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The History and Stories of the Best Bars of New York

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The History and Stories of the Best Bars of New York - Book Review

The History and Stories of the Best Bars of New York

Photo Credit: © Shannon Graham

The Bottom Line

From the moody tables of the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room, where the literary "Roundtable" of the 1920's first met, to the deceptive door and secret entrances that mark Chumley's speakeasy past, The History and Stories of the Best Bars of New York tells the tales of some of the favorite bars and lounges in the city. This hardcover book contains short profiles of each of the thirty bars, illustrated by moody, atmosphere-capturing black and white photographs. It's a fantastic tour of the New York City bar scene that transcends time and place.
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Pros

  • Interesting and insightful tour of New York City bar history.
  • Great for finding a "new" bar in NYC to hang out in.
  • Most of the photographs are moody, conveying the atmosphere of the establishment.
  • A great coffee table book.
  • Each of the 30 establishments are mapped out with well-known nearby landmarks.

Cons

  • Many of the bars and stories have been covered in other books.
  • Occasionally the stories are drawn out and dry, especially those involving celebrities.
  • Some of the photographs do not stand up to the rest.

Description

  • Hardcover, 192 pages
  • Written by Jef Klein, Photographs by Cary Hazlegrove
  • Published: April 2006 by Turner Publishing Cover
  • Best Books award winner for USABookNews.com
  • Suggested Retail Price: $37.95

Guide Review - The History and Stories of the Best Bars of New York

The History and Stories of the Best Bars of New York is for anyone interested in bars and history, and the effects each have had on one another. The profiles of each establishment are only a few pages long, pulling together the most significant events and patrons through the years. Overall, it is a fantastic profile of the city's bar scene and a to tribute bars who have stood the tests of time, economics and tribulations. Many of these establishments have been in operation for the better part of the 20th century (some even longer) and revel in their storied pasts and rely on traditions and values set by the original owners.

The most intriguing stories were those of the transformed speakeasies, such as Chumley's at 86 Bedford Street and the '21' Club on West 52nd. Secret closets, buttons that dropped liquor bottles to a basement where they break and drain liquor and trap doors under kegs were all used to elude the raids and still add that touch of whimsy. Equally interesting are some of the pubs like McSorley's Old Ale House, where the history and stories are much older. Established in 1854, you'll find sawdust on the floors, the original ale pumps and artifacts of famous patrons inside McSorley's.

On the whole, the book is well designed and thought out. It's a good glimpse at New York's past from behind the bar, but some of the stories are drawn out and name dropping is frequent, almost redundant. The accompanying images are great illustrations. Yet on occasion I found myself wanting more out of them, especially when the painting behind the bar at The St. Regis' King Cole Bar is repeated unnecessarily. The lack of specialty drinks was also disappointing, but it's obvious they were not the focus of the book, people were. For bar and history enthusiasts this is a good collection of stories and a good primer for more in depth reading.

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