Last updated on February 9th, 2015
As a nation of drunks, we tend to overromanticize and idealize the neighborhood bar. You should never have to fight for a barstool. The beer should flow freely and you should be able to indulge in fried delicacies at all hours. It’s not a special destination, there’s not a dress code (on the contrary, walking into this mystical place should be as comfortable as putting on a pair of old sweats), and it’s hard to find one bar that will pack all these qualities into four booze-soaked walls.
The object of my undying affection? I found it four years ago at Bayard’s Ale House, a bar as it should be.
In 2006, Bayard’s replaced the former Sazerac House, which had a steady following (including John Belushi and Norman Mailer, according to The Villager) for 41 years. It still retains some the Sazerac’s old Village clientele—upon my first visit, I shared the long wooden banquette with an aging transvestite—and looks like it’s been around much longer than the past four years, which makes sense, considering the building in which Bayard’s resides was built in 1826.
The interior is suitably dim with exposed brick, a wooden bar with brass accents, and a tin ceiling festooned with hanging white Christmas lights. But the banks of windows curving around the facade of its corner perch at Hudson and Charles keep Bayard’s from veering off into dive-ville (see Crow, Stoned (R.I.P.) and Whiskey Pub, Nancy for stellar examples of this genre), with light streaming in for people-watching on sunny afternoons or summer happy hours.
There are flat screens to catch the Mets score if desired, but it’s not a sports bar and you won’t catch a horde of Big Ten fans packed in for a gamewatch on a Saturday afternoon. Plus, it’s around the corner from the Christopher St. PATH station, which makes the bar a most convenient place to wait when there’s an hour to kill between commuter trains.
But really, even with all of these attributes, do you think I would repeatedly darken Bayard’s doorstep if the food and drink weren’t up to snuff? This is no gastropub with a two-hour no-reservations wait, this is solid bar food done right. You can go upscale with a mighty fine plate of crab cakes (an old Sazerac House specialty that’s still available) and dinner mains like shepherd’s and chicken pot pies, or downscale with unbelievable wings (one of my top three in the city) that sidle up to homemade blue cheese and my favorite burger topped with horseradish sour cream.
Either way, you’ll come out satiated and happily accompanied by 20 well-selected beers on tap, like Belhaven, Goose Island, Sweet Action, and Harpoon. Want whiskey? They’ve got Lagavulin, Jameson, et. al. behind the bar too to help you while away the hours.
Bayard’s is never overly crowded, never underpopulated, never pretentious, and always welcoming. The beer flows. The bartenders and waitstaff serve you with pleasure (and sometimes a gorgeous Irish accent). You relax, you order another basket of fries and friends come and go. Time passes. And you wonder if the whole neighborhood bar idea isn’t so overromanticized after all.
Bayard’s Ale House, 533 Hudson St., New York. 212-989-0313. Open from 11:00 am-4:00 am daily (kitchen till 2:00 am).