|The Old Town Bar Travelogue|
|Sunday, 12 February 2012 22:13|
Listed as one of Esquires 2010 Best Bars in America, a Frank McCourt hang out, used in a number of films, shows, commercials, music videos, and late night comedy shows, (The Devil's Own, Mad About You, Sex and the City and the opening scene of The David Letterman Show, to name just a few,) and featuring urinals that are over 100 years old, The Old Town Bar is described as "New York as it was and as it is."
Sitting on East 18th Street in New York City and widely considered a writer's bar, The Old Town Bar originally opened as a popular German establishment called Viemeisters in 1892. When the American dark ages began in 1920, aka prohibition, the bar quickly renamed itself Craig's Restaraunt, became a speakeasy and was supported, frequented, and protected by members of Tammany Hall. Tammany Hall was a Democratic Party political machine that is rumored to have used its power to control and manipulate New York City and State politics while helping immigrants, mainly Irish, rise up in American politics from the 1790s to as late as the 1960s.
During prohibition the bar took advantage of a special feature built into its booths, a feature still present today, in which the booth can be opened and liquor hidden inside. The booths and their unique hiding place got their 15 minutes of fame when they were featured in the film "Izzy & Moe" which was directed by Jackie Cooper, stared Jackie Gleason and Art Carney and was about prohibition.
After prohibition ended, the bar reopened as The Old Town Bar and was owned and operated by the German-American Loden family. At the time the neighborhood consisted mainly of German immigrants and their families and as such, it specialized in German food. The Loden family owned it until the 1960's when Larry Meagher took over the day-to-day operations of the bar. Larry had unsuccesfully tried his hand at bar ownership with multiple bars in Brooklyn before finding himself running The Old Town Bar. He eventually purchased the bar at a time when the surrounding area and New York City were awakening from their 1960s economic and cultural slump. Luckily for Larry and his family, he seemed to have found his calling with The Old Town Bar.
Featuring an impressive 55-foot mahogany bar, some of the oldest, still operating dumbwaiters in New York, hundreds of photos of visiting actors, writers, and politicians, giant urinals, and 16-foot pressed tin ceilings, walking into The Old Town Bar is almost like walking into vintage New York. The place quietly screams vintage class with clientelle ranging from tourist to college student and local businessmen, it welcomes all into its cavernous confines.
We asked current owner and operator Gerard Meagher to describe The Old Town bar today and feel he summed it up nicely when he said: "We celebrate writers and it is a place that celebrates conversation." Being frequented by writers like Frank McCourt, Irish playwright Brian Friel, Irish poet Seamus Heaney, and English novelist Nick Hornby and add to that their no loud music, no blaring TVs, and a no cell phone policies, it is easy to see why writers and normal everday people are drawn to The Old Town Bar. It is one of the few remaining bars, another being My Brother's Bar in Denver, that truly celebrates the enjoyment of a conversation between individuals and aquaintences while enjoying an adult beverage or two. This is an aspect quickly disappearing from and lost in todays conversation with the ever constant digital feed of cell phones, tv's, tablets, lap tops, and iPods. The bar is a throw back of the way things were before all of the interruptions of digital gadgetry, a time when people came to the bar to be social with each other, not Facebook, MySpace, or the ever pressing text message. Today the bar is as it was, which makes it unique to today.
Ok, we can honestly say that in all of the time we have been doing this we have never written something specifically about a bathroom fixture nor did we ever expect to. But in the case of the Urinals at Old Town Bar, we felt we had no choice.
Originally installed in 1910, the urinals have become almost as celebrated, and maybe even more so than the bar itself. Check out a few of the following linked articles that have featured the urinals: "Porcelain Majesty," "Old Town Bar Celebrates Its Urinals' 100th Birthday," and "Old Town Bar To Celebrate Its Massive Hundred-Year-Old Urinals" and that is just a few of them. As a matter of fact, they are so old and so celebrated that on Nov. 1st 2010, the bar celebrated the urinals 100th birthday with champagne and a congratulatory letter from none other than Mayor Bloomberg. (It is still posted at the entrance to the restroom.)
Here is what we can tell you about them: They are over 100 years old, they are big enough to almost wrap around you, they make you feel as if aiming is optional as all you have to do is just point in the general direction, you could probably fit four of todays urinals in the same area, and unsuprisingly they are roomy. In a nutshell, you could call these the Lazy Boys of urinals. Best of all, durring our trip, there was ice back in the urinals- a practice they had stopped for a stretch of time. Having ice in the urinal really brings out the boy in most men, as it makes a game out of pounding beers simply so one can spend a little extra time in the bathroom in attempts to melt every piece of ice. (Do men really ever grow up? I hope not.)
Food and Drink:
Featuring a full service bar and a long list of beers on tap, you won't find much in the way of trendy drinks here, so plan on sticking to the classics. The food isn't something you will find at a five star restaraunt either, but thats not to say its lacking. We recommend getting a hamburger with all your heart's desires, fries, and washing it all down with a nice cold beer. You won't be dissapointed.
All in all.......:
The Old Town Bar is a literary gem of New York City. In a place with Wall Street, subways, millions of people, taxis, and a never stop feel to it, The Old Town Bar is a welcome slowing of time, which can be felt as you walk through the door. With no TVs, cell phones, or loud music, it is a place you can get away from it all, while remaining in the middel of it all. Stop by if you get the chance and spend some time practicing the dying art form of a conversation. We recommend upstairs if you are looking for more of a restaraunt type of feel or are bringing the family, or stay downstairs to truly enjoy the aspects of this vintage bar.