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.[Horine, 9/10]
Like many other old, outer-borough bars in this city, Denny's Steak Pub in Kensington has a disused kitchen in the back. You can still get a $5 pizza heated up if you like (and not a bad pie for the price), but if you're looking for the steak that gave Denny's its middle name, keep looking. Maybe it's at the bottom of that bowl of stale fritos on the bar.
Denny's got its first name from Denny Ryan, the original owner, since deceased. His son runs it now. Though the corner tavern, which sits right above the Church Avenue F train stop, looks old as hell, it's actually the bar's second coming. The original Denny's was at Seventh Avenue and Ninth Street in Park Slope—there's a black and white picture above the old cash register. The register survived the move. The "new" Denny's is 39 years young, founded in 1975.
It's small inside. Brick pillars and arches, and dark linoleum give the place a snug, warm air. There's pool, if you've got the quarters, and darts, if you don't. Players range from a drunk hotshot who could hit four balls in with one shot, even with a load on; to a Yuppie greenhorn who managed to knock the cue ball clear off the table. Four televisions play whatever game's on. Turn away from the bar and look at the corner near the door, however, and you might catch James Stewart and Doris Day in "The Man Who Knew Too Much." (Hitchcock? WTF? Maybe Denny's is deeper than it looks.)
It's hard to tell if people have left at Denny's. They'll abandon their drinks on the bar for a half hour while they take a very long smoke outside. And everyone seems to smoke. "Where's Jay?" said the bartender, looking down at a half-drunk Bud and a $10 bill. "Did he go?" He didn't. Jay came back in 15 minutes and had another. It's a middle-aged, blue-collar crowd mainly, but that doesn't mean they're narrow-minded. Everyone joined in the birthday celebration of one half of a very out, 40-something lesbian couple, singing along with ABBA, giving and receiving kisses and yelling at the television when a Yankees-Blue Jays brawl emptied both benches. "Wait! They're fighting!" "My God, they're fighting!" "Of course they're fighting! But what for?" "My God, it's a free-for-all!" (They said the same things five minutes later, when the melee was replayed, thinking it was a new brawl.)
The next inning, the losing Yankees hit a few runners in. The pool-playing Yuppie came up to the bar for shots. The bartender poured generously. "What are these? Rally shots?" asked the disbelieving, but happy man. "No," said the bartender. "Regular shots."