Two Countries, Two Bars, One Weekend


“This is called a sgian dubh,” announced Dennis Hagerty, a civil engineer from New Jersey, producing a small black dagger from underneath his cream-colored knee high sock. He removed the knife from its sheath, revealing an edge sharp enough to slit a throat. “It’s a stealth instrument.”

The parade marshal of last Saturday’s Tartan Day parade, Hagerty was attired in traditional Scottish Highland dress: kilt, hose, brogues, sgian dubh. He had retired, post-parade, with the costumed members from other Scottish societies to toast the remainder of Tartan Week. The gargantuan sports pub and beer hall Stout was in fact filled with other men in skirts that day—sucking down Glennfiddich, bellowing drunkenly across the room, dancing with tartan-clad toddlers and female attendees to a Celtic band called Barleyjuice.

It was only eight years ago that April 6 officially became known in the U.S. as National Tartan Day, a time for Scottish Americans to celebrate their roots. (April 6 was chosen because it is also the day the Scottish Declaration of Independence was signed back in 1320.) The first Tartan Day parade in 1998 was a humble affair: two pipe bands and a few people ambling from the British Embassy to the United Nations. Last Saturday, the number of participants had grown to more than 2,000, trudging in the pouring rain up the same route.

“Outstanding!” declared Hagerty. “We had movie stars,” he added. Who? “Velvet Macgregor,” he joked, bringing up the name of a Scottish terrier who’d been in films.

We took advantage of everyone’s buoyant, Scotch-fueled mood to ask the questions one usually wonders about Scottish culture, from the valid to the admittedly stupid. How long does it take to learn how to play bagpipes? (The answer, from a bagpiper from Edinburgh: “Decades to play well. But only about a year to play badly.”) Do women wear anything under their kilts? “Men are only questioned,” sniffed a member of a drill team from Lorain, Ohio, who thought we were being cheeky. “And they have to be regimental when they go before the queen.”

Regimental? “No underwear.” Oh.

It is easy to discuss clothes, for the more Scots drink, the more they like to debate the origins of their Highland outfits. “Do you know the difference between a tartan and a plaid?” queried Hagerty. Each Scottish clan has its own tartan, which “has to be approved by the Lord Lyon, a judicial official.” (This was later called out as incorrect by the bagpiper.)

Hagerty was accurate on other counts. “This is a sporran,” he said, pointing to the small pouch that hung down in front of his kilt and is used pretty much like a fanny pack (a kilt has no pockets). He flagged down a Scottish man wearing the Prince Charlie jacket, usually donned for weddings and other formal occasions. “See, you leave the last button of the vest unbuttoned,” the Scot explained. “Because Prince Charles was a fat bastard.”

There were few fat bastards at Pravda’s anniversary party, a Russian vodka bar that over its 10-year-history has been more of a martini watering hole for skinny fashion bitches. The Prada-clad must have extra-sensory skills to sniff out reduced price drinks within a mile of Soho, for how else to describe the line that trickled down the block, everyone waiting at least half an hour for a crack at those cut rate strawberry martinis and cosmos?

Once inside, a pretty blond Pravda employee exchanged dollars for Russian notes from what was supposedly the foreign-exchange kiosk but looked more like a state-fair kissing booth (the drinks were $3 instead of the usual $12, but customers were required to pay in rubles).
The waitresses and maitre’ds ran around dressed like gypsies; the musical entertainment included a dude dressed up as a furry, violin-playing bear; and when the bartender upstairs wanted to cool the house vodka, he poured it into the ass of a bear ice sculpture. It slid down backwards through the bear and emerged from the mouth, properly chilled as only a bear’s butt can make it.

If lasting 10 years in this city qualifies one as a real New Yorker, hitting the 10-year mark as a bar means you can haul out as much funny ice as you want.