During forays into Sunset Park I have noticed that there are a handfull of old bars along Fourth and Fifth Avenues, mostly in the southern part of the neighborhood. A few Saturdays ago a friend and I decided to give 'em a try, and what a blast it was! Down-to-earth and as unpretentious as can be, they should be patronized by every Chowhounder who enjoys a reasonably priced cold beer in a relaxed environment. Here are the results:
IRISH HAVEN (NE corner of 4th Avenue and 58th Street):
A bottle of Bud and a pint of Coors cost only $4.50. The bartender was as sweet as pie, smiling and chipper. Perched atop the stools lining the bar was a fine collection of barflies, few younger than 75. Much to my surprise, half of the patrons, including the bartender, were puffing away on cigars or cigarettes (so much for the smoking ban here). In the rear was a pool table and a phone booth so old that the dial was actually a rotary. Over the loudspeaker Johnny Cash crooned "Sunday Morning Coming Down".
FURLONG'S BAR (SE corner of 5th Avenue and 62nd Street): A small, unassuming place, with a short bar, a small backroom, and a bathroom that smelled like it hadn't been scrubbed since 1985. Two mugs of Bud cost a mere $2.50. This place, though less crowded, was much louder and more insular than Irish Haven. We were treated just fine, but still got the feeling that we had crashed a private party. As "Back in Black" pumped through the speakers of the jukebox, we headed to the next place.
BOGART'S (NW corner of 5th Avenue and 62nd Street): The newest of the bunch. The bartender said that the place had been open for four months. Business must be slow, as my friend and I were the only other people there (on a Saturday night). Bogart's reminded me of a lot of the bars in nearby Bay Ridge: big screen TV, pool table, clean wood, mirrors, etc. The back lounge was roomy, though there was no one there to use it. Beers here were more expensive, between $3.50 and $4 per pint.
THE GREEN ISLE (NE corner of 5th Avenue and 56th Street): This was by far the best bar we visited. The bartender was great, very attentive and funny. The crowd was a reflection of the neighborhood's diversity: whites, Latinos, Vietnamese, even a few hipsters. As with the Irish Haven, many of the patrons were smoking. Though they were cheap, I can't recall the exact prices, since the booze had started to take its toll at that point.
RAINBOW CAFE (near the SW corner of 5th Avenue and 39th Street): This place had a wonderful old neon sign out front. The interior was well-kept and much larger than I expected. The two party rooms (one to the left of the bar, the other down a flight of steps in the rear) were in full swing. The bartender, a cranky but mildly loveable old lady, served us quickly and with about as much courtesy as could be managed. This place actually had a selection beyond Bud (i.e. Guiness).
MELODY LANES (37th Street(?), just off 5th Avenue):
Not a bar per se, but it contains a bar smack dab in the middle of 26 bowling lanes. Prices were inflated for the puny plastic cups of beer. In back of the bar was a snack counter. Here in Melody Lanes was Brooklyn in all of its glory: gay, straight, blacks, whites, Latinos, orthodox Jews. My friend and I tried our luck on the lanes, but with a night of drinking behind us, we threw one gutter ball after another. So much for the rumor that alcohol makes one a better bowler.
I should also mention that along the way, somewhere near The Green Isle, we stopped for a few slices at Scotti's Famous Pizzeria. The place has been in business since 1962 and has on display a miniature automobile. What a night, what a neighborhood!