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Apr 24, 2014

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British pub crawl . . . in NYC

By Gregg Smith

Although New York was settled by the Dutch it was their royal cousins in the house of Orange who thought of New York as home. The British assumed control from Holland in mid 1600's and when the Union Jack first rose over Manhattan they found a town in which over one fourth of the buildings were either tobacco shops or taverns. New York has lowered that ratio in the last few years but there are still places for a visiting Brit to meet fellow countrymen in the comforting social atmosphere of the pub. For Americans these pubs offer the opportunity to replicate a British pub crawl while dispensing with an expensive airline ticket. Although such a crawl won't result in any frequent flyer miles you will be able to grab a good pint of ale.

The route suggested here starts in lower Manhattan and runs up the east side. Distance between a few of the pubs are a bit beyond walking. These are noted and the best suggestion is to have a designated driver, use a cab or take the subway's Lexington Line.

Start the tour downtown at the corner of Pearl and Broad streets, the location of Fraunces Tavern. Listed as a historical landmark the tavern room operates as it did when the crown still ruled the North American colonies. During the revolution both sides favored the tavern although the Afro-American owner,'Black Sam' Fraunces was partial to the colonial cause. Washington in particular enjoyed the tavern, it was a place where he could order up his favorite, a porter. It was also the site of the only attempt on Washington's life. That plot was foiled through the resourcefulness of Sam's daughter Phoebe. Little wonder George made the famous farewell to his army staff at Fraunces tavern and later appointed Sam as the first official presidential caterer.

Today you can sit in the very same tap room once occupied by the general staffs of both colonial armies. Along the walls of solid wood paneling are battle flags and banners of the army and while sipping a beer you can try your hand at some of the blacksmith puzzles popular during that period. A half dozen taps and an assortment of bottles will surely yield something to please and be sure to take a peek at the dining rooms; you just may want to return for an extended visit.

The second stop is at 93 South Street where directly across from the Seaport is the location of the North Star Pub. Stepping inside you're sure to feel as though you entered a classic English Pub. How English are they? Well they even celebrate 'Boxing Day' the day after Christmas - a popular holiday back home. The North Star can entertain you witheight taps of classic english ales and a variety of bottles representing a cross section of the British Isles.

If this weren't enough the North Star also features scotch and the choice covers more than 60 different single malts. The pub's food is a mix of standard pub fare from Britain and American but if you must sample stay in the spirit of the crawl and try one of their old country favorites like bangers or one of the meat pies.

After you leave the North Star you're probably well into the British theme, and when you think of London several images most likely come to mind: Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Bobbies and St. Pauls. Of course joining these is one of the enduring symbols of the British Empire, the distinctive red kiosk of their telephone system. The next object of the crawl is to find a group of these on second Avenue and 10th street because they make up the entrance to the Telephone Pub.

At the bar you'll find even more to remind you of England. You can settle in at the long wooden bar, or a table if you prefer, and make a selection from pints of Double Diamond or a host of others. They just might pull the best draft Guiness in New York. Should you need to make a call the phones are (where else?) in the kiosks.

An eight block walk brings you to the third stop, Pete's Tavern at Irving Place and 18th Street claims to be the oldest continuously operating tavern in the city. The back bar and dark woodwork are right out of the mid eighteen hundreds when Pete's was established. In fact among the eight taps is their house beer named 1864 Ale in honor of the bar's opening year. Booths and dining tables are available but you'll more than likely want to 'belly up' in traditional pub fashion. While you enjoy your pint take some time to "read" the walls which contain memorabilia of the many famous patrons who took comfort in the friendly confines of this New York City classic.

Moving on to midtown the four pub is appropriately named "Manchester" on the east side of 2nd Avenue at 49th Street. The bar is not quite the same feel as the others, its more of a modern British sports bar. But 14 taps are ready to serve up the favorites of the United Kingdom, including cider. And if you can't choose among them there are another 42 bottles to tempt you. For food there are selections which range from ploughman's trays to fish and chips.

From the Manchester it's only a ten block walk to the sixth destination, the British Open. To get there walk north on the east side of 2nd Avenue until you reach 59th street. Make a right (east) just before the bridge and walk for a few doors down 59th. Look for the Union Jack above the entrance directly across from the ramp where New York Citymarathon'ers descend off the Queensboro bridge into Manhattan.

When you step into the British Open be prepared for the striking contrast to the street. The bar successfully presents the illusion of having just stepped off the links and into the club house. Several things add to the effect including the reserved English clientele and televisions with replays of classic British Open matches. And a bag of putters and balls sit in the corner begging to hone your skills.

The food consists of authentic dishes direct from the United Kingdom: bangers and other sausages, shepherd's pie, and fish and chips, don't miss the chips - salt and vinegar is mandatory. The beer list has a variety of taps including Fuller's, John Bull, and the ever present Guiness. A small bottled beer list allows selections of several British beers including Royal Oak Pale Ale and Old Growler Porter.

If you try your hand at putting there is one suggestion. On sinking a long putt don't yell out a typical American "Yesssss!" instead try a more reserved British approach, Something like "Well I do believe I was successful." The regulars will be most appreciative.

Leaving the British Open presents you with a 21 block distance to the final stop so opt for a cab or subway. Drake's Drum is located at 1744 Second Avenue at 90th Street. Inside, the bar is reminiscent of a boat house with open rafters and brick work dominated by a large wooden hulled boat. A copper topped bar is the place to get a Guiness drawn at a temperature in keeping with service in the United Kingdom and if your in the mood they'll draw a black and tan.

Without a doubt one of the most appealing features of Drake's Drum is the eat and drink for free offer. At the end of your evening a dart is presented to the table and one of your party is escorted to the official dart board. If your designated thrower hits the inner bull your check is on the house. They even reward near misses, the outer bull reaps a 25% discount.

When planning your pub crawl try to keep several things in mind. Plan your transportation in advance and if not using public transportation use a designated driver. Second, there's no need to consume all the beers in all the bars in one effort, or even all the bars in one night. Although fun to do in one continuous circuit you could try to break them up over a couple of days. Finally, consider having crawl members rate the bars, naming their favorite at evening's end. If you can't get to London for a British pub crawl remember, the Big Apple is probably the next best thing for an Englishman in New York.

Gregg Smith

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