Murray Hill Survival Guide
Yes, you read that right.
This beautiful play that I’m lucky to perform in most nights (we close January 15 — get your tickets here!) has been awesome. The worst thing about it is that it’s in Murray Hill. So on Wednesday January 5, I decided to try a bunch of different bars in the neighborhood. I will never be around here if I’m not forced to be, so I did it all in one night. That’s right. I jumped in the lion’s den. Happy New Year.
BAR #1: Desmond’s Tavern, 433 Park Avenue btw 29th and 30th St
The Place: An Irish pub with horrible lighting.
The Time: 9:50pm-10:15pm
The Vibe: I can’t get over this awful fluorescent lighting. It’s very empty here, just a couple of people at the bar, a few guys at a table in the back. There are two bros at the corner of the bar; one winks at me while I’m still in my winter bundle. Before I’ve taken off my coat they call the bartender over, hug her, thank her for “everythingggggg” and leave. Saved by that bell. There’s a basketball game on. Two guys with a mountain of hot wings in front of them really love basketball and they don’t care who knows it! Ugh I can’t read in here because they’re so loud but now I’m that asshole glued to her phone. I guess I’ll watch sports?
The Bartender: Two Irish women who are unabashedly eating the guys’ wings. When they aren’t eating, they’re on their phones.
The Drank: Magners Cider, $6.50. I drink half of it.
Was I Hit On? One of the basketball-loving wing-eating guys goes over to the digital jukebox, puts on something that sounds like a medieval chant, then looks in my direction and smiles. I get out of there before he has any chance to approach me.
Should You Drink Here Alone? No, don’t suffer. Unless dirty Irish bars are really your thing.
BAR #2: Middle Branch, 154 E. 33rd St btw Lex and 3rd
The Place: A speakeasy-style cocktail bar that camouflages itself in a brownstone so bros don’t know it exists.
The Time: 10:25pm-11pm
The Vibe: Very different energy from Desmond’s, thank god. The bouncer is wearing a very nice turtleneck sweater. There aren’t many people here but it’s still pretty loud. It’s a cozy intimate space with exposed brick, but there are no bar stools at the bar or anywhere else so I have to stand at one of the long high tables. Definitely no douchey bros, just couples and guys in their mid 30s who wear scarves indoors. I can’t read here either because it’s too dark. I wish there was a fireplace, it seems like it’d have one.
The Bartender: A nice and funny guy named Joe who I can’t hang out with because there are no bar stools!
The Drank: Some artisanal cider (“cidre”) for $8. You guys, cocktails here are $16! If this was the only bar I was hitting up tonight, maybe I’d splurge. But hey, the first round of pretzels is free so at least that. Before I leave, Joe says, “next time you come, have a cocktail.” And I’m like, “Joe. I know you know, but did you know they’re 16 dollars!?”
Was I Hit On? No. I have to admit: I cheated a little bit with coming here. I haven’t been here before but I know the team behind it (other bars in the hospitality group are Fresh Kills, Dutch Kills and Little Branch), so in a way, I added a safe space to my bar crawl. A “speakeasy” in Murray Hill that charges $16 a cocktail is not attracting the typical crowd for this hood.
Should You Drink Here Alone? Totally. It’s a good place to hide if you need to be around this part of the town. But don’t say I didn’t warn you about the sticker shock. (Free pretzels help. A little.)
BAR #3: Pino, 156 E. 33rd St btw Lex and 3rd
The Place: A tiny wine bar right next to Middle Branch with high ceilings, an open kitchen and a suuuuuuppppper chummy staff.
The Time: 11:05pm-12am
The Vibe: I’m greeted immediately by two middle aged guys behind the bar, the bartender (Jay) and the chef (Jason). Jason’s the one who asks all the questions (“Are you eating? Just drinking? With anyone?” Then opens his arms wide when I say it’s just me so take that as you will). There’s a drunk couple dancing. He’s trying to teach her to dance but she’s actually way better than him. THEY ARE SCREAMING and this place is the size of my bathroom. There’s an older solo guy at the other end of the bar playing a game on his phone. Ugh this is another place I can’t read because it’s too dark. I get it’s supposed to be “intimate” but give a girl a light, nah mean?
The Bartender: Jay is friendly and helps me find a wine I liked since I’m picky about reds and it’s winter so I should drink red. He’s also an actor and he's shooting a zombie movie in Ontario next month (go Jay!).
The Drank: Glass of Pinot Noir, $12 (it's the cheapest one, really).
Was I Hit On? I’m nervous at first when Jason comes around to my side of the bar and starts chatting. He calls me toots and I don’t dig that too much. But then I realize he’s just like this and isn’t hitting on me. Then he starts talking to Jay and the older guy (Jonathan). Someone said the word “mugs” and I thought I heard “pugs” and Jason’s like, “no, like coffee mugs” and I’m like “but pugs are the best” and then the four of us all start talking about dogs. Then Joe from Middle Branch comes in on his break and we’re all hanging out and I feel weird that I’m the only one without a J name. Then Jason gives me a spoonful of chocolate mousse as consolation and I invite them all to my play and give them each a hug when I depart and I end up having a great time tonight so who really knows anything anymore.
Should You Drink Here Alone? Yeah. The guys who work here are real chill. They also hate Murray Hill so stop in for a glass of wine and some good shit talking.
BAR #4: Brick Oven Pizza 33, 489 3rd Ave at 33rd St
Not a bar. Just good pizza.
I don’t make it to my planned fourth bar, Joshua Tree. It was rated the douchiest bar in New York City by this random website, so I know what I would’ve been getting myself into. After I leave Pino, I think: I could either end my nice night on a shitty note at a douchey bar, or eat a slice of pizza and go home. I choose the pizza. I always choose the pizza.
So there you have it. 2 out of 3 ain’t bad, in my opinion. If you know of any other good bars in Murray Hill, let me know, but I can’t tell you I won’t stop hating this part of the city.