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O'Hanlon's: Home to Gruff Bartenders and Pool Sharks

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, 02/24/11]

I was a paragraph or two into writing up this 14th Street pub when I realized this is actually the second time I'm portrayed a bar called O'Hanlon's in this column. The first such subject was the 72-year-old dive by that name in Astoria. Lovely place, that. This tavern, in Manhattan, is not nearly so old. But it was founded in 1974, which is something.

The corner of E. 14th and First Avenue must have been a pretty rough crossroads back then. O'Hanlon's bartender would have been equal to the scene. Small, wiry, and with the face of a longshoreman who just got off his shift, he was no ray of sunshine. "Is it still happy hour?" I asked. I had seen the sandwich board outside that said all domestic drafts were $3 during happy hour. He shrugged. Assuming that was a sort of "yes," I ordered a Brooklyn Lager. "Five dollars," he growled. "That's why I asked if it was still happy hour," I complained. "Brooklyn Lager is always five dollars," he answered. I was going to say something about how he should change his misleading "all domestic drafts" sucker sign, but I order a Bud instead.

O'Hanlon's used to have an old hand-carved sign outside. That's been replaced by one of those garish, faux-Irish frontages that are always painted some garish color. This one's red. This interior is appealing: low tin ceilings, wooden floors and iron pillars that sit a few steps below street level, giving the place the feel of a cozy den. The space is long and deep (it was a restaurant for decades before it became a bar). There's a pool room and then, further back, a dart room. Sit at a table across from the bar and the traffic between the front door and the back never quite ceases.

The clientele is varied, aside from the unifying fact that none of them put on airs. There are old men sitting at the bar; a crowd of just-off-work, loosened-tie office mates around the pool table hashing over the work day's events; husbands getting beers for their waiting wives. This is a sports bar in several ways. Green Bay Packers fans congregate here on Sundays during the football season. Dart tournaments are held in the back. And some take their pool seriously. While I was there, a stout woman came in and greeted a friend. She didn't attract my interest much until she opened a black case and started screwing together her silver custom pool cue.

The relaxed atmosphere was broken slightly by the clatter of a disabled young man and his service dog, a tall white poodle mix, noisily trying to maneuver his walker down the entryway. No one got up to help him, but no one looked surprised to see him either. I opened the door for the man. "Thank you," he said and made a labored beeline for the back room. A while later, I drew back the red curtain that concealed the room. Darts were off. It was open mike stand-up night. The young man with the walker was doing a bit on green beer. His dog sat in the audience.
Robert Simonson