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.
At Shelley’s, perhaps the most non-descript of the many Irish Pubs that dot Woodside, Queens, there is a free buffet every day at 5 PM. One recent evening, it consisted of a single tray of rigatoni with sausage and peppers. It was gone by 6 PM.
The pasta was inhaled by a dozen or so middle-aged and older working-class men who, judging by their watery blue eyes and pinky complexions, can call the Emerald Isle their motherland. Shelley’s is a welcoming place that appreciates its patrons, and the free dinner is only one way it tries to entice and excite the barflies. “Kegs & Eggs” are offered on Sunday mornings, with $2 Bloody Marys. A hand-written sign reads, “You must leave ID to play beer pong.” Betting pools are offered for every sporting event. One chart tracking the 2008 baseball season was graffitied with the epithet “Phuck the Phillies.”
On May 16, Shelley’s will hold its first annual pig roast. It will take place on a cement patio, in the rear of the bar, just past a room containing a pool table and a dartboard. It’s a bleak place that looks like the back of someone’s tool shed. Old men in baseball caps retreat there to sit in white plastic chairs and smoke cigarettes. The attractive and cheerful blonde bartendress said they had to go to New England to find a grill in which to roast the hog.
The barmaid treats the men at the bar—some slowly sipping their Buds and cranberry-and-vodkas into gradual oblivion—with care and a smile. She likes to travel and wistfully mentioned Prague as her next destination. A quartet of visiting Scots and Brits give her a nice tip when they learn she’s of Scottish origin. “They’re staying in Woodside,” she says with a shrug. “They haven’t been to New York yet.”
There are a number of framed old photographs of 19th century Woodside on the walls—tepid competition to the six television screens atop the back of the bar. The black-and-white pictures make the neighborhood look like something desolate and hardscrabble, a Wild West town. Not a scrap of that Woodside remains outside Shelley’s door. Even Shelley’s isn’t the same Shelley’s. The bar was called K.C. Moore’s not long ago. But, before that, it again apparently went by Shelley’s for some time. It was owned then by a well-known local figure, Ed Fowley, who bought it in 1965. It was named Shelley’s when he bought it. For all that, it feels nicely broken in.