A Bar Is a Bar Is a Bar

Because we at Grade “A” Fancy never duck a controversy, let’s put a new topic on the table and see if we can’t start a small war.

We’re the #1 fans of food with drinking. It’s the civilized thing to do, it keeps you from ruining your stomach, and it’s a great strategy for remaining upright on your seat. BUT.

The fad of eating a full meal at the bar has begun suck the soul out of some of our favorite haunts.

We're always on the look-out for places with snacks on the bar—Sardi’s renowned cheese spread with Ritz crackers, for example, and the posher hotel bars are often generous with nuts and crunchy bits. There are even a few humbler neighborhood joints that still spring for free hot dogs or popcorn. That’s all as it should be. And we aren’t complaining about tapas, either. The danger begins when a bar is colonized by soup-to-nuts diners.

Predictably, the hot scene-y places even feed this fad by selling stools at the bar as regular reservations. Two offenders in this vein are also among the worst gentrifying war criminals in the restaurant biz: the ruinovated Minetta Tavern and the annihilated Fedora. Both of these atrocities treat a barstool exactly like a seat at a table. If that’s their game, fine. You won’t catch me dead in either of these clip joints. The precedent they set inevitably bleeds into regular places that once maintained a customary separation between bar and restaurant.

Picture this: a weekday evening at one of our most beloved Greenwich Village restaurants, an old-fashioned stalwart with a good sized bar and separate dining room. Two thirsty fans step out of the cold, happily note our favorite bartender is presiding—but oh, damn, all the stools are filled. That is a drag but then we notice that most of the folks are eating a whole goddam dinner, big plates, forks, side dishes, the whole friggin’ works. Plenty of tables sit empty in the dining room, so this is the choice of customers, not the necessary result of overcrowding.

If you are on your own and feel like a bite at the bar rather than a table, have at it. If you are the cherished regular who eats there every night, solo, more power to you. You are already part of that bar’s culture. You interact with the other patrons, regular and irregular, and you only take up one stool. There is a gentleman who eats every dinner at the bar we are discussing, and good for him. But when the entire length of the mahogany is taken up with parties of two plus, packing it in like they were at the counter at Chock Full o’ Nuts? Well, if they could bring themselves to eat at a table then a few other people (us) might have a crack at enjoying a restorative in civilized surroundings before sitting down to dinner.

When a fad like this one, born and bred in the trendy places, and probably, ironically, fed by the fashionableness of cocktail bars, starts to infect creaky old-timers, something must be done. A simple way to lessen the disruption of a feed at the bar, and one that used to be common, is to have a separate bar menu. The Heidelberg serves sandwiches, fishy appetizers, and wurst plates. Similarly, the McSorley’s menu is sandwiches or a sleeve of saltines and a stack of cheese. Keep it simple, finger food or nibbles (tapas americanas), and we will have no objections.

But we want that seat at the bar. There’s drinking to be done.


Claus Reviver

Yesterday was the big broadcast, the annual Fool's Paradise holiday office party on the mighty WFMU. A good time was had by all, as you can hear here. Thank you to our genial host Rex for inviting the Radio Bartender back again. And without further ado here is this year's model, in the tradition of the Corpse Reviver, here is our 

Claus Reviver #1

1 ½ ounces Cognac

½ ounce rye

¼ ounce crème de menthe (+ some for rim)

¼ ounce Rhum Barbancourt 4 year

¼ ounce cooled espresso
Dip the rim of a cocktail glass in a little crème de menthe and then in sugar; store in freezer until needed.
Shake liquids and strain into the prepared glass.
To garnish, flame a slice of orange peel over glass then skewer it together with a cocktail cherry.

On Xmas morning after his long night’s work, Santa puts his feet up, says “whew” and swallows one of these. It’s a guaranteed pick-me-up. Happy holidays and here's looking up your chimney!


Holiday Shenanigans

Prepare your ears for the wildest holiday-themed novelty records and the sounds of on air gift giving with a cast of celebrity merry-makers. This Saturday — Xmas Eve! — everyone's fave holiday tradition, the Radio Bartender, returns to the "Fool's Paradise" featuring Rex on the mighty WFMU! As always, Grade "A" Fancy's head mixist Karen will unveil a new cocktail for the occasion, live in the studio, amid much radio hi-jinx.

Tune in this Saturday, December 20, from 1 to 3pm on the Fun 91! In the New York City area it's WFMU 91.1 fm Jersey City, and 90.1 in the Hudson Valley. Children of any land can listen in real time via the miracle of the internet.

And if you haven't already got a copy you can order our newly updated holiday cocktail guide, Hark! the Radio Bartender Brings which includes a postcard with this year's recipe.


