The Aesthete

Barfly

An intimate look at the culture, characters and interior life of four classic New York City pubs

by Kristina Ensminger photography Alex John Beck

If the spring deluge is any indication of our summer forecast, there are plenty of stormy days ahead. But overcast skies make for guiltless days spent drinking indoors, so pull a James Joyce and head for the pub.

You won’t find mixologist cocktails, organic wine or farm-to-table meals at any of these local haunts, but if you’re looking for the sitcom dreamland where everybody knows your name, here is where you’ll find it. These public living rooms offer a glimpse into a bygone era of New York, where decades-old patrons and employees forge a level of kinship far beyond “drinking buddies.” If neighborhoods in the city are more like villages, these pubs are the central points around which everything, and everyone, revolves.

“Everyone here is a regular,” says Jack Miller, one of the younger stewards of Reynold’s Café Bar (not pictured), who recognizes, greets and interviews every newcomer. People of all ages, backgrounds and ethnicities blend here, and everyone is referred to by first name or assigned moniker (such as “the Professor,” a regular who even has his own seat). You’ll find similar family ties and an equally diverse crowd at the Irish Rover, where you can ask bartender Mike for anything—a drink, a story about the legendary regular, Jimmy, who earned himself a memorial corner, a jukebox sing-along—and he’ll oblige with a smile. He’ll even teach you the art of pouring the perfect Guinness.

 

THE BROOKLYN INN

148 Hoyt Street
Boerum Hill, Brooklyn
(718) 522-2525

This stunning 19th century space, fresh from a renovation this spring, has seen many permutations over the years, but still retained most of its original fixtures. The high ceilings and elegant décor—stained glass, hand-carved wooden bar, enormous wall-sized mirror—aren’t typical of a dive bar, but the drink prices are a friendly reminder that you are, in fact, in a pub. The crowd is a mix of literary types, Barclays Center boycotters and unassuming pool sharks that come in many forms.

 

THE IRISH ROVER

3718 28th Avenue
Astoria, Queens
(718) 278-9372

Once Mike pours you a pint, there are plenty of ways to amuse yourself: darts, any number of sports games on the television, even group sing-alongs and dance-offs around the jukebox. But the wide array of characters, and the stories they have to share, are by far the best form of entertainment. 

 

PUCK FAIR

298 Lafayette Street
SoHo, Manhattan
(212) 431-1200

This is the go-to spot for working professionals and creative types alike, and one of the last outposts in a neighborhood overrun with corporate retail giants and high-end boutiques (rumor has it that the building is going to be demolished to make room for more retail space, so grab a drink while you still can). There’s an extensive beer list—more than 50 bottles from around the world, and a large draft selection with a temperature-controlled tap system—as well as a full menu. The food is worthy of a proper restaurant; so rather than drink your dinner, try the Guinness-battered fish and chips, the pâté and Brie plate.

 

THE BLACK HORSE PUB

568 5th Avenue
Park Slope, Brooklyn
(718) 788-1975

London transplants, a (surprising) singles crowd and die-hard football fans are the foundation of this well-lit, brick-and-wood bar, which is an island in a sea of fancy restaurants, pricy wine bars and designer baby clothes. In addition to the many brews and spirits on offer, there’s also a kitchen that serves a wide range of pub fare (burgers, quesadillas, bangers and mash), including a full English breakfast on the weekends.

 

*Not pictured, but worth the mention.

REYNOLD’S CAFÉ BAR

4241 Broadway
Washington Heights, Manhattan
(212) 923-8927

It’s a serious commitment to travel this far for a drink, but it’s a test of character that only a devoted few will pass. This bar has been around since the early 20th century, and it’s the last relic of a once entirely Irish neighborhood. The two main bartenders, Pat and Jimmy, have a combined 65 years of experience between them, and their salty demeanors may seem brash, but their tough love is just part of the charm. You won’t find any apologies for the shabby décor or the lack of draft beers, but you will find the cheapest drinks and heaviest pours in the city (a $4 glass, not shot, of Jameson).

Don’t miss: The authenticity of a Reynold’s experience is unrivaled, but if you need another excuse to travel to the northern tip of Manhattan, spend the day at the Cloisters—a branch of the Metropolitan Museum dedicated to medieval art in nearby Fort Tyron Park—before you pull up a seat at the bar. 

 

Click through the slideshow above to see where you should be drinking (day or night) this summer.