If anyone deserves a convenient bar it’s the suburban commuter. Envision braving the daily stampede of suit-and-ties for the 5 o’clock train to Scarsdale or those fulfilling encounters with the bus toilet. Fortunately, the city’s main portals of escape provide salvation aplenty.
At Metro Marché (625 Eighth Ave), a French brasserie at Port Authority, the Barnett Newman-like red and yellow striped walls are smart; the crimson booths and mirror, hand-painted with aperitif names, sufficiently charming. The Port Authority’s Duane Reade even casts a seductive fluorescent glow on the bistro tables, romantic as a love letter smeared with merde. Yet even with a “Perfect Margarita” in hand ($10), something about the place makes Zappia feel like bad-comb-over Bill Buckley, sucking on the feeble marrow of Tiny Tim. Perhaps it’s the hustlers, prostitutes, and others who fall a wee bit outside the bistro’s target demographic, cruising the corner. “If you go out there, 14 people ask you for a cigarette,” warns her friend, Roberts. Super. They’re out.
“This reeks of New York clandestine affair spot,” says Roberts as he sips a bourbon and ginger ($7) at McAnn’s (625 Eighth Avenue), a sports bar on Port Authority’s second floor. “Your wife or husband would never think to look for you here.” This Charlie Brown Christmas tree of bars, located in the shadow of the fancily renovated Leisure Time Bowling Alley, is the anti-Cheers: No one sticks around long enough to know your name. It’s packed with transients and those whose chances of mingling anytime soon are limited. Women share drinks over their gargantuan bags that take up almost two seats; an old man dozes off by an abandoned popcorn maker and a hand-scrawled sign that boasts “Beer, it’s not just for breakfast anymore.” Zappia gazes at the commonplace Bud pennants; the same video-golf game
that’s in every sports bar. Still, the anonymity of a place like this wears on you, makes you confess things you wouldn’t elsewhere. It’s the Honeycomb Hideout with booze. “I got an immersion blender for Christmas, and Banana Republic boxers from my Mom,” Roberts announces. “My mom put fem-wipes in my Christmas stocking,” Zappia whispers.
Two days later Zappia wants to slurp up the fancy at Campbell Apartment (15 Vanderbilt Avenue near Grand Central), the former private salon of millionaire John T. Campbell and now, expense-account den of the Westchester commuter. She bails on Roberts after their share-and-care and convinces co-worker Lalli to change out of her Air Jordans and into brown lace-up boots to pass the cocktail lounge’s mandatory dress code. The imperious host informs them that the only available seating is upstairs, making “upstairs” sound like Plebe Isolation Chamber or where they house the gimp. “That’s fine, all the better to look down on everyone from here,” Zappia mutters, peering into the gallery. With its lovely dark wood walls, leaded window, and stone fireplace, the place resembles something out of a movie about the Gilded Age, where the filthily rich down a last drink before the fall of mankind. The florid descriptions of the “cocktails from another era” (the Robber Baron, the Flapper’s Delight) sell a fairytale of an old Gotham Gatsbyland of daily cufflink use and men who pranced off the Monopoly gameboard. Zappia picks the $15 Prohibition Punch, which is “reminiscent of the bootlegged punches of High Society.” Lalli goes with an “Old Fashioned” ($12) on the advice of the waitress, a wizened Tia Carrere look-alike who assesses they are ploughing all their milk money on tonight. Tia points to the best value deals: the most potent mixes that will put hair on their breasts. Who is this truth sayer, this Honest Abe? “I love her,” whispers Lalli, tracing a heart in the air. Zappia wonders if she takes the Port Authority bus home.