The Bars on Greenpoint Avenue
by Jack Rothstein
I’ve mentioned Howie’s famous among 15 year olds…how about the bars on Greenpoint Avenue… two on every block… some longer blocks had three…one on each corner and another in the middle…there were a few pubs… the difference?...a pub has darts and a pool table…food and beer drinkers…a bar on the other hand offered boilermakers - a clean shot washed down with a cool draft - to the working class Irish stiffs who kept them in business… Sunnyside had more bars per capita than any place in the good old USA… only one place in the world contained more bars in a single neighborhood…a bar district in Tokyo.
Today the Irish dives are pretty much gone and the ones that still exist are tourist attractions…many Irish are gone…the kids grew up and left the neighborhood…many died young no doubt alcohol being toxic to the body…that is why I don’t drink much…I drink…either you do or you don’t…I drink a little…after all I grew up in Sunnyside and it is there at Howie’s bar where I learned how…no no no no no…
I learned how to drink on the Avenue where the professional drinkers sat on their lazy asses and downed one boilermaker after another for hours… night after wasted night …on weekdays after a sit down with the parish priest to alleviate the guilt…and Sundays after church…then back to the stools…night after night…if you ever cruised the Avenue in the 50’s… let’s say a solid walk to window shop at Stevens famous TV place…you passed well over a dozen bars and in those bars every evening at suppertime were the same big drunken asses sitting on the same stools drinking the same drink served by the same understated bartender…pouring slow…pouring neat…I’ll bet most who survived their teenage years suffer with the telltale disease of too much alcohol consumption….
The Irish taught me how to drink properly…I never got beat up…I was shrewd enough to stay out of fights…I watched plenty of them happen and was entertained by them…barroom brawls happened often… hung over and dry in the mouth the tales would be told by my Irish friends the next day on the basketball court in the playground … perhaps the fault of the priests…when in doubt blame the priests….ah the altar boys I hung out with had a few stories to tell…most are likely dead now…the life expectancy of a resident of Sunnyside short relative to others.
The bars of Sunnyside where boring dull drunks hung out night after wasted night killing themselves with slow acting poison…the bars are gone…the Irish like the Jews before them have left Sunnyside…the churches have transformed into mosques… the Villa Capri is gone…only White Castle is left standing …the bars and the fools that kept them afloat are dead and gone…only a faint and fading memory now…
Jack Rothstein, a native New Yorker, spent his formative years in Sunnyside Queens. He attended PS 199, JHS 125 and graduated from Long Island City High School in 1968. He earned a BS degree from NYU. Jack spends his retirement in the Philippines with his lovely wife and 5 year old daughter.