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Playwright Celtic Pub, a Times Square Neighborhood Joint

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, and the originator of the "A Beer At..." column, takes a peek inside Gotham’s more anonymous watering holes, one by one.

[Krieger, 10/21/10]

Hal, of General Flooring (according to his shirt), is shit-faced. Those whopping pint glasses in front of him are filled with not just with Coke, but also Jack Daniel's. And by the looks of it, he's had six. Yet he reaches for Jimmy's bottle and tops off his glass with it. "Whaddaya doin'?" protests Jimmy. "Giving it a little bite," says Hal with a lopsided smile. Jimmy's drinking a non-alcoholic Buckler's, of course, but whatever. At this point, who cares?

Teddy's doing better. He's having one club soda with lime after another, and looking pretty even-keeled. Maria, the young black-clad, raven-haired bartender, makes sure his glass is always full. Though separated by 20 years, the two have a rapport, leaning in for long exchanges. Teddy lives right across the street; this is his place. It's the place of a lot of blue-collar types, particularly Broadway stagehands, who retreated to this Eighth Avenue joint when their old hangout, McHale's, was torn down in 2006. Playwright Celtic Pub itself was lucky to survive. If the hotel plans that did in Barrymore's and a few other businesses on the block hadn't been halted by the recession, the bar would have been dust by now.

Joe, a big, gentle guy with a belly of blue shirt, steps up. "You straighten your hair, Maria?" he asks. She did. Joe gives the new look a wink and the thumbs up. Joe asks Jimmy how Hal is doing. Jimmy shrugs, rolls his eyes. It's Hal. You know. "I like this bar," says Hal, too loudly. It's one of the few sentences he's uttered that didn't concern sports, or include the descriptor "fucking." "It's cozy." All agree. "A lot of bars, you're trying to get a drink, have 10 guys behind you," says Joe. "I hate that." Teddy, getting ready to call in some bets, circles a few teams on his newspaper. Hal again comments on the happy coziness of the bar. He will return to this subject many times. Maria, either kindly or inadvisably, refills his Jack and Coke. "She's so cute," he slurs as she walks away.

Everyone's surprised to see Alan. He's steps up in slacks and a French-cuff shirt, his initials on the cuff. Alan says he hasn't had a drink in three months, and has lost 30 pounds. Everyone's silent. But that dry season ends with his order of a Grey Goose on the rocks with a lime. He'll order two more, and empty them fast. Down the barn are three beefy men in their 50s, with close-shorn hair, and the air of men who have been doing what they're doing for 30 years. They drink red wine carefully, and talk in low voices. Elsewhere, ruddy, middle-aged Irish couples order fish and chips and burgers among the copious Halloween decorations. There are no pictures of Shaw or Wilde or O'Casey on the walls, as there are in other Irish, theatre-themed bars. Nor is anyone here thinking about playwrights. That the bar is in the theatre district is incidental. Playwright Celtic Pub is that rare thing: A Times Square neighborhood joint.

"Crazy for You" by Madonna comes on. Hal is juiced. "Remember this song?" he asks Maria. "It was a from a movie. Remember?" Maria doesn't. Maria barely seems aware of who Madonna is. "Come on," persists Hal. "You gotta remember the movie. Remember? What was its name." Maria's drawing a blank. "When was it," she asks. "I was born in 1985." A nearby barfly snorts. "That's when the movie came out," he laughs.
Robert Simonson