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.[Horine]
Veronica's is a union bar along the borderline of Astoria and Long Island City. It dates from the mid-1940s and has had several owners along the way. The mirror in back of the bar is plastered with the stickers of various local guilds: Iron Workers, Glaziers, Steamfitters, Carpenters, Sandhogs, you name it. I don't know if any union members were present when I visited, but if they were, then those unions have a heavy Irish contingent. There wasn't a single barfly or bartender without an Emerald slant to their locutions. And not just a light lilt. Thick, heavy accents. Pat O'Brien accents.
The bartender—Veronica herself, I believe—quickly walked across the old wood planks and ice boxes behind the bar and asked what I'd have. She refused my money up front. "Relax," she said. "Later. What winds we got today. A good day to be home in bed. Always happens when I have to work." There were four televisions on, but they were hardly needed. The non-stop gab of the Irish tipplers provided entertaining dialogue enough to fill several Conor McPherson plays.
For a group of Irishmen, they were certainly interested in the British royal wedding. "The Osama bin Laden thing has completely knocked the wedding off the front page," said a large, silver-haired man, the wise, older-brother figure of the bunch. "Look how they hammer it in to you," he said, gesturing disdainfully to the local news on the set. "They harp on it again and again so you feel stupid if you don't know every detail about it. Look how that one's shaking his head. Like he really cares. It's all sensationalized."
"What business has that big-eared prince taking that whore to the wedding," said an immoderate man to the left of the silver-haired man. Silver Hair took the logical, high road. "She's his wife," he explained. "What's he going to do? Leave her home." The Camilla-hater, who wore a cap that said "Sligo," was having none of it. "She's nobody!" he protested. "She not that kid's mother. She's just an ugly bitch." No, said silver hair. She's the Dutchess of Cornwall. This statement drew stares. "Well, they had to call her something," he said in defense. "He's a prince. You can't marry a prince and not be called something."
Sligo was going to reply, but Silver Hair had answered his cell phone, and was carefully consulted a racing sheet before him. "Oh, you're on the phone," said Sligo, with the quiet delicacy. "I won't bother you." A short man in a red shirt and close-cropped hair then appeared at the elbow of Sligo. "I'm surprised at you," he said in the tones of a father scolding his son. It took some time to understand what Red Shirt was surprised at, but eventually it came out that he objected to the words Sligo had used to describe Camilla. However, Red Shirt had his own suspicions about Kate Middleton. "What I say is, go back, look at her history. Look at her family's history. I think they'll be surprised at what they might find." Silver Hair again owned the voice of reason. "She's the daughter of coal miners," he said, getting off the phone after making another call. Veronica stared hard at him. "What is it, darling?" he said in a honeyed voice and broke into a "Who, me?" smile. A sign on the wall said "No Gambling."
Red Shirt and Sligo returned from a smoke outside. "We're OK, now?" asked Sligo with concern. They were. Sligo bought them both a beer. Veronica was now off duty, seated at the bar, and as demanding as any customer. "It's warm in here," she complained. "Open the door," said the new bartender. "Who's working?" she asked. The new bartender opened the door. Veronica then opened a can of Coke. She took a long sip, and the bartender immediately filled the vacancy with Smirnoff. Silver Hair protested that she was only pretending not to be drinking. She then let out a retort so thick with brogue I caught none of it. But I could tell it was a good one.