Elaine’s.” When longtime bartender Kevin Duffy worked a shift at Neary’s, it buzzed with anticipation, and its members gathered like survivors of a shipwreck.

I still mourn the loss of Paddy McGlade’s, my first New York neighborhood bar, which stood at the southwest corner of 67th Street and Columbus Avenue for more than 100 years. Then, one by one, the landlord closed the whole block of businesses. My revered watering hole is now a Starbucks.

The crowd that McGlade’s served was eclectic, including musicians and dancers from Lincoln Center, students from Juilliard and technicians who worked on soap operas across the street at ABC. In the 25 years I frequented the joint, there were only two lead bartenders: Al and Tim.

Al was elderly when I met him in 1969, a perfect gentleman who treated everyone with respect as long as they returned the favor. He would not tolerate profanity, and even the hard cases observed this dictum. When he was working, he was the boss, even though Paddy sat in the corner day and night. When Al made a call, it was final; Paddy would never think of overruling him. It took three years of faithful attendance before Paddy bought me a drink. (Of course, Al extended that courtesy much earlier in my tenure.)

When McGlade’s closed, it was given a proper Irish wake, and all the stock was poured for free until it was depleted. But the heart of the neighborhood had stopped beating, and the surviving family members were scattered across the city. There was no internet then, no lifeline.

Al was gone, and I lost track of Tim, until one day I needed directions and walked into a friendly looking Irish spot. There he was behind the bar, looking as uncomfortable as a substitute teacher. We hugged and reminisced over a couple beers. For the next year or so, I popped in once in a while, but it wasn’t the same. Tim eventually found a gig closer to home way uptown in the Bronx.

It was over, leaving a tear in my life that could never be repaired, but I still tell the stories.

Master mixologist Dale DeGroff is the author of The Essential Cocktail and The Craft of the Cocktail. He is also a advisor.

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  1 Comment.


  • Elisse posted 6 years ago

    I empathise... The Launch on 3rd Ave/94th St., with its pool table, was right across from my apt. and my "Cheers" for years; when it closed, I found Richter's Bar on 3rd Ave. right up the street. When that closed, however, and with the demolition of that building, my friends and I truly lost our living room. When the idiot smoking-in-bar ban came into effect, that was the death-knell; the "village" of people I knew from that bar who picked up each other's mail, walked or watched each other's dogs, celebrated and grieved together, and ordered in sushi, dissapeared. Rather than stand in the freezing sleet or broiling heat to smoke and come back in to find your things stolen and your drink dumped, my friends basically stopped going out, and that was that. (And we all spent an Insane amount of money in bars, so to say there was no negative economic impact is a blatent lie- just ask any bartender or owner...) I have fond memories of Marty O'Brien's on 2nd Ave. (across from Elaine's), especially following 9/11 when we gathered there after emotionally grueling days to hear Pat McGuire sing "You're So Beautiful" every Thursday, and heartbreaking memories of the NYPD & FDNY pipers coming up 2nd Ave. to Marty's playing Amazing Grace after a funeral... My husband, whom I met in NYC during the 9/11 disaster response operation, and with whom I shared Marty's and Richter's, and I, moved to WV in 2002; the bar-centric villages I knew in NYC no longer exist except in memory... and it makes me feel 104!

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