The House, 121 East and 17th
Street When embarking on any large city break I always try to find a place which is a sort of ‘home from home’, a place I can just take it easy at any time and feel welcome with good food and drink. Never too loud though not dull either. For me in New York ‘The House’ was the place.
This old Victorian coach stable was somehow overlooked by the overzealous NYC developers and is tucked away in a leafy side street just off Union Square. On entering the modest space you notice the sort of crisp white table linen my mum would coo over and gleaming cutlery all lit through the vast arched window dominating the whole of the buildings frontage.
I considered at first that it may be a little bit too precious for it to be relaxing though the manager Fabien and the rest of the staff genuinely made me feel at home and I settled in right away. I made it my business over the next few days to work my way through the great bar and wine menu. A great place to visit.
Fat Cat 75 Christopher Street
Fat Cat is an underground bar in the West Village and is a prime example why it’s important to keep franchises out of entertainment. No right business mind in the world would put money into the concept of a Jazz bar that also features billiards, ping pong, shuffleboard, foosball, chess & checkers, backgammon, scrabble, and a fair bit more too. It simply won’t work other than the fact it does work fantastically. This cellar bar is a vast space featuring all of the above; each section is netted off and has conical down lights adding to the subterranean ‘Ray Bradbury’ feel, that said the atmosphere is keenly buoyant and full of spirit. The ceiling is rather low, so low in fact that occasionally ping-pong balls bounce off it giving an added dimension to what is already a decidedly tricky game. The stage is down one end encircled by elderly sofas, and it has to be said the more elderly clientele including myself.
This is what I came to New York to see: New Yorkers just getting on with it and entertaining themselves in their own style.
White Horse Tavern
567 Hudson St (between 11th St & Perry St)
This is an old hangout of such luminaries as Jack Kerouac, Jim Morrison, Hunter S. Thompson, Bob Dylan and Norman Mailer to name but a few.
I specifically visited because this was the last pub frequented by the great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.
Here he allegedly drank 13 whiskies (unlucky for some) before falling ill and being admitted to St Vincent’s hospital and there diagnosed with ‘acute alcoholic encephalopathy damage to the brain by alcohol, for which the patient was treated without response’. No surprises there.
His wife was telegrammed with the news that her husband was gravely ill and she flew to New York to be with him. Their relationship was not always harmonious and this was confirmed as on arrival as she asked a Police officer “Is the bloody man dead yet?”
At that point he was still alive though he finally succumbed to an alcohol related condition later on in the week on the 9th November 1953.
Well today The White Horse has changed somewhat. A beautiful interior and exterior though has ‘light rock’ music blaring out of multiple speakers and sports channels on widescreen TV’s dotted all over the pub.
I mused that if The White Horse were like that in dear old Dylan’s time he may well still be with us today as he would have had just one drink and left. Much as I did.
Crime and safety
I was brought up on Kojak, Shaft and Midnight Cowboy. These classics portrayed New York as a tough boiling hot, freezing cold and brutally dangerous place and I have to admit this edginess was part of its appeal to my younger self. The reality of this early time was not far from the truth either. The murder rate rose sharply from the 1960’s onwards and peaked in 1990 at over 2,200 murders mainly due to the crack epidemic. Since that time however, big moves have been made and the crime rate in 2012 is back to early sixties levels. Nice one Kojak/Shaft et al.
I chatted to a doorman at a bar in The Bowery and he confirmed this saying that he would feel safe walking about in any areas at night aside from a few places in the lower east side and a couple of streets in the upper west side. A night or so later I was outside a bar just off Times Square doing not much at all. Then ‘Stop Stop’ I heard someone cry down the street. I could see nothing at all unusual even while tiptoeing and craning over the car roofs. ‘STOP STOP!’ I heard it again, a man’s voice. It was almost theatrical. At least I thought so then standing at the wrong side of what must have been four Manhattans. Was it a street performance? A sort of ‘Old New York show’? This was the theatre district after all.
Then in a blink three youths snapped by sprinting up the street, weaving in and out of the cars and bemused tourists, I then heard a weighty clump, clump, clump, clump. There he was, running up the street, a heavy man in his late forties, a livid pink furious face, wildly flaying his arms as he struggled to keep up with his spritely quarry. ‘Police!! Shoot those guys, they stole my phone!’ he bellowed hopefully as he lumbered past me. No way was he ever going to catch those light fingered whippets I said to myself as they disappeared into the steamy labyrinths of Hell’s Kitchen. No way at all. I last saw him heaving for breath at a street corner before gamely giving chase again. Wow it was a mugging.