Steve Rushin on New York Irish Bars
I met my wife in an Irish bar in New York: The Dublin House, on West 79th Street, with its great neon harp flashing above the door like a lighthouse beacon. We met before the smoking ban, when cigarettes were still compulsory and everyone left the place smelling like a smoked brisket and the harp sometimes seemed, as you walked out alone at 2 o'clock in the morning, to be blinking back tears.
At the time, I frequented another bar on the West Side--though "frequented" hardly does it justice. "Constanted" is more like it. The Emerald Inn, on Columbus Avenue, was a block from my fetid apartment and became, as it did for many in the neighborhood, the rec room or front parlor I didn't have.
There were other bars: You didn't want to be seen at the same place every night--a problem not shared by the protagonist in The Pint Man, Rodney Poole. Rodney is content to take up residence at Boyle's, the New York bar where much of the action (and conspicuous inaction) of The Pint Man takes place.
But I sometimes cheated on the Emerald, and went uptown to McAleer's, which had darts, or across town to Fiona's, for European Champions League soccer. There, my English buddy Simon and I would sit in hard-back chairs watching mid-week, mid-day matches that bled into prime time, and then into the 11 o'clock news, and then into the late night monologues. One night we chased a day of beer and TV with a bracing walk through Central Park, at midnight, in a downpour. When we reached the western shore of the park, we went to the nearest place we could find to get out of the rain: The Emerald, for a nightcap.
All of this is to say that I always wanted to own a convivial place that could shelter you from a storm, and reality, that was small, but with the sort of ancient, oversized, walk-in urinals they have at the Old Town Bar or McSorley's. (One of the minor ambitions of this novel was to do for urinal makers what Moby Dick did for whaling, and exalt an overlooked industry.)
In writing The Pint Man, I was faced with the elemental question of what to call my bar. Beer has long been in my blood, and not just in the literal sense. My ancestors were much practiced at naming bars. In 1946, my father's father, Jack Rushin, opened a joint on Market Street in San Francisco he called Jack's. But the neon sign he ordered came back misspelled. Faced with a costly correction, he installed it unaltered, which is why San Francisco had--under different ownership--a famous nightclub of the '50s called Fack's.
On my mother's side, I come from a long line of big-league baseball players, firefighters, and bar owners named Boyle. My grandfather Jimmie Boyle briefly played catcher for the New York Giants and his brother Buzz was an outfielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Their uncle, Jack Boyle, had a long career with the Phillies, then became nearly as renowned as the owner of a bar in downtown Cincinnati.
With The Pint Man then, I aspired to tell a story largely set in an Irish bar, with a lot of beer, and a little bit of baseball talk, and more urinals than were strictly necessary, and to call that bar Boyle's. Like its real-world antecedents, Boyle's is proof that sunlight isn't always required for life to flourish on this planet. --Steve Rushin
(Photo © Rebecca Lobo)
The first novel from former Sports Illustrated
columnist Rushin joins other works of pub fiction, yet it's the wordplay—not the alcohol consumption—that drives the novel. Rodney Poole is unemployed, spends much of his time at New York bar Boyle's, and has had only one serious girlfriend. Change is in the air as Rodney's best friend prepares to move to Chicago and Rodney meets a woman named Mairead (who appears to actually like him); even his prospects of finding a job are looking up. It's not a plot-heavy novel, with much of its suspense revolving around a mysteriously disappearing and reappearing U-Haul truck and the question of whether two bullies schooled by Rodney will show up at Boyle's again. What sets the work apart is Rodney's sharp wit. Praised for is verbal ambidexterity, Rodney loves wordplay as much as he loves beer, as is amply demonstrated in his wooing of Mairead. The banter is funny enough to make the reader look past the novel's defects, and Rushin emerges as one of the sharpest wits on the scene. (Feb.)
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