Ho, Ho, Hold the phone! A Holiday Cocktail Update!

It’s that most wonderful time of the year — the hustle-bustle and anticipation as everyone prepares for a very special visitor. Yes, of course we mean The Bartender of the Airwaves, bringing a gleaming new holiday cocktail for all the parched listeners of Fool’s Paradise on radio station WFMU.

On Saturday, December 24th we'll mix up a round or two live on air for deejay Rex and his in-studio merrymakers. But YOU CAN GET THE SUPER SECRET RECIPE RIGHT AWAY with your copy of Hark! The Radio Bartender Brings, a lavishly illustrated 44-page booklet collecting all our holiday drinks. Order today and you'll receive a postcard insert preview of 2016's holiday recipe, the Claus Reviver #1.

This real old-fashioned inky-papery book tells the tale of the Radio Bartender, provides guidance and counsel to make your holiday cocktail hour merry and bright, and for a bonus, you can get a jump on this year’s Fool’s Paradise cocktail with the postcard insert.


Stumped for that nonpareil gift this year?

You’ll want a copy for yourself, naturally, but not so fast! This handsome volume may be the answer to your holiday shopping woes. Get it for the bon vivant on your list who’s seen it all, the liquor lover with no stomach for cocktail twee-ness, the art maven, or the connoisseur of small-press books. Buy one to go along with that fake i.d. for your kid brother, one for Dad’s cookbook collection, and one for Mom’s bar.

To purchase Hark! The Radio Bartender Brings via PayPal, click on the Buy Now button below.

The holidays will be upon us in no time. So that you receive your copy as quickly as possible we'll send your order by genuine USPS Two-Day Priority Mail. On the drop-down menu you can choose to buy up to four copies at one time, but the affordable shipping rate of $6 per order never changes. Shipping multiple copies won't cost you one thin dime more than an order of one! This is a money saving offer that thrifty gift-givers will not want to pass up.

Order now and let the Radio Bartender brighten your holiday season.

Number of copies:

U.S. and Canada


A Quick One On The Road

They called it the Spindle City, Cohoes, just north of Albany. In the 1830s textile mills sprouted up here at the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson. By the middle of the century business was roaring; mills cranking out cottons, percales, wigans, jute, bags and yard goods by the ton. Like so much of upstate economy dependent on the Erie Canal, Cohoes’ industrial heyday is long gone. Now the old mills and worker tenements are apartments and condos. But what are your Grade “A” Fancy correspondents doing so far from our usual NYC beat? Here in sleepy olde time Cohoes there is an unexpected link to the big city, and you will be not at all surprised to learn it resides in a saloon.

171 Remsen Street has been a tavern since the early years of the 20th century. The building dates from 1873 and according to town lore, early tenants included a “silent movie theatre” (more probably a nickelodeon) and a pool hall. In 1937 the tavern was bought by local political boss Michael T. (Big Mike) Smith. His new venture would become the unofficial headquarters for the Democratic Tammany machine in Cohoes, presided over by Big Mike from a corner booth in the front window.

Smith made improvements to the old tavern, including installing the impressive 50-foot-long bar he purchased from the O’Connors, who operated a speakeasy in Albany. The legend was that the O’Connors acquired the bar when the old Tammany Hall in Manhattan closed.

But which Tammany Hall? On 17th Street just off Union Square the last Tammany Hall still stands. You can read the inscription "The Society Of Tammany Or Columbian Order" above the door of what is now the Union Square Theatre. However, this was built in 1927, so too late to have housed the Cohoes bar. The first building to be called Tammany Hall was at Nassau and Frankfort, built in 1812 and used until 1867,  probably too early for our bar. In 1868 a grand new headquarters was built on 14th Street. The Hall’s political offices were restricted to a single room and the rest was given over to various showmen and entrepreneurs who jammed it full of cafés, oyster bars, minstrel shows, band concerts, opera companies and a bazaar. No doubt that a great bar could have come out of here.

Did the O’Connors of Albany salvage the long bar out of the 14th Street Hall when it closed in 1927, and later sell it to Big Mike of Cohoes? We have yet to find hard evidence, but that’s the story, and it’s a good one. The bar certainly is a splendid slab of mahogany, regardless of pedigree, and its vintage guarantees it has seen many wonders in its long life.

Smith’s today is a lovely tavern with tile floors, red Naugahyde brass-studded barstools, some outstanding circular wood booths, and that long beautiful bar. The backbar has cabinets ornamented with stained glass roses. The food is good, too. Although Big Mike exited for good in 1949, it’s said his joint on Remsen Street still looks pretty much the same. If you are on your way to the Adirondacks, or possibly the races at Saratoga, stop in at Smith's of Cohoes and raise a glass to a far-flung bit of New York City history.