Chances are that any local stopped on the street would know about P.J. Clarke's. One of the oldest saloons in New York City, it was established in 1884 to attract the neighborhood's copious Irish laborers. One such immigrant named Patrick Joseph Clarke began bartending there around 1902, and devoted himself to the barroom until he earned enough to buy it a decade later - and give it his name. Through two World Wars and Prohibition, through economic boom and devastation, the little brick house has remained. Starting in the 1940s it became popular among celebrity figures, but its local loyalty never faltered.
Despite its legendary status in New York history, P.J. Clarke's maintains a straightforward self-presentation as the simple, classic American pub it has always promised to be. When I entered the building, my eyes were quickly drawn to a baseball game on the TV screen overhead. Red-and-white checkered cloths were spread over the tables, and at the bar, a crowd vastly dominated by men in pastel button-downs shoved and clamored. One quieter pair of fellows engaged me in a friendly chat. They were both visitors to New York, and had heard that P.J. Clarke's was an obligatory stop. As I was about to leave, their burgers arrived. I stayed just long enough to see their eyes shut in focused satisfaction as they bit down.
The legendary Neary’s has been a staple of New York City dining since its opening on St. Patrick’s Day in 1967. Its founder, Jim Neary, continues to grace his customers with the same, unique dining experience - in 2019 - that they have enjoyed since the beginning.The classy dress code, classic red booth seats, walls filled with an assortment of beautiful and often historically significant pictures, and knickknacks around the restaurant such as two Super Bowl rings, are only a small part of why Neary’s is so special. Neary’s is embodied and defined by its founder, Jimmy Neary, whose compassion and famous “Jimmy Neary smile” has made Neary’s the kind of place where there are “no strangers... no matter if it’s their first time walking in, everyone talks to everyone.”Jimmy was born on a farm in Ireland, and his first job coming into America was at a swimming pool. He eventually moved on to become a bar tender at P.J. Moriarity’s, another Irish-American restaurant, where he met his eventual business partner Brian Mulligan. When Jimmy found his 57th street location - 57th street being the two-way street in the city that runs river to river - he “knew it was the place for him and never looked back.” Over the years he has slowly added to the décor, and stated that “every picture has a story behind it.” With the care that Jimmy has put into every aspect of Neary’s - along with the presence of Jimmy himself - he has managed to make his restaurant an important fixture in the lives of many for generations. Offered the opportunity to expand over the years, it is no surprise that Jimmy has refused, for in his words “it would never be the same.”Jimmy considers Neary’s a family-oriented place, with many of his staff having worked with him for over forty years. Essentially, they have all grown up together. His daughter Una, who works on Wall Street during the day, has worked at Neary’s part time for close to forty years and ascertained that “the food is wonderful, the staff is amazing, but people come for my father.”Jimmy works seven days a week, and in Una’s words, “to get him to take a day off is a major, major feat.” While every day at Neary’s is a special day, its devoted following especially looks forward to St. Patrick’s Day, which for fifty plus years was counted down to by a special clock, and the celebration of Jimmy’s annual surprise birthday party. As a place where everyone is not just welcomed, but also family, it is no surprise that when asked what he liked to do to relax, Jimmy responded that he is “relaxed right here. I come through the door and I’m at home and I walk out happy.”
The Jeffrey is a chameleon: it morphs from being a coffee shop in the early morning hours, to a cafe with sandwiches and craft beer by day, to a chic cocktail bar by night. There is something for everyone, which probably explains the origin of the name – "Everybody loves a Jeffrey," from the film, Get Him to the Greek.Between the morning rush and lunchtime, I pulled up one of the stools at the high wood tables in the back area of the restaurant and had a chat with owner, Patrick Donagher. I quickly learned that he comes to this venture with firsthand experience having been raised in his family's bar in Ireland since the age of six. Patrick has essentially been living and breathing this business all of his life and he seems to have learned the craft and perfected it to a tee. He also happens to be an electrician, and was, therefore, able to do most of the construction for the Jeffrey himself. This was no small feat, since the space used to be a pet store. Patrick relayed the story of when the beams collapsed on him during the renovation, and he was stuck underneath them for four hours. After that, he reinforced everything.One of the Jeffrey's greatest strengths is its devotion to local businesses - their wine list is 100% from Long Island. Many of their craft beers come from New York, and are made at breweries that rarely distribute outside their hometown. The Jeffrey works to debunk a lot of myths, especially the assumption that many American beers "taste like dirty water." Patrick feels that his vast variety of craft beers proves that the U.S. offers an exciting spectrum of brewed flavor.I also spent time speaking with Alex, the charming barista, who demonstrated his impressive creativity by allowing members of the Manhattan Sideways team to taste one of the many syrups that he has created. His Caje Toso includes caramel spray, whiskey, and goat milk, a combination that has the ability to turn the simplest cup of coffee into a decadent treat. He has also had fun developing combinations of stuffed breakfast sandwiches, and many drink concoctions, like the Pinot Noir Caramel Macchiato, made from a caramelized wine reduction.The class and attention to detail provided by the Jeffrey is a blessing for the neighborhood – it is far from being a dive bar, as Patrick explained. Instead it is a place for people who want to taste good beer and where the locals appreciate the warm, friendly environment and communal tables. There is no doubt that the growing group of regulars has put The Jeffrey on the map as a neighborhood haunt. On a subsequent visit one Saturday afternoon, I was pleased to see that every seat was taken, yet the noise level was not too high as everyone was simply enjoying a glass of beer or mulled wine and appreciating being indoors on a very cold winter day.I would not be surprised, thanks to The Jeffrey, if the very east side of 60th becomes a fashionable neighborhood. The employees have already coined a name for it – DUQBO, Down Under Queensboro Bridge Overpass.
