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Bar Keepers

Trendy bars are fine when you want to see and be seen. But after a hard day's work, nothing beats a neighborhood hangout that will never be called "hot," "cool," or, worst of all, "over."

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The workday is done, and you and your fellow wage slaves need a drink. What you don't need is the hot spot du jour, where one cocktail costs $12, screaming and lip-reading are the only forms of communication, and you can't find a place to stand, let alone a seat.

You're looking for a hangout, not a scene; a place that has inexpensive beer on tap, bartenders who actually seem happy to see you, a jukebox, some snacks -- and enough chairs and stools to go around.

Although that may sound more like the description of a small town's beloved tavern, such bars do exist in New York. To find them, we asked New Yorkers in various occupations their favorite places to hang out after work. You don't have to be a local to lift your spirits at these off-the-beaten-path saloons -- just loosen your collar (whatever color it happens to be).

MCQUAID'S PUBLIC HOUSE

589 Eleventh Avenue,
at 44th Street
582-6359

If you find yourself in the neighborhood of the Intrepid and UPS's gigantic distribution center, you have several bars to choose from just before you cross the West Side Highway. Follow the UPS handlers' advice and deliver yourself to McQuaid's. Run by Irish brothers Sean and Patrick McQuaid, the pub is an unabashedly cheerful place with yellow walls, a blond-wood bar, and a whiskey lazy susan. The McQuaids serve corned beef and fish-and-chips until midnight and liquor till 4 a.m.

WATERFRONT ALE HOUSE

540 Second Avenue,
at 30th Street
696-4104

Only at the Waterfront can you enjoy a glass of port and a $6 cigar while fetching free popcorn for your table from a self-serve popper. The doctors, nurses, and doctors-to-be from Bellevue and the NYU Medical Center prescribe the bar's sublime combination of the haute andthe down-home -- the menu ranges from a plate of grilled vegetables to a smoked-pork sandwich better known as "the pulled pig." Inoculate yourself with $4 shots of the house spirit, Grandma's Apple Pie vodka, which steeps for at least three weeks before appearing in a glass jar behind the bar, apple rings and all.

BLARNEY ROCK PUB

137 West 33rd Street
947-0825

So you and your pals want to see the game and yell about it in the company of fellow fans? Team up at the Blarney Rock, which has no fewer than nine TVs to choose from. The bartender will likely be wearing a jersey, and during commercials you can examine team photos of the 1980 Rangers and the 1955 Dodgers in the mishmash of athletic memorabilia behind the bar. Along with Madison Square Garden habitués, you'll also meet elevator repairmen, Amtrak staff, carpenters, Empire State Building guides, and, when they're not in Antwerp or in the air, Belgian stewardesses employed by Sabena Airlines. (The Blarney Rock is not the place to discuss your plans to build or renovate with nonunion labor.)

NO IDEA

30 West 20th Street
777-0100

The phrase first-name basis applies to the relationship between barkeeps and regulars at most of the spots on this list, but No Idea actually makes a game of it. Every day, the management honors a different first name, and if your driver's license matches up, you drink free. This ritual provides a bonding moment for all of the young professional Amys and Justins who frequent No Idea -- business consultants at Arthur Andersen, Web-page builders at Poppe Tyson, clerks at Paragon Sporting Goods, and editors at Parents magazine. Even if it's not your name day, you'll stay amused with games in the slightly hidden pool room, trips to the jukebox, and rounds of cheap drinks.

TRACY J'S WATERING HOLE

106 East 19th Street
674-5783

Staff from the nearby Con Edison and Federal Express line up at Tracy J's long bar -- in front of an equally lengthy mural depicting various animals dressed in nightclub attire -- for a happy hour spiced up with free food (pizza or wings). But over the courseof an evening, the Watering Hole crowd shifts from nine-to-fivers to four-to-twelvers -- the wait staff from Angelo & Maxie's, City Crab, Park Avalon, and the Blue Water Grill. Manager Anthony Frazier calls the Watering Hole "a comfort zone" for those who have spent the past eight hours repeating the night's specials.

