Midtown Happy Hour: The Real Story Behind the Reopened Holland Bar (aka Doesn’t the New York Times Fact Check?)
If you like to eat, chances are you like to drink (read: a lot of you are freakin’ lushes), so I thought maybe it was time to introduce a happy hour column to the site. Every week, our Happy Hour Correspondent “Mamacita” will post about a different bar in Midtown that fits the Midtown Lunch mentality: unhealthy food, not lame (unless it’s lame in a cool way), and most importantly… cheap. This week, Mamacita heads to the newly reopened Holland Bar, and discovers that not everything in the big New York Times article last week was exactly accurate…
The word has spread that the venerated and thought departed Holland Bar has reopened to the delight of the beleaguered livers of Port Authority boozers. In a city where shiny-new high-rise towers go up and neighborhood icons close down, this is a real victory for the humble masses that for decades called the Holland Bar their second home. Unfortunately, The New York Times story heralding the bar’s reopening got some facts wrong. So, I headed over to Holland Bar to set the record straight… and bask in the glow of its grand reopening splendor.
On the second night they were open it seemed like a family reunion was taking place. “Doc” Bill Cleary (not Leary!) was manning the helm of the makeshift plywood bar. Bill had been tending bar at Holland for years, and when it closed Dave, the owner behind Bull Moose and Dave’s Tavern, gave him a job at Bull Moose Saloon. Some regulars followed, and that’s where I first met him, but his patience was rewarded this night. A smile was on each and every face and friends were reminiscing about the old bar and how the floorboards used to be one second away from caving in. Surprisingly, a pay phone still clung to the wall, though it was dead as a doornail. Perched atop some hastily propped up shelves was a modest selection of liqueur bottles and on tap were Bud and McSorley’s. I eased up to the bar and with no trouble began talking with a few old regulars. One guy played Journey’s “Don’t stop believing” on the jukebox and claimed that this was the last song that Gary Kelly (the owner) played at Holland Bar as it closed. Needless to say, I could tell this night would go splendidly.
We ordered a few rounds of McSorley’s with some Jameson shots. The Doc worked the bar with his usual gracious style, pouring generous drinks and greeting everyone as they entered. He jokingly remarked that everything was back to normal, “The same old dumb bartenders and the same old stupid management.” The old neon Holland Hotel sign and the urn of the dearly departed Charlie O’ Connor, a beloved regular (not bartender) at the bar for many years still perched proudly above the Holland sign (the remains were reported lost by the NY Times). At one point Bill retold the story of Charlie’s ashes, and the bar gave a rousing toast in remembrance.
Though the old collage of posters and photos that painted a portrait of the regulars through the decades has now disappeared, what remains is the backbone of what made Holland a NY institution: cheap drinks ($3-$5) and a loyal brethren of old customers that have lived through the ebb and flow of the neighborhood. It was a fine night of celebrating and as we left we stopped for some chili dogs over at Papaya Dog down the street. Somehow anything ritzier wouldn’t feel right.
- A historic bar with many tales to tell
- Cheap drinks and terrific bartenders
- Perfect place to settle in for a long night of drinking or just to catch a drink on the way home
- Cheap eats nearby to go with your cheap booze: 99 Cent Pizza, Papaya Dog to name a couple.
- They have glassware now! No plastic cups!
- Dive Bar, expect lots of men and serious drinkers
- It’s pretty clean and new now, but give it some time and it’ll smell like the Subway Inn
- Top shelf liquor is unheard of.
- It’s about as small as a hallway in there, so except to get cozy with the locals
The Holland Bar, 532 Ninth Ave. (btw. 39+40th), 212-502-4609
Photos and post by “Mamacita”