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    A GLIMPSE OF HEAVEN ON THE GROUND FLOOR whitw logo
BY CHRIS POH

In typical New York fashion, the inhabitants of the city shrugged off the effects of the 5.5 quake that shook the earth below their feet on August 10th, 1884, and got back to work laying the groundwork for the secular spires of the industrial age that would define Manhattan’s future skyline. While thrill seekers and sightseers were enjoying the ocean view from high atop La Marcus Thompson’s switchback railway (essentially what was America’s first roller coaster) at Brooklyn’s Coney Island, workers were busy constructing the pedestal for the newly completed Statue of liberty. When the bronze lady was finally dedicated in 1886, she rose 309 feet above New York Harbor, eclipsing the handful of buildings that had broken 100 feet in height, and the cross at the top of Trinity Church at 281 feet.

Though 1884 had marked another watershed in man’s continued struggle against the effects of gravity and our need to express ourselves via some loftier architectural ambition, a much simpler expression of human potential and ingenuity was established in an unpretentious four story brick building on the corner 55th Street and 3rd Avenue. Another grand drinking parlor opened its doors to mankind.
   
By the turn of the century, the use of steel in place of masonry load bearing walls and improvements in elevator design fueled the city’s skyward growth. Buildings like the St. Paul, Park Row and the famed Flatiron, all in excess of 300 feet, challenged “Lady Liberty” for dominance of the urban vista. And by the time Patrick J. Clarke became proprietor of the tavern in the early 1900s, the newest office structure would top out at over 700 feet. For the next several decades New York’s older residential neighborhoods and businesses would fight to retain their identity against the endless ascension of commercial development. P.J. CLARKE'S would be one of the few Midtown establishments that would persist and prevail in that struggle.




From the very first moment that I stepped through its doors, sometime back in the 1970s, I knew there was something extraordinary about P.J. CLARKE'S. That ongoing thirst for the perfect public house was quenched even before the first glass touched my lips. There was an energy about the place that was in perfect harmony with that portion of my psyche that believes that true bliss and enlightenment are attainable along the bar rail of a great saloon. During my somewhat quixotic journey through life, I can recall only a few instances of being so instantly smitten with a joint: The Palace in Prescott, Arizona, The Washoe Club in Virginia City, Nevada and The Cat’s Eye Pub in the Fells Point section of Baltimore.

More often than not, the quality of a watering hole is measured by the notoriety of those that have decided to partake of its waters. Many a reputation has been built on the notables and notorious who have been spied sitting in a quiet corner late at night, or the autographed pictures with some famous arm around the owner’s shoulder that adorn the interior. In the case of P.J. CLARKE'S, there are few bars on the planet that can lay claim to having extended their hospitality to as many entertainers, sport’s legends, titans of industry or the elite of café society. But this place is as much about those who have descended from their penthouses and corporate towers, as it is about those who have ascended from manholes, tunnels and subway cars in order to better deal with the demands and distress of modern life.

For the past 125 years this beloved New York institution has stood as both mission and fortress. In the heart of these cold steel canyons and the often unforgiving realities of this contemporary city, any man and everyman can find comfort, camaraderie and that intrinsic sense of self within these sheltering old brick walls. And as man continues with his efforts to impress himself upon the divine by scaling to new height .  .  . P.J. CLARKE'S remains that faithful glimpse of heaven on the ground floor.

                                 Photograph by Chris Poh
Editor’s Note:  I would like to thank barman, Gerry Biggins for his exceptional hospitality, and Pat Moore, a thirty year veteran at Clarke’s, for her generosity, insight and inspiration.






Photograph by David Mc Bride    
Exterior elevation of P.J. Clarke's in New York City as seen in American Public House ReviewP.J. CLARKE'S IN NEW YORK CITY
IS SURROUNDED BY UPPITY NEIGHBORS

Photograph by Chris Poh    
The bar at P.J. Clarke's in NYC as seen in American Puiblic House Review

Photograph by Chris Poh    
The taps at P.J. Clarke's in NYC as seenin American Public House Review
AN URBANE SELECTION OF BEERS AND ALES


Photograph by Chris Poh    
The back room at P.J. Clarke's in NYC as seen in American Public House Review
FINE, HEARTY FARE IS AVAILABLE IN THE DINING ROOM


Photograph by David Mc Bride    
John West at P.J. Clarke's in NYC as seen in American Public House Review
NOT NOTORIUS, BUT CERTAINLY NOTABLE, APHR'S CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, JOHN WEST PONDERS THE IRISH HERITAGE OF A GREAT AMERICAN PUBLIC HOUSE AS WELL AS HIS OWN




                                            Photo by Chris Poh
P.J. Clarke's corner in NYC by Chris Poh as seen in American Public House Review


















P.J. CLARKE'S BAR AND RESTAURANT

915 THIRD AVENUE
NEW YORK, NEW YORK 10022

(212) 317-1616

www.pjclarkes.com


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