There are more than 6,000 bars in New York City. About 200 of them get regular press. This column is about the other ones. Robert Simonson, a journalist and blogger of the drinking life, takes a peek inside Gotham’s more anonymous watering holes, one by one.
It’s difficult to drink in the East Village and be untrendy. Nearly every watering hole has some kind of preening personality. There are haute cocktail emporiums, organic bars, iconic dives, sophisticated wine bars, neo-speakeasies and taverns with beer and whiskey lists as long as your fourth-story walk-up. Even un-hip bars can be ineffably hip in their utter unhipness.
Lilly Coogan’s, however, may be the single wholly unpretentious saloon in the 10003 zip code. It’s nestled on the absolute uncoolest block of the East Village, the one on First Avenue with the McDonald’s and the Dunkin’ Donuts. The bright red façade says Faux Irish Pub, but about the only thing Irish about the place is the Guinness on tap. The interior is general in the extreme. There’s a small bar, with PBR on draft and a liquor front line made up entirely of flavored vodka. The jukebox is a random cherry-picking of hits from the last 40 years. The mildly horrifying video game Big Buck Hunter invites stool-jockeys to “Hunt Moose,” “Hunt Elk,” “Hunt Big Horned Sheep.” (Big Horned Sheep?) A mocking sign on the wall reads, “On this site in 1897 nothing happened.” One guesses: not in 1997, either.
The free hot dogs makes one think of the uber-dive Rudy’s in Hell’s Kitchen, though the shriveled weenies actually look less appetizing that the ones of offer in Ninth Avenue, if that’s possible. (It’s probably a good thing that Dunkin’ Donuts is next door.)
Lilly Coogan’s is good place to drink if: you want to spend $5 or less a quaff; you don’t mind throwing a hand of darts from time to time; you don’t want to check what you’re wearing before you enter; you don’t care how other people in the bar look; you don’t like crowds; you plan on laughing early in the evening and crying later on; you loathe the typical East Village rat.
Come to think of it, those are not bad criteria for entering a bar.