Day one: A balmy Friday evening during the recent heat wave. The after-work crowd at Public House (140 East 41st Street) is jubilantly celebrating the beginning of the weekend. The ladies even look like they took the time to go home and change before heading out. However, you’ll need to find a different reporter to tell you about the scene inside, because this one couldn’t even get in the door: I was turned away due to my footwear—flip-flops—which didn’t meet the dress code. While I was standing on the curb contemplating a trip to Duane Reade to pick up a pair of cheap grown-up shoes, a guy in flip-flops and cargo shorts breezed right in. What the fuck?
Day two: Properly shod and wearing a collared shirt just to be safe, I made my second attempt at infiltrating the inner sanctum of dudeness. Maybe my first clue that this was never meant to be should’ve been the fact that most of the street is blocked off. This spot had the bad luck of being located very close to the site of July’s steam-pipe explosion. Navigating a path to the door takes you past a dumpster marked “Asbestos, Keep Back 50 Feet” in the middle of the street, and—rather unnervingly—pairs of federal agents patrolling the area like it’s the middle of Fallujah.
Getting into Public House turned out to be the most exciting part of the night. Inside the bar, flat-screen televisions and flags decorated the walls, and even the columns were painted like Old Glory. An L-shaped marble bar runs along two walls bordering a large and—on this visit, at least—almost entirely empty table area.
The sparse crowd at the bar consisted of bros (“Dude, seriously!” was a common refrain) and the women who put up with them watching the Yankees game on one screen and college football on another. Bottles of Heineken ($6) seemed to be the drink of choice. With good reason, it turns out: A request for a Manhattan ($8) seemed to befuddle the barman, who spent the next five minutes dashing around behind the bar, eventually producing a vermouth on the rocks, a lime wedge perched apologetically on the rim.
Sitting in the cavernous yet underpopulated space felt a bit discomfiting, like passing the time in an airport lounge while your flight has been indefinitely delayed. The only music came from jingles during the commercial breaks, while the bartender and waitress—who clearly would have preferred to be elsewhere—idled and chatted listlessly.
Glancing over the menu of Applebee’s-style grub like hot wings, burgers, and salads gobbed with more raisins, cheese, and bacon than anything green didn’t yield anything appealing, although the “Rare Pepper Seared Tuna Salad” ($12) was a head-scratcher.
Picking up on the awkwardness of the evening, the bartender swore this was an off night: “I don’t even know what to do with myself—this is the first slow night we’ve had in like two weeks.” Maybe that’s true, but I won’t be going back in country to find out.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 18, 2007