Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Kiss to the Blarney Stone

There was a time, and not so long ago, when Blarney Stone bars were ubiquitous in New York as Starbucks are now. Not only Blarney Stone, but other Irish dive bar chains too, like Clancy's, Blarney Rock, Blarney Castle, and Shandon Star, to name but a few. Back in the 'seventies, when Ford was telling New York to drop dead, thousands of sad, quiet old men and rowdy young men, and more than a few women too, were tanking up at these establishments on cheap beer and booze, and occasionally supplementing those drinks with solid, cheap eats. The entire stretch of 14th Street, in its long, seedy history, after its nineteenth-century heyday as the city's entertainment district and before its late-twentieth-century gentrification, sported scores of these watering holes, as did the financial district, where early in the morning men in suits prepared for a day at the office. Just about every neighborhood in Manhattan, come to think of it, had Blarney Stones and their cousins.

While many went to these places to drink, some went to eat, as they boasted hearty, dirt-cheap cafeteria-style meals: carving board meats, on platters and sandwiches, and burgers and fries. Now there are hardly more than a handful of Blarney Stones in the city, once a cornerstone of lowlife drinking culture. But one of the old hangers-on, on Third Avenue between 44th and 45th Streets, still offers cheap booze, boisterous camaraderie, and most importantly for local office workers, a decent cheap meal. Six bucks, I think, will get you a burger and fries. Some people swear by their burgers, and they're pretty big, served on a cross between a hard roll and a hamburger bun, but don't plan on getting yours medium rare, as they seem to be partially pre-cooked and probably come out the same way no matter how you order it, which is medium-well to well-done. A platter of roast beef, or corned beef, or roast pork, or brisket will run you about eight or nine bucks with two sides, though other than starches you're left with cabbage and maybe one other vegetable as a choice. The corned beef is good, but it's cured Irish style, and I prefer Jewish deli style. But the brisket, now that's my weakness. A brisket sandwich for $7 may not be the humongous monster you'll get at Katz's or the 2nd Avenue Deli, but it's more than ample and less than half the price of those establishments.

Not only are the food prices at the Third Avenue Blarney Stone cheap, taxes are included and there's no tipping (nor have I noticed any jars for discretionary tips). A guy in front of the counter takes your order, writes it up, hands a copy to you and one to the counter men, you pay for it, then you wait around for a bus boy to call your number and hand your food to you, whether it's eat-in or take-out. If you're eating in you find a spot at one of the long communal tables and chow down. If you're with someone conversation may be difficult, depending on how loudly they're blasting the music, but at these prices, who's complaining?

The Blarney Stone, 710 3rd Ave. (between 44th & 45th Street)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

They also make decent onion rings, tasty adornment to the burger and brisket.

1:37 PM  
Blogger Polecat said...

Thanks for this, Peter.

I have fond memories of ducking into the Blarney Stone down the block from where I used to work on 23rd Street. First thing you'd see, once your eyes adjusted to the darkness, was a hunk of corned beef sitting in its' juices at the bottom of a chafing dish.

They're a lot like telephone booths; one day you look around and realize they're not there anymore.

Blarney Stone's death is slow and merciful.

Not like the Brew & Burger. Those places just seemed to vanish into thin air.


8:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see you got the sandwich.

Another favorite Blarney Stone of mine is the one tucked away on Trinity Pl., hard by the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel entrance. It seems to be patronized mostly by blue collar or back office guys, rather than true obnoxious Wall Streeters, along with a rather strange cast of day-drinking locals (where do they come from way down here?). Cavernous, old, dark, kind of depressing, the same steam-table food with its residual race memory Irish-Americaness - my kind of place.

The late Shandon Star on 8th Ave. and Pat, its master of all things boiled and gray, was legendary, as you know. Alas.

11:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has nothing to do with the Blarney Stone, but here's some true down-home food from my hometown. Somehow I saw this and immediately thought of you.

I remember when these, and other game animals, would show up in the little stores around town in neighborhoods where the old folks lived.

And then there's the muskrats...

12:05 PM  

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