Midtown Happy Hour: Smith’s Bar Looks Cool on the Outside…

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 posts 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.

A few weeks ago I was cajoled into watching a theater show, one of my least favorite activities ever (think: boredom marries claustrophobia). And even though it’s already been reviewed by Mamacita in 2008, Smith’s Bar (44th and 8th) was the closest bar to the theatre we were headed to, and a great pit stop to slam back as many beers as possible between the end of work and the opening of curtains.

I had noticed Smith’s half-lit neon sign on some of my lunchtime excursions, and I thought it looked like a really cool place. In fact, it’s been around since the 50s, and although it has changed ownership in the past decade, it was still more appealing to me than any other bar in the immediate vicinity… mainly because of its facade. And the happy hour specials looked okay. From 12-7 they serve $3.75 domestic light bottles, $4.00 Amstel and Sam Adams Light, and $4.00 wells and SoCo (Southern Comfort) shots. The Long Hammer IPA I ordered was $5.50.

But I found out that the funky retro exterior of Smith’s, at least in my humble opinion, runs only skin deep. I was hoping for some old career bartenders in this type of joint, but all seemed to be selected for their youth and attractiveness. Maybe I came by at a bad time, but my bartender wasn’t very nice at all. She was impatient and seemed annoyed that I was there. I can’t imagine how she would treat dilly-dallying, slow-talking tourists who just fell off the turnip truck and walked in the door. Sure, some people can pull that attitude off if they’re old and grumpy and the joint is family-owned, family-operated, and super gritty. It just works. But Smith’s is not this kind of place; partly because of the sports bar feel… and partly because of the unfortunate location. When you’re in Times Square, you’re always trying too hard.

Then the beer came, and I wasn’t too happy with my situation. I started to take a sip and I noticed how far away the beer was from my mouth. This is a picture of my (not imperial) pint before actually drinking any of it. Seriously? This is the wimpiest pour I’ve ever gotten in midtown. And in a small glass. Later, a different bartender *almost* took my pint away with an inch of beer left in the bottom. She looked at my face and saw the glowing laser beam emitters in my eyes foreshadowing her imminent explosion, and she took her hand off the glass. She chose wisely. I’m sure they were busy, but these bartenders were totally phoning it in.

Luckily, the food at Smith’s gave me something more positive to write about. Even though most menu items looked a bit steep, I liked the B-wing prices. I’m always looking for the best wings I can find, and Smith’s didn’t disappoint. I was pleased by their batch order style – it’s 75 cents a wing (not bad for Midtown), with a minimum order of 6. (I only ordered 6 because I had just had lunch from Taam Tov a few hours earlier, more on that later.) The wings are available in several flavors: Mild, Hot, Garlic Parmesan, Chipotle Sesame, Honey Chipotle, and Honey BBQ. I ordered Hot.

The wings were big and true to the flavor of regular Buffalo wings, and they were very hot… very hot indeed. At a lot of restaurants and bars, “hot” just means regular cayenne pepper sauce. These had extra pepper flakes. I asked the bartender for extra hot sauce on the side (I always do just in case), and of course that didn’t happen. Fortunately, these wings didn’t need it. They were hot and sloppy enough as they were. The blue cheese was passable, which is a good thing, because you’ll need it to balance the heat if you order ‘em hot. I think the wings weren’t naked but lightly floured (not breaded). Although I consider myself a Buffalo wing purist, I’ve seen this technique popping up lately and I actually think it’s pretty awesome. It helps sauce-wing adhesion and lends a very lightly breaded texture that can be either crispy or slightly gooey — and both outcomes are good if done properly.

My fella ordered the Buffalo burger for $11, which is a beef burger with Buffalo wing sauce blue cheese on the side. He must have some kick-ass telepathy skills, because the bartender didn’t ask us how he wanted it cooked, but the chef still cooked it medium, how he usually orders it. He really liked both the burger and fries (but he’s pretty easy to please in this department).

And, if you’re a fan of pub sports, they’ve got Big Buck Safari, darts, and horseracing on the screens. It seemed crowded enough in there, but I’m wondering if most customers are tourists or if there’s a respectable group of New York constituents.

I’ll agree with Mamacita’s +/- treatment, although I’ll add on a – for bar service and a + for good wings.

Any Midtown Lunch’ers been to Smith’s? What’s your take? Did I just stop by when the bartenders were having a rough day… or is it always like this? How about the food? Any recommendations?

Smith’s Bar, 701 8th Avenue (on 44th), 212-246-3268


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