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Plug Uglies, a Cop Bar Named After an Old Gang

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.


A triumphant shot rises up as I enter Plug Uglies, whose door is one of many on Third Avenue in the 20s that leads into an Irish bar. The Knicks score a critical basket? No. Someone has shown himself a silver-fingered master of the shuffleboard table that dominates the bar's back room. Perhaps due to its novelty, the game easily bests the nearby pool table in attracting barfly attention. Or maybe it's because you can hold a beer in one hand as you send a puck gliding across the board with the other. Can't do that in pool. Either way, the chalk board listing players "on deck" always has a few names on it.
Plug Uglies is 14 years old and is named after a motley and dangerous gang that roamed lower Manhattan 160 years ago. (Recent evidence, however, indicates the Plug Uglies actually terrorized Baltimore.) Those cutthroats and blackguards would hardly be welcome today, as Plug Uglies is very much a cop bar, based on the many police department arm patches affixed to the wall. (Not just New York, but Atlanta, Chicago, South Park, Sun Valley and elsewhere.) There are also street signs honoring Police Officer Anthony Sanchez, who was shot and killed in 1997 by a failed stockbroker attempting to rob his own father; and Sgt. Finbar Devine, who died in 1995 after leading NYPD's Emerald Society Pipes through 35 years of St. Patrick's Days parades. The soundtrack is on the heavy metal side, and the beer list is more than decent, a 50-strong mix of craft beers and the predictable pilsners.

The cute, blonde bartender in the scoop-necked black blouse is petite, but perceptively tough. She knows her job; doesn't touch my ten bucks on the bar until I'm ready to go. "Hey, where have you been lately?" she says to various Joes who saunter in, making them feel special. She shares a shot with a group she seems to know and like at the end of the bar. She doesn't with a more rowdy bunch at the other end, even though they take the time to shut their collectively yaps and stare with appreciation as she angles a bottle of Dewar's into a glass. "Your village called," a sign behind her reads. "Their idiot is missing."
—Robert Simonson