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]
Jackie's Fifth Amendment is a Park Slope dive bar which may have the coolest name of any saloon in town. Unfortunately, the decades-old place recently had its wonderfully ratty, old awning replaced. The new one just says "Jackie's" on the Fifth Avenue side. You have to walk over the 7th Street side to take in the full glory of its title. Some say the curious label goes back to bygone Mob connections from the bar's early days, but one assumes it also refers to the regulars' right to protect themselves from self-incrimination. These folks are talkative, but they don't talk.
All the beer is in bottle; no draft. The popular gimmick: cheap buckets of ponies, which is about as far as Jackie's goes where consumer marketing is concerned. There's a rather mysterious back room with tables and chairs, as if meals were a possibility at this tavern. They may have been in the past. But not now. There are not even pretzels on the bar.
Though it probably dates from the Depression, the bar looks frozen in the 1970s. The furniture is brown and cheap. In the back is a metal coat rack, an accoutrement which, to me, is shorthand for Old Dive Bar. There's a pay phone sign—but no phone under it. Jackie's working phone is an old black rotary job with a ring that could wake the dead. Best of all is the 8-track/radio set behind the bar. The radio works. As for the 8-track—"I don't know," said the barmaid. (So why is a cassette of Nat King Cole's greatest hits sitting on top of it like it was just played?)
The patrons, meanwhile, are in their 50s, 60s and 70s, and look exactly that old. One of the oldest is the white-haired bartender, a kind lady who limps, hates reality television and keeps her purse open on the back bar. These guys keep each other comfortable company. They razz one another, buy take-out and eat it down at the end of the bar, and take communal smoking breaks, sidling out the side door onto the sidewalk. On a recent night, no one played the jukebox and no one watched the TV. "You go to a bar to drink, stupid!," the regulars might tell you, if they told you anything. And see your friends.