PETER MCMANUS CAFE

152 Seventh Avenue,
at 19th Street
729-4602

The newspaper clipping on the wall is headlined PETER MCMANUS AND SONS: TAVERNMEN FOR MANY YEARS. The date? August 23, 1948 -- when the bar had already been in business for twelve years. This explains McManus's Tiffany glass, wooden phone booths, and overall time-capsule atmosphere. These days, neighborhood workers from bike messengers and electricians to lawyers and musicians drop in to chat with James "Jamo" McManus, the founder's grandson, who is on hand nearly every night.

SWIFT

34 East 4th Street
260-3600

This bar is dedicated to Mr. Modest Proposal, and his likeness is everywhere, serving as both a decorating motif and a compelling argument for big hair. But the Tower Records clerks and Balthazar wait staff don't come to Swift for a satirist's fashion tips -- the draw is the beer selection (30 brews on tap) and the kitchen's willingness to serve cottage pie (Irish for shepherd's pie) until the smallest hours.

JEREMY'S ALE HOUSE

254 Front Street,
next to the
Brooklyn Bridge
964-3537

To give you a sense of its size: Jeremy's used to be a garage for garbage trucks. It still has an asphalt floor and cinder-block walls but otherwise has been completely transformed by the hundreds of ties and bras festooning the ceiling. Traders, cops, Fulton-fish-market dealers, firemen, brokers, and a mailman known, perhaps inevitably, as Cliffie celebrate their good fortune with draft beer in "two-pint buckets," paper bowls of calamari, and the tie-and-bra ritual: If you've had a bit of good luck -- promotion, marriage, baby, or some other ego boost -- you donate your brassiere or cravat to the house. Jeremy's opens at 8 a.m., and since that's just about when the fish-market guys get off work, the party lasts all day long.

MANDUCATIS

13-27 Jackson Avenue,
Long Island City
718-729-4602

Going to Manducatis (Latin for "you eat") is like going to a friend's house for dinner -- except your friend is from Naples and really knows how to cook. And while the place may be known for its dining room, it feels more like one big living room, complete with lace curtains, houseplants aplenty, a wood-burning fireplace -- and a fully stocked bar. For twenty years, this is where Vencenzo and Ida Cerbone have hosted the curators, sculptors, and painters from P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center. Usually a place puts photos of its favorite (or famous) customers on the wall. But in the case of Manducatis, the reverse has happened: Last year, P.S. 1 exhibited eleven candids of Vencenzo and Ida surrounded by art types enjoying red wine and great food; the black-and-whites, taken by Howard Gross, date back to the late seventies, when the school building was getting made over while the Cerbones were renovating a German bar two blocks away. As Vencenzo puts it, "They were working in one mine and I was working in another."

RHODES SEAFOOD PUB

288 City Island Avenue, the Bronx
718-885-1538

The keepers at the Bronx Zoo are right about Rhodes -- sitting at the bar or in a booth with a dozen steamers and plenty of beer to wash them down will soothe any savage beast. The walls are covered with photos of storms past (city island nor'easter, '92) and customers present -- several enormous snapshot collages with a couple hundred grinning faces apiece give you the sense that life at Rhodes is one long, chummy celebration of shellfish. Every weeknight, the bartender rings a bell to alert teachers, firemen, cops, Bell Atlantic workers, and those zookeepers that another happy hour on City Island has begun.

O'KEEFE'S BAR & RESTAURANT

62 Court Street, Brooklyn
718-855-8751

The awning might read the new O'Keefe's, but this place has been entertaining Brooklyn's crime-and-punishment crowd for 50 years. A stuffed buck with a bowler perched between his antlers overlooks the crowd of lawyers, court officers, and clerks from Brooklyn's Family Court and Supreme Court. Owner Dave Sheeran believes that the key to the bar business, other than location, is constancy ("Even if the food's bad, it has to be consistently bad"). In this spirit, he makes sure his regulars do time every Thursday by offering all the draft you can drink for $10 and wings tasty enough to make cops stop by with handcuffed lunch companions -- perhaps the most extreme version of a neighborhood bar bringing people closer together.


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