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.
Ceol presents a small face to Smith Street. Other than being painted a rather painful shade of bright green, the Boerum Hill pub's facade is unprepossessing. Going inside, however, is like going down the rabbit hole. It opens up. There's first a kind of foyer, with plenty of seating. Then you pass through another entrance into the pub proper, which has an alcove to the right, and a bar that stretches back so far it would challenge a painter's mastery of perspective. Take five minutes to walk the length of this bar and you'll find there's yet another room in the back, a kind of great-aunt's parlor, overcrowded with the furniture and knick-knacks of a lifetime, and a fireplace. Finally, through a door at the back of this room is the passage to the backyard garden.
It's in the great-aunt's parlor that, every Wednesday, Ceol hosts its weekly Song Club, a singer-songwriter forum curated by Niall Connolly, a wisp of a man with a wisp of a reddish beard. Folks come from all around, even out of state, to audition for a spot on the ticket. Afterwards, the musicians grab a Guinness and smoke in the back patio, pack up their gear and talk about their recent cross-country trip in which they were busted in Indiana for possessing two one-hitters and had to spend a night in jail and pay $900 in fines. "We have to drive back in five days for a court date," said one. "The lawyer I met basically apologized for the laws of her state." The talk at the bar around midnight is mainly accented, and slurringly so, "feckin'" this and "feckin'" that, but all in good humor. The smooth-skulled young bartender smiles benignly at anything that's said to him, pulling an Irish pint for this one, a local Brooklyn brew for that one.
The love affair between Irish pubs and old Guinness ads ("Oh Goodness! My Guinness!") will probably never end. But I don't know that I've ever seen reproductions as big as the quartet that line the wall above Ceol's bar. There are also plenty of framed photographs of downtown Dublin. But the Irishness isn't put on here. It's real. The two owners, Loretta Heaney and Samantha Meehan, were born in Dublin and County Tipperary, respectively. They bought the bar from the Irish Sean Lundy in 1997, when this place was called Smithwick's. And Heaney's father owned a pub in Dublin.
In a decidedly unexpected stroke, which renders Ceol quite unlike your average Irish pub, the owners recently hired the sharp-elbowed but talented Marc Elliot as their chef. Elliot previously ran two good, but short-lived Cobble Hill restaurants, Whim and Blue Star, among other ventures. So Ceol's menu now has an Eggplant Napoleon, Irish Coffee Chocolate Pudding and perhaps the only handmade mozzarella sticks in the New York bar food world. It's as if Schaller and Weber suddenly started hand-stuffing the free hot dogs handed out at Rudy's in Times Square.