The name of this tavern that opened in the fall of 2013 pays homage to Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of Irish novelist James Joyce's Ulysses. Each year, on June 16th, the date on which Ulysses takes place, the pub hosts a large 'Bloomsday' party, complete with a dramatic reading of excerpts from the book with local theater artists. The tavern's namesake is also evident in the decor, featuring Joyce memorabilia alongside literary quotes on the walls. While chatting with owner, Noel Donovan, I learned that he had been the general manager for nine years at Eamonn's Bar & Grill on 45th Street, before deciding to take the plunge and open his own Irish tavern.
The Manhattan Sideways team is always excited when they discover a shop that specializes in chocolate. On this particular day, we were also delighted to spend some time chatting with owner, Kamila Myzel. We learned that this heavenly little store has resided on 55th for over two decades, and has an old-fashioned candy shop charm to it. Kamila makes every effort to be sure that anyone who steps inside her door feels welcome, and she went on to say that she uses her grandma's recipes for the many different sweets she sells. She bakes all the cookies herself, right on the premises, with her signature being the "Ultimate Cookie," a chocolate chip cookie that is then dipped in chocolate.Like many of the store's confectionary delights, Kamila is from Europe; she moved from Poland in 1981, and worked in a few other shops with sweet treats before opening this one. Licorice is a specialty at Myzel's, and Kamila explained to us that she carries over 130 different types of licorice made from licorice root that their loyal customers adore. On one of my visits, Myzel's was decked out for Halloween, with candied skulls, pumpkins, and a number of other appropriate decorations squeezed into every nook and cranny. Apparently, Kamila decorates extensively for each major holiday, but she said her personal favorite is Thanksgiving, as it has the "most sincere meaning." Myzel's even makes chocolate turkeys for the occasion!Until recently, Kamila had a partner with whom she decorated, baked, and ran the store: her mother, Lucy. The mother/daughter team worked together in the sweet shop until the summer of 2015, when Lucy sadly passed away. We had the pleasure of meeting Lucy and seeing the love and devotion that the two women had both for the store and each other. What we derived from our conversations with Kamila was the joy the store brought to her and her mom over the years. Together they have put so much thought and love into Myzel’s Chocolate, and it is clear that her mother lives on in the warmth, color, and happiness that the store evokes. “It’s what’s inside that matters,” Kamila insisted as she spoke about how much she loves connecting with people through sharing candies and sweet treats with them.
