mcsorley's bar

November | Brooklyn & NYC

It’s timely that I recently referenced my rampant college-era love for Morrissey and the Smiths because this past weekend I found myself staring at a Morrissey impersonator named “Ronnissey” at 1:00 AM, just a few hours after staring at an overhead water ballet and getting sprayed with a hose by a DJ wearing a powdered wig.

How did I get there? Let’s back it up.

As longtime readers of AA know, my two best girlfriends in the whole world live in Brooklyn (Kayte in Park Slope, Melissa in Williamsburg) and this past weekend, I went to visit them. With the hectic holiday season coming up (not to mention my baby sister Tara is a few weeks away from her first baby), I took a vacation day last Friday and made my way from Manchester, NH down to New Haven, CT to catch the commuter rail train into Grand Central.


In the past I used to take the bus or Amtrak from Boston, but this seemed like the perfect way to do the lion’s share of the drive myself, then take advantage of mass transit to get me the rest of the way. I’d rather pay for a parking garage and train tickets than sit in traffic or try to find a parking spot in the city. It worked out great.

new haven train

Since I was staying with Melissa this time, Kayte joined us in Williamsburg for the weekend. On Friday night we went to Surf Bar, where the sandy floor and surfboard-covered walls make good on the name. The food was good (especially the chowders), but the best part was probably the waiter answering Melissa’s question of “What’s a good drink to get?” (the list was long and colorful) with a confident “Mudslide.” Not one to argue with authority, she said okay, and had two of them.

surf bar

On Saturday morning we had an early brunch at the chicken-and-waffles spot Sweet Chick. I wish I’d taken a photo of the interior, which (naturally) was decked out in a perfect blend of chalkboard, wood, and metal, including vintage-looking chicken feed troughs that had been converted into light fixtures. The pastry sampler was good — $8 for a plate crammed with their muffin, scone, bread, bread pudding, and streusel cake of the day — and fun to pick at. In the spirit of honesty I will say that my Chilaquiles (a daily special) were too spicy for me to truly enjoy, but that’s not their fault. Melissa’s nearly raw poached eggs on her Eggs Benedict, however, was clearly the kitchen’s doing, but since she just slid them off her plate and promptly ignored them it didn’t matter. I think Kayte liked her Shrimp ‘N Grits…

Sometimes it’s nice to not analyze every bite of everything. We had a fun brunch. The end.

sweet chick brooklyn

After brunch we headed to Manhattan, where at some point we took a detour down a side street to admire the Merchant’s House Museum — the only nineteenth-century family home in New York City preserved intact (both inside and out). I’d love to be able to tell you what neighborhood the house is in, but my eyes cross when I look at a map and I think it’s probably a cardinal sin to get it wrong. According to their website: “The Museum is located at 29 East Fourth Street, between Lafayette Street and Bowery in historic NoHo, bordering Greenwich Village, the East Village, and SoHo.”

Got it.

merchant's house museum

A few blocks later we ended up at the historic mecca that is McSorley’s Old Ale House in (according to Wikipedia) the East Village. Before Saturday, the only things I knew about McSorley’s were that 1) it’s old, and 2) it’s mentioned in a Golden Girls episode where Sophia tells Dorothy she was born on a pinochle table at McSorley’s Bar.

Sidenote — this would have been impossible since the bar didn’t admit women until it was legally forced to in 1970.

mcsorley's barThe sign says it opened in 1854 but there are some that estimate it dates closer to 1860, but really, what’s the difference? The thing that makes McSorley’s so special is that it really feels like a time capsule on the inside. They say that nothing has been removed from the walls since 1910, and I believe it. Once inside, an Irish waiter asks your beer preference (“Light or dark?”) then reappears a few minutes later, holding (in our case) 6 glasses in one hand like a beer bouquet. One order gets you two glasses (a half pint each) and costs $5.50. It’s dim, loud, cramped, and crowded inside, so naturally seating is at a premium. We shared our tiny table with two guys that had driven up to the city for the day from Pennsylvania, and I know this because, like seemingly everyone at McSorley’s, they were powerless to resist the communal vibe that surges through the bar and told us. I loved it.

After wandering, eating, and drinking for a few more hours, we ended up at the Daryl Roth Theater (a former bank) in Union Square for a performance of Fuerza Bruta. In anticipation of my visit the girls had bought tickets as a surprise. Since I took a few stabs but find it impossible to describe, here’s how they describe themselves: “This heart-pounding 60-minute spectacle features performers running and tumbling across a vertical wall of Technicolor cloth, flying dancers, a man bursting through moving walls, and dancers wading on a small puddle of water on a hanging pool.”

This sounds about right, and it’s incredible. Especially when the hanging pool lowers until you can reach up and touch it.

fuerza bruta

Remember that powdered wig-wearing DJ I mentioned earlier? This is where he comes in. During the sporadic (until the end when it’s full-force) “dance party” rave sessions of the performance he would pull on a cord that blasted the horns above his head, and sometimes hoist up a hose and spray the dancing crowd with water. If you have zero expectations, the whole thing is a little mind blowing, and a lot of fun — especially with the company I keep.

fuerza bruta 1

When Fuerza Bruta was over we headed back to Brooklyn, and after about 5 minutes of rest and footwear cleansing (FB leaves a wet, papery mess in its wake) we headed out again to see The Son & Heirs — a Smiths tribute band. On the walk over I voiced my concerns that the “guy doing Morrissey” would fail to accurately capture Morrissey’s over-the-top stage antics, and I am pleased to say my fears were for naught. There were all the Smiths hallmarks — cheap flowers, unbuttoned shirts, excessive tongue appearances by the flailing frontman (RONNISSEY), and mostly faithful musical arrangements.

ronnissey the son & heirs

After bagels and coffee on Sunday morning, I made my way back to Grand Central to catch the train back to New Haven, and since it wasn’t rush hour, I took a minute to take a few photos of the legendary bustle in the Main Concourse with its iconic 4-faced clock.

grand central

While the evolution of Grand Central is rich and varied, I was especially delighted with the astronomical ceiling in the Main Concourse. In 1998, a dozen years of restoration revealed the ceiling’s original glory. It had been replaced in the 1930’s with a new ceiling, which became horribly stained thanks to decades of  nicotine and tobacco smoke wafting up from the concourse below. Today, it’s resplendent.

grand central ceiling

After one last stop for snacks, it was time to board my train, then get in my car, then drive home. Another NYC weekend down. Until next time…

More NYC weekend visit recaps here and here and here (the trapeze edition).

Also, since my Google reader went kaput over the summer, I’ve switched over to Bloglovin to keep up with my favorite web folks. If you also do that kind of thing you can follow the Apron Archives through this link.

(Thanks for the wonderful visit, Kayte and Meliss – I love you girls. xo)

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