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.

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