June 2003. Fresh out of college, a jaunty spring in my step, and I’m up for a drink after my first week of the rest of my career-filled life. I ask my Fordham friends where we’re going for the night and they mention Rodeo Bar, a fun bar. After week 2, same question, the answer this time is Heartland Brewery in Union Square, another great place. The very next night we go out again, ready to blow some serious paycheck, when it’s suggested we go back to Rodeo. This pattern persisted between these two bars for the next week or so.
Now I don’t have a problem with either place, but as a Manhattan College graduate who has blurredly attacked the Upper West Side after a Chinese dinner of free wine, I knew we had more options. I threw out a suggestion to try a new place, perhaps one of the bars in between what was becoming our two “haunts”. The record screeching to a halt could not have been louder. “What if this new place sucks?”, “What if we don’t like the crowd?”, “What if there’s no seating?”, “What if the beer sucks?”, “What if we can’t watch the game?” were among the cornucopia of questions thrown my way. And while I could see their points, I knew that we had to expand our drinking circle.
So I went home that night, with an idea. In order to find a watering hole that would suit my friends needs, I’m going to not only find a few new bars, I’m going to find and try all of the bars on the island of Manhattan in order to ensure that no matter where we were, we would be saved from awful bars. Remember, this idea popped in my head after I got home and had been zoning out to the late night Girls Gone Wild commercials on E! mixed in with random Billy Mays commercials (R.I.P. buddy).
Waking up the next morning, the idea was still in there, but where to start. I went to work, photo copied the Hagstrom map of Manhattan and made a big map (all on my lunch hour Toby, of course). I then devoted that summer to walking every street during my lunch hours. This took a while, but by the next year, I had walked a big chunk of the island.
It was then at this point that my friend Gretchen stepped in. With her being a publisher, she suggested that I write a little blurb about each place I’ve been to. We talked about it and realized that all of the review books and websites that exist don’t give a great picture of what the bar is like, mainly because it’s either based on reviews from patrons who may or may not work there, or it’s a group effort and that group might not have the same dislikes and likes as each other. My list would be one man (my friends say I use that term loosely) going to every bar, having his own opinions on what makes a good bar, which is conveniently spelled out later.
At this point, I stopped for a few years (personal problems not to be discussed here) and kicked off the project again in the summer of 2009. The reason for the restart was because for the first go around, I was only writing down places I haven’t been to. I mean, I knew where I had been and could offer an opinion of those places if someone mentioned it. But after years of brain cell massacres, I couldn’t recall every single place just by looking at a map. So I went out, new map, new places and old places would all be counted, and drinks would be had if I was back in that neighborhood or felt like putting together a bar crawl (my personal record is still 18 in one night…R.I.P. liver).