Those of you who know me are probably aware that when I go out, it's usually in Manhattan. This is not because, as many of my friends may believe, my neighborhood has no watering holes, pubs, bars, clubs, speakeasies, dives, cantinas, lounges, etc. In truth, the Ditmars section of Astoria boasts a wide variety of locales at which to purchase a libation. I just don't like most of them.
However, in the interest of potentially enticing my nearest and dearest to make the 15-minute subway ride from what even those of us who live in New York City call "the City" to what most people call the "outerboroughs" and I call "home," here, never before seen on the pages of this fine Web site, is my run-down of the local offerings:
1) No Partners. When I first moved to Astoria, in 1999, my new roommate Michael offered me this information: "The place used to be called 'Partners.' Sylvia [his ex-fiancée] and I always assumed with that name that it was a gay bar. Then they changed their name to 'No Partners.' That didn't actually clear it up in any way."
No Partners, as I would find out one night when I was with my girlfriend at the time - and therefore brave enough to enter what might have been a gay bar - is nothing of the sort. In fact, it's nothing of practically any sort. It's a dive, I guess, but lacks the character to make it at all classic.
That said, the beer is cold, the people are local, and the juke box selections don't totally suck. I guess the best I can say is if you live half a block away from it, as I do, it's an okay place to consider visiting once in a while. How's that for a rousing recommendation?
Rating: 2 out of 5
2) Gussy's. There are only two types of people who go to Gussy's: a) bikers and b) union guys from the ConEd plant down the street. These classifications are not, unsurprisingly, mutually exclusive.
So it's obvious how I wound up there. Mom, Dad - I have some news.
No, I was brought in one night a few months back by my friend Greg, who actually is a biker who works at ConEd. Which, in all likelihood, is why I was able to walk out of there with all my teeth. Not to say these guys weren't friendly, but God help me if I ever get it in my head to wander in there without Greg. There's a lot of camaraderie there, but I am most definitely not a comrade.
Rating: 4 out of 6 (but only if they let you in the door)
3) O'Hanlon's. It's an Irish pub. I know that seems like a shocking revelation, given the name of the place.
It's typical, really. Maybe a little more boring than others. And their sound system sucks; I think they only have one speaker plugged in. So if the jukebox is playing a song in stereo (duh), you only hear the left half of it. Normally, that's not a problem. But I have, on more than one occasion, heard Mick Jagger sing the first verse of "You Can't Always Get What You Want" a capella, because the right side of the recording is the one with the guitar.
Rating: 3 out of 5
4) McCann's. The single most interesting thing about McCann's, an otherwise typical sports bar (TVs, pool, darts) is that it's where cell phone signals go to die.
I'm not making this up. Literally feet inside the door and you get no cell service. I don't know why someone would need a lead-lined sports bar, but there you have it.
Beyond that, the only other interesting thing I associate with McCann's that is that an ex-girlfriend of mine once holed up there during the final day before New York City's indoor smoking ban. Apparently, on her way back into Manhattan, she lit up on the train in protest, too. Managed to go three stops before the police dragged her off the train. True story.
Rating: 5 out of 9
5) Remote Bar. That's right. Remote Bar. I like to think that whoever originally named it was making a clever reference to the fact that it's sort of out-of-the way from any of the major thoroughfares in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, it's a lot more likely that it was called Remote because they have a big TV.
If, however, you want to pick up drunk local women, this is the place, especially on Wednesday, ladies night. You will want to consider the fact, though, that most local women are married and have lost their looks by age 22, so there's not really much of a window of opportunity there. Consider yourself forewarned.
Rating: 1 out of 3
6) The Black Rock. All things considered, this place isn't too different from Remote, with two exceptions: a) it's much emptier, and b) Erica, the bartender.
The last two times I wandered into this place, I was confronted by two totally different clienteles. The first time, there was a group of three girls who were all really attractive and couldn't have been a day over 19. The second time, there was a group of three old men, spaced evenly down the bar. That was less fun.
However, both times, Erica was there. And Erica is a great bartender. I've seen her dance on the bar for four customers. Last time I was in, she bought a round of shots for my friends, even though we hadn't ordered anything yet. And she's cute. Given, she's also a complete nut bar. Enjoy.
Oh, one other story. My first week in Astoria, Michael and I decided one night to go on a bar tour. The only rule was whenever we found a place, we had to get at least one drink there. Towards the end of the night, we stumbled into Black Rock. There were five guys at the bar, each one looking as though he had something wrong with him that you just couldn't put your finger on, and one lone girl, feeding coins into the video poker game in the corner. We sat down at a table and Michael requested the chair facing the girl, "so maybe she'll make eye contact or something." I stood up soon after that to use the men's room and feed the juke box. Upon my return, Michael was looking dejected. "It's no good," he said, "she's with the dart guys."
Normally, this wouldn't strike me as a terribly odd thing to say, except that I didn't recall having seen a dart board anywhere. I started looking around the room, befuddled. Until I heard Michael mutter. "There's no dart guys. I have no idea why I said that."