Named after a gangster-turned-reformist, a Robin Hood-like figure who redistributed wealth from the rich to the poor, Tanner Smith’s Bar espouses the message that even those most seemingly set in their ways, as the old-school Irish, can reform. And Tanner Smith’s is certainly far from the stereotypical old-school Irish bars that saturate the city streets.The upper floor of Tanner Smith’s is light and laid back, serving mostly craft beers. There is a mix of wooden structures, shiny surfaces, and weathered brick walls. Downstairs, Winona bar, named after a former nightclub under the same ownership, is an entirely different venue with a separate sound system and dimmer lighting. A mix of whim and history, the accents throughout the bar play on an Alice-and-Wonderland-meets-prohibition aesthetic with cute teacups, an intriguing gin bathtub structure, old New York maps, mounted farm animal heads, and alcoholic paraphernalia like whiskey barrels protruding from the wall.The drinks, too, are spectacular, from classic mixes to standard beer brands to unique specialty drinks, and everything in-between. Guests can order them any way they want to without pretension - a Bud Light at the cocktail bar goes unquestioned. And the food menu, featuring a craze-inducing battered-and-fried eggplant chip with a honey drizzle, is more than sufficient on its own. Any eggplant-averted soul will discover a newfound appreciation for the underrated veggie in these crispy bites.But it is not the decorations, inventive drinks, nor impressive layout of this grand Midtown West speakeasy that make Tanner Smith’s a happening spot. While all of these factors, primed and cohesive, greatly compliment the magnificence of the bar, its finest attribute are the dynamic people who work here, committed to making each night a special one.The bar consultant to Tanner Smith’s, Kevin, started out collecting glasses for a nightclub in Ireland at the ripe age of thirteen, and has never left the bar scene. He ventured to America to promote a whiskey brand, Glendalough, which has since taken off. Kevin had also been to every New York City bar we threw at him, so when he told us why this spot stood out, we listened.“We are an entertainment-based bar,” he explained, “I serve booze - that is literally living the dream. I give people a fun night.” Sitting bar side on a Thursday afternoon-turned-evening as the space gradually filled up, these words rang more and more true for the fellow Manhattan Sideways members and me. This bar is not about being high-end, but about fun, about “lighting things on fire.” Literally. Watching Kevin smoke a barrel-aged stevedore cocktail by using a “smoking gun” filled with bourbon-soaked oak chips was a mesmerizing sight. The effect took out some of the drink’s sweetness, and the longer the smoking goes on, the bitterer the drink becomes.The key lime pie martini I tried - citrus vodka mixed with lemon syrup, lemon preserve, and passion fruit, and topped with a smoked meringue - was superb, but the contagious vibes Kevin and the rest of the playful staff gave off made it memorable. “If you want a great drink, you can have a great drink,” Kevin shared with me, “but, in addition to the alcoholic beverages, this is a place where all the employees are always happy.”There is no doubt that Tanner Smith's is helping to redefine the city’s standards of bar service, and, therefore, no small wonder that they already have regulars after only being open for a few short months.
Toni Cohen first opened up her shop in 1990, but has been selling antiques for most of her life. She described it as “the ideal thing to do.” Toni shared that she loves being able to collect interesting items and tell people about them, especially those who stop by from the neighborhood. “Antiques are a picture into the past. You can learn all about a time period or country from antiques,” she explained.Since opening her shop, Toni has become a fixture on East 55th. She even keeps the lights on all night so passersby can peer inside at her collection. In addition to selling antiques, Toni is a certified appraiser. Her loyal clientele often ask her to visit their homes to evaluate pieces that they have acquired, which she then occasionally puts on sale in the store.Toni's shop is full of decorative, eclectic, and unusual items. She highlighted several unique pieces of furniture and Chinese vases that were her favorite, and her eyes lit up when she talked to Jon, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, about these cherished items. She makes it her mission to learn about the background of every object she purchases, and even takes an occasional history class to brush up on certain time periods.While we were visiting in 2017, Toni’s daughter stopped by, and began chatting with us about her mother’s amazing run on 55th Street. She believes that the reason the store has thrived is due to the relationships her mom has formed with her clientele over the years. Despite the fact that the internet has taken away much of the in-store antique business, Tony finds that customers continue to be drawn to her, for they are eager to hear the history behind the pieces firsthand. “In New York, small businesses can cater closely to their clientele. That’s the thread that connects them, that’s why she’s still here.”
Engaging in conversation with Barbara Gerber-Krasner, the president of Or Olam, I learned that they have not always been on 55th Street. The synagogue, founded in 1906, started out in a storefront on Second Avenue. The congregation, known then as B'nei Leive, came to its current site in 1916. The building dates from the 1870s, and was originally a Baptist church. Barbara explained that, though the ceiling is now "acoustical," if one were to remove it they would see "the normal structure of a church ceiling." Originally an Orthodox congregation, in 1966 it became Conservative, followed by the hiring of long time Rabbi Reuven Siegel, who served for over forty years. Upon his arrival, he brought the stain glass windows - representing the twelve tribes of Israel and other Jewish symbols - from the Bronx synagogue where he had been.The congregation remains Conservative and was renamed to Or Olam (Everlasting Light) in 2012. Today, the synagogue's focus is on their older congregants, "empty-nesters" in their 50s or 60s, and suburban transplants. "They want to be able to listen to an adult sermon," Barbara explained. Though Rabbi Ephraim Pelcovits leads weekly study classes on Torah and Jewish law where "everyone is welcome to attend," Or Olam does not offer a children's education program. Instead, they encourage families to enroll in the courses offered through the 92nd Street Y.Generally speaking, Barbara characterized Or Olam as "a very open congregation." A number of members are married to non-Jewish spouses who attend services with them, and Or Olam is home to an active LGBT community. Barbara told me, in no uncertain terms, that at Or Olam, "we don't have cliques." New members are welcomed with open arms, and are often given aliyot - the opportunity to read from a Torah scroll in front of the congregation - their first time in the synagogue.Or Olam also offers financial assistance to younger congregants through a program called The Legacy Campaign, another way in which they hope to not have to turn anyone away. "So far we've been managing," Barbara said. "We hope we can continue."