Monday, 10 July 2017

A Hymn to Blarney Stones


Does anyone miss the old Blarney Stones? They were all over Manhattan when I first hit New York in the 1970’s.

I don’t mean the Blarney Stone chain in particular – the last one of which is still swinging down on Trinity Place. No, I’m talking about that generic type of bare-boned working class saloon – a long bar on the left, a food counter on the right, and some rickety tables and chairs down the back.

What you saw was what you got, and even a seldom-flush musician could afford the prices.

For those of you never lucky enough to stray within, a Blarney Stone posted its prices above the bar. Thus, while awaiting the attention of the barman, it was possible to estimate just how serious a hangover you could afford.

There were certain unspoken rules and strategies to be observed: although I often departed those establishments penniless and without notion of where the next buck was coming from, I always left a tip of $2 from the ten or twenty-spot I had entered with. 

This had little to do with decorum - more about being remembered as a man of substance despite the fact that I was a bearded, hair-down-to-my-shoulder “damned hippy from Wexford” – as I once heard myself described.

One of the perils of a Blarney Stone - the longer you stayed, the more enticing the aroma that wafted from the food counter.

You could enter after a full breakfast, lunch or dinner, but eventually the corn beef simmering behind your back would work its wonders.

Then you were faced with a quandary. With your capital quickly diminishing you had to decide on either a final beer and a shot, or go for broke, order a plateful of food, and bet that the bartender would recognize your dilemma and throw you a couple of drinks on the house.

This was a whole different New York City than the current tourist trap we inhabit. Buybacks were de rigueur after every second or – God forbid – third drink and could dependably be factored into the economics of a night’s drinking.

I never heard of a Blarney Stone where this nicety was not observed. In fact, one could often count on a drink for the ditch, along with one for the road, on your unsteady exit.

You did not take a date for men preferred to keep their own company in this class of establishment. It wasn’t that wholesale swearing or spitting on the floor were rampant, far from it. Indeed, use of the “F word” was frowned upon and the spittoon had long since vanished from the saloons of New York.

None of this mattered much since no lady worth her mascara would have wished to be wined and dined in a Blarney Stone. Let’s just say that the likelihood of a second date would have been slim to none.

Oddly enough, in his courting days I occasionally encountered David Byrne, leader of Talking Heads, in Glancy’s of 14th Street. But he at least had the good taste to park his date down at the back tables. 

Then again, David is somewhat of a social anthropologist and probably found Blarney Stones exotic.

Ah, Glancys, what a joint! I always presumed it had once been called Clancy’s but one didn’t delve into such matters. An establishment was entitled to its secrets.

It stood almost opposite the Academy of Music - later called The Palladium. This theatre hosted at least two packed rock concerts a week, before and after which Glancy’s would be packed to the gills with music connoisseurs from Woodlawn, Bay Ridge, the wilds of Jersey and Long Island, and god knows where else. The talk of fabled shows and musicians ricocheted around the bare walls as shots were downed and acquaintanceships renewed.

Alas, all gone now. Zeckendorf Towers swallowed up Glancy’s and NYU obliterated our temple of rock ‘n roll.

The days of the Blarney Stones are over - aye and their comradely nights too. To the many owners, bartenders, and patrons still vertical, I raise a glass and a simple toast: thanks for the memories - and the buybacks!