03 May 2007

The Last Good Bar in Times Square

McHale's has been gone from the corner of Eighth Avenue and 46th Street for 16 months now, but the hole it's left in the neighborhood continues to yawn. Everyone knew what a great bar it was, but even I am surprised at how irreplaceable it has turned out to be. No other tavern possesses its combination of history, warmth, good food, affordable prices, atmosphere, local color and all-around New Yorky-ness. Most of the places in Times Square where you can get a drink now fall into three categories: hotel bars that make you feel like a tourist; high-hat fancy-pants cocktail emporia (Blue Fin, Bar Centrale, The Whiskey), where $12 martinis and intimidation are the name of the game; and crass faux Irish pubs, all variations of the same uninspired mix of dark wood, big screen TVs, maps of Ireland and Guinness.

There's the Cub Room on 47th, but it's kind of charmless and the drinks aren't well made. Rudy's on Ninth is an out-and-out dive of legendary proportions, but its clientele and free hot dogs can get downright scary at times.

More and more, when in the neighborhood at night, I don't even consider the options. I just turn on my heel, march down 44th Street and disappear inside Jimmy's Corner. This is the last great Times Square tavern, a joint of character and authenticity. The bartendresses are friendly (and it is all women behind the bar); the owner, old Jimmy himself, is always present; the juke box is loaded with standards, jazz and soul; and the drinks are cheap.

A few things to know about Jimmy's Corner. It's owned by Jimmy Glenn, a former boxing trainer, so there are pictures of pugilists and boxing bills all over the walls. He once owned a gym where aspirants to the ring would spar and train. You may see an actual boxer there from time to time. It's narrow as hell: a long bar, a row of stools beside it and a few inches between the chairs and the wall for people to pass. If you venture past the jukebox, it opens up a bit. It's hard to see the folks back there, so if you want to meet somebody you're not supposed to, this is the place.

The gals behind the bar are chatty and a bit raunchy. One might think they were tending bar in a Texas honky tonk. They're all dressed in black and short skirts (which, I imagine, is how Jimmy likes it). Taped to the mirror behind them are hundreds of dollar bills signed by various patrons from around the country It's pretty crowded on that wall. A waitress told me there's a waiting list for dollars to be posted. Right now, they stil accept signed dollars but put them in a pile on top of the cash register. The bar make soon start taping the bills to the ceiling to accomodate the overflow.

Last time I was at Jimmy's I sat beside a German tourist. He signed his dollar and passed it over the bar. I was a bit surprised to see him there. I asked how he found Jimmy's. He said he had been roaming Times Square all night, trying to find a bar that wouldn't make him feel self-conscious and underdressed.

See? That's the whole problem with the new Times Square right there.