Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Parting Glass

There are many historical landmarks on the Upper Westside of Manhattan.  It's nearly impossible to believe that this section of New York City was once sparsely populated.  Back in 1884 an apartment building commissioned by Edward Clark, the head of the Singer Sewing Company, opened its doors on the northeast corner of West 72nd Street, directly across the street from Central Park.  One possibly apocryphal account as to how the building to its nickname, "The Dakota," is that most New Yorkers believed that the area had about as few residents as "The Dakota Territory."  Twenty years after The Dakota first opened, in 1904, the IRT, the original underground New York City subway, began running up to West 72nd Street and Broadway.    

When I first moved here in 1991, there was a bar with a restaurant named Donohue's located directly across the street from the West 72nd Street subway station.  It was located at 174 West 72nd Street, just east of that famous hot dog joint, but nearly two long blocks west of Central Park.  The sight of an Irish pub near my very first "just mine" apartment made me feel less alone, and braver.  When my Irish cousins came over from County Meath to visit me in New York in the summer of 1992, Declan, Mary's husband, asked me where my "local" was.  "My local what?" was my reply.  He looked at me as if I were more than a bit dim, and said, "Mary, Maura, I’m going out."  Declan returned about two hours later with two pieces of news. My "local," according to him, was Donohue's.  Second, Dunkin Donuts were absolutely brilliant.

I was very involved with my career as an entertainment executive in the first 6 years of the 1990s.  Life changed, and, as with life, so did our neighborhood.  Around Thanksgiving of 1999, I noticed that Donohue's had taken on a new identity.  Now it was called "P.D. O'Hurley's."  I don't believe I went and had a drink there until after 9/11.  The bar is frequented by firefighters from FDNY Engine 40 Ladder 35, the "firehouse" about which David Halberstam wrote his astonishing book.  The astonishing firehouse whose trucks left with thirteen men for the World Trade Center that Tuesday morning, who lost twelve firefighters that day.  When I walked past P.D. O'Hurley's shortly after St. Patrick's Day on a lovely spring day in 2004, its front doors were open.  I glanced in and saw that there was a memorial to those firefighters.  My boyfriend and I started to go there and have a few beers.  Finally, after living in the neighborhood for thirteen years, this pub was becoming part of my personal history.

What I liked best about O'Hurley's was that it was the type of place where you would encounter all different types of people.  People of every race, ethnicity, gender, age, and sexual orientation, educational, professional and economic strata were regulars at the bar.  You wouldn't know about what anyone's religious or political affiliation.  There is one rule at O'Hurley's, and at every bar:  "Never discuss religion or politics.

As a writer and a full-time observer of human behavior, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the people who came here to relax, have a drink, eat dinner, watch "the game," and meet up with their friends.  Many of these friendships had been formed at O'Hurley's, and they were true friendships.  People celebrated each other's life triumphs and tragedies.  There were lots of jokes, and lots of jokes at the expense of one another.  There was a lot of fun.  I envied them their friendships and their fun.  Then, I broke up with my boyfriend, and I withdrew from O'Hurley's for several years.  

In April 2011, after another failed attempt to quit smoking by visiting a hypnotherapist, I had gone home and managed to self-hypnotize myself.  Odd as it may sound, I found myself several hours later sitting at the bar at O'Hurley's, sipping a Coke.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself that evening, and I began coming to the bar on my own.  Initially, I always came in with a book, but the goings-on at O'Hurley's were much more enthralling and entertaining than anything a book could provide.  I gradually got to know and care about the staff--people tending bar, waiting tables, working in the kitchen--and they got to know me, and called me by name.  Then I eventually began to meet and speak with "the regulars," those people whom I had watched and envied when I first went to O'Hurley's.  The "regulars" eventually became actual people, and many of them have become friends. Since they are real people, I won't identify them, to protect the innocent.  (Whether that's them or me, I'll never tell.)  I spent  the night of St. Patrick's Day 2012 at the bar listening to members of the FDNY Bagpipe Band playing their bagpipes, banging their drums, and having a complete, utterly primal Irish blast.  There were many summer nights in 2012, after yet another heat wave had fallen upon our city, leaving me trapped in my air-conditioned apartment, when I escaped to O'Hurley's.  They served an amazing cheeseburger with French Fries like manna from heaven.  The beer was cold, and the jukebox was the only thing too hot to handle those nights.  By the time I had my fifth spinal surgery this past September, I knew that I had friends from O'Hurley's who had prayed for me and who cared about my recovery.  They were so happy to see me when I made first public outings to--where else?--O'Hurley's.  

They say that all good things must come to an end.  I don't believe this is true, yet at 4:00 a.m. on Monday, January 14, 2013, P.D. O'Hurley's, located at 174 West 72nd Street, shall be closing its doors for the last time.  Further west on West 72nd Street, just before you hit West End Avenue, there is going to be a "new" O'Hurley's at 250 West 72nd Street.  But you cannot take the magical essence of a place, the chemistry of people, experience, wood and glass, and simply move it down the street.  When those doors close for the last time, for all the many good times and many laughs I have had there, I shall weep.  I do not believe I shall weep alone.

The Parting Glass - The Wailin' Jennys

Oh all the money that e'er I spent
I spent it in good company
And all the harm that e'er I've done
Alas, it was to none but me And all the harm that e'er I've done
Alas, it was to none but me
And all I've done for want of wit
To memory now I can't recall
So fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be with you all

Oh all the comrades that e'er I've had
Are sorry for my going away
And all the sweethearts that e'er I've had
Would wish me one more day to stay
But since it falls unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I'll gently rise and I'll softly call
Good night and joy be with you all

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