When extreme weather settles over Manhattan the idea of ducking into a dark, welcoming pub becomes especially appealing. Oneal’s on the Upper West Side used to be one of my favorite stops on hot days (and on cold nights) until it closed last summer. It was a great place to escape the brightest part of hot summer days in New York or shrug off the chill of winter. Sadly, it became one of many neighborhood landmarks lost to the recession. But drinking establishments where bars have been polished smooth over the years, where the bartenders take pouring seriously, and where conversation is king can still be found throughout New York City.
One of those bars is Dublin House, a dim hideout, described in an online forum as “an old man bar that smells of old man sweater.” In a city where drinking establishments are many, that unassuming place inspires a surprising level of love and loyalty in its patrons, a fact confirmed by the countless glowing reviews fans have taken the time to post about it online.
When I was still in high school, my friends and I would stop into Dublin House to share class notes and after-school pitchers of beer. We were newly eighteen at a time when New York’s drinking age was lower and anything laminated sufficed as proper identification. With piles of babysitting money pooled between us, we would order our drinks and settle into a back room booth to rush through homework. Tom Petty and Bob Seger blasted from the jukebox as we shouted our conversations, smoking Marlboros bought from a nearby cigarette machine.
Only recently did I look further into the past than those lax days of the 1970s to discover that Dublin House had a colorful history of its own. When sailors docked at the 79th Street Boat Basin more than 80 years ago, many of them made Dublin House their first stop in Manhattan. They would find the bar by following the pink glow of a sign in the distance — the same neon harp that lights the bar’s entrance today. Dublin House started operating in 1921 during Prohibition. “Special arrangements” with authorities made it possible for the bar to continue selling alcohol discreetly right through the country’s “dry” years.
Since then the bar has continued doing uninterrupted business, unchanged, even through the economic downturns and financial crises that periodically threaten New York. Today it’s still the sort of place where anyone – man, woman, sailor, or even a young adult with proper identification – feels welcome. It’s a genuine New York neighborhood bar.
Reading reviews about Dublin House online you find that compliments for it are often garnished with affectionate put-downs. Here are just a few of those remarks:
“I can’t define it but you can tell a pub has a heart when it’s got old geezers and dogs in it. Dublin House has a heart.”
“Unfortunately for my Dublin House patronage…when selecting bars…I use my eyes (I like eye candy), my tongue (I like microbrews, nice wine), my ears (I like music), my stomach (I like food), and another organ (see ‘my eyes’ parenthetical). But if I ever get around to following my heart, I’ll find my way back to the Dublin House more. This will probably have to wait, though, until my other organs aren’t functioning quite as well as they do today…”
“Now THIS, my friends, is my future.” A dark bar with absolutely no frills and a real nice, old school bartender. I’ll spend my final afternoons hunched over a table with a beer in hand, chatting to the young’uns who happen in, and hopefully have someone to share old memories with.”
“A bar that almost resents you knowing about it.”
As the New York heat starts to build toward those unbearable days of August and the weather starts to feel like something you would rather avoid, consider ducking into your favorite historic watering hole. If you don’t have a favorite you can find one to love in Best Bars of New York, by Jeff Klein and Cary Hazlegrove. Or, you could simply follow in the footsteps of countless tired sailors and thirsty Upper West Siders by stopping into “that old man bar” on West 79th Street. You can still find it under a neon pink harp.
Maria Gorshin also writes for her blog, City Girl Writes, sharing stories from the Upper West Side and more.