Still makes me laugh.
Rating: 7 out of 10 (on Saturdays); 2 out of 5 (the rest of the time)
7) Club 23. I know some of you were waiting to see when (or whether) I'd get to this. How could I not?
There is nothing I could say about Club 23 that hasn't been said better by my friend Brian who was up visiting me four years ago when we wandered in: "I always thought there was a well-defined line between bar and strip club. This place proves me wrong."
Things to know about Club 23:
a) The woman who owns it used to own a strip club in the neighborhood before Giulliani's zoning laws forced her to close it. She still runs this place like a strip club, only there's technically no nudity.
b) She's a horrible businesswoman. For example, given that the point of the place is to take money from drunk guys whom I've actually seen pay just to have conversations with the bartenders (you buy the girl a drink, she comes out and sits with you), you'd think it would make sense to have a cash machine on the premises, just making a killing on ATM fees alone. Nope. She refuses.
c) Because she's so bad at business, she never seemed to realize that the draw of the place was fairly attractive women in skimpy clothing. When I first started frequenting Club 23 (back in the day), I'd estimate that at least 80% of the women who worked there rated at least a 7 out of 10. But this was before "the management" decided to start hiring literally anyone who galumphed in looking for a job. And oh, dear Lord, it was not a good decision.
I walked in there with friends two weeks ago - after staying away for months - and I wanted to wash my eyes. With peroxide. When the best thing you can say about the 14 or so women working that night was, "The one sitting close to the door was sort of okay," you're not sticking around. And we didn't.
(To be fair, I am friends with a few women who may or may not still work there. They are attractive. They were not working that night.)
Rating: 6 out of 9 (three years ago); 2 out of 23 (last month)
8) The Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden. The true draw of Astoria (at least for those who travel to Queens for the alcohol). The one thing I knew when I started this list was that I was going to end it with the Beer Garden.
This place is famous. Actually famous. Has its own Wikipedia page famous. At one time, c.1900, there were around 600 beer gardens in New York City. Of those 600, this is the one that's left. And it deserves it.
Picture this: it's a beautiful Saturday afternoon. You and some friends agree to meet up at the Beer Garden. After a short wait in line (the place seats about 800 or so), you enter what's essentially a small, dimly lit bar, and head toward the door at the back.
When you get to the doorway, you're greeted by the sight of hundreds of people sitting outside at picnic tables, taking in the shade of the trees, sharing pitchers of real Central European beer (including Staropramen, Czechvar, Erdinger, Hoegaarden, Krusovice, and Spaten), all enclosed by an improbably high stone wall that manages to really give the impression of having entered another world.
Now imagine that in addition to the Old-World charm of the place, it also happens to be a bit of a meat market (in a fun way), in that there's a ton of good looking young people there, all sort of doing a combination of hanging out with friends and flirting with strangers. Now have another beer; the next pitcher's on me.
Now realize that doesn't even truly begin to describe it. The place is wonderful; ask anyone who's ever spent a summer afternoon there. Hell, I'm pretty sure it's the only thing would ever entice my friend Dan to come to Queens. For a second time, at least. Admittedly, he lives in New Jersey by choice, so maybe he's not the best example I could have used. Point is, Beer Garden, people.
Rating: 9 out of 9.4 (the pitchers have gone up in price to $15)
Okay, I'm done. Which makes me wonder, a little. Eight places to show for nearly 9 years of residency.
I mean, yes, there are places that I skipped - Amici, Mojave, the new wine bar at L'Incontro, and a whole slew of Greek tavernas, to list a few - and, of course, there're also places I've never been. Yet. So here's an offer. If anyone wants to come out to Astoria and try a new place, I'll get the first round.
You never know - maybe we'll even run into the dart guys.
A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
6.11.09 @ 11:58a
You didn’t write that piece about Astoria. You wrote it about my town and you know it. Seriously, I was dying laughing reading that. Brickhouse is my bar with the shitty sound system -- the stereo fights with the jukebox for playtime. Haskell’s is the “dead zone” bar where no one’s cell EVER rings and no texting takes place – seriously, it’s eerie….reminds me of a being in a bar in the late 80’s. And Mustang Shelly’s is the biker/union labor-man’s bar. Actually ALL of our taverns pretty much fall into those three categories. Oh, oh! Except for Mugsy’s which boasts the fact that the only people who drink there are seriously the hardest hitters of them all, 15 of them sharing one liver for all intents and purposes and are pretty much leaving Las Vegas a la Nicholas Cage.
6.11.09 @ 8:57p
The beer garden and its fruits are a definite draw, but I think Club 23 has permanently scared me away from Queens. That and Erica ;-) I think I'll limit my travels to "the City."
dr. jay gross
6.15.09 @ 10:38a
Exotic beers and common people....great combo. I still like micro-brewery joints who don't specialize in anything.
Nostalgia is something to cultivate.....memory makes familiar places much better than they ever were.