Over the last couple of weeks, you've been reading a lot in these pages about the "end of an era," with the West End being sold and being turned into a Cuban restaurant. I'm in the minority here, but I'm sick of it.
Not because the West End will soon be back, albeit reconfigured and with a more rice-and-beans-centric menu (Sully, I wonder if they'll serve Cuban sandwiches on Cuban bread?). No, I couldn't give two shits, because, quite frankly, the West End sucks.
Admit it. No one ever actually wanted to go there. The only reason you'd go if you're a guy is because the girls were there, and the only reason you'd go if you're a girl is because the guys knew you'd be there and would buy you drinks. But I understand that it was the center of Columbia social life for many, especially first-years. So with the 'Stend closed (at least for now), I'm sure you're wondering: where do we go on Wednesday (or Thursday, Friday, Saturday...) night?
Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce you to O'Connell's Pub at 108th and Broadway. Have you two met before?
Now I would normally recoil from shilling for any business, especially one that, on rare occasions, serves as an informal employer. But in this case, I have to make an exception.
If you're older (a senior), you'll remember O'Connell's as Cannon's. After shutting down for a few months in 2004 due to an ownership transfer, O'Connell's came back about a year and a half ago in largely the same form as its predecessor, though the clientele, decor, and staff have taken a considerable step up. It's still a genial, fun-loving, neighborhood bar-I hate to be cliche, but it's the type of place where everybody knows your name (does that make me Norm?).
See, if there's one thing Morningside Heights bars have in common, it's impersonality. You know what I mean. You dump a hundred bucks a weekend at the Heights, and the bartenders still give you the cold shoulder as you wait forever for a frozen marg. Or the bartenders at Nacho's go directly to the guy holding out the biggest bill, and take forever to pour a pint or a whiskey. The 'Stend was the worst-aside from I-Max, there wasn't a bartender there who cared about his customers.
O'Connell's is different. Sure, it helps to be a regular, but O'Connell's bartenders operate the way bartenders ought to-you scratch their back, they'll scratch yours. They're quick, they're funny, and they don't take any bullshit from anybody. After spending just one in the O'Connell's, my Mom turned to me and said, while leaving, "If you are going to spend all your money at a bar, I'm glad it's this one." And if mama Olson's blessing is good enough for me, then it's sure as hell good enough for you.
So be a nice person, tip, and have a good time and you'll receive tremendous service. Coupled with a crowd that is always there to do two things-get drunk and sing along with the jukebox-O'Connell's is the bar that you've been missing because you think you're too cool for it. Well, you're not.
And, so this column at least tangentially discusses sports, let's talk about O'Connell's' multiple TVs, all tuned to some sporting event-is that not the crux of any truly excellent bar? Sure, I know the ladies aren't exactly jumping up in excitement about being able to catch all the games, but the fact is that O'Connell's televises every baseball game you'd need, in addition to NFL SundayTicket AND rugby and soccer from abroad (I know, I know, but some of us actually enjoy watching these sports-rugby is sweet, trust me). So even if it's a quiet night down at O'Connell's, there's always something to do and someone to talk to.
Again, I'm probably in the minority at Columbia: I don't expect too much from my bars, but I'm extremely picky. As long as there's sports on TV, a generous pour of Jack, and Toby Keith's "I Love This Bar," Sugarhill Gang's "Apache," and David Allan Coe's "You Never Even Call Me By My Name" on the jukebox, I'm happy. I have no use for asshole bouncers, cover charges, or the same songs I've been hearing since freshman year (seriously, did the 'Stend EVER stop playing that fucking Lil' John song?).
Well, O'Connell's fits the bill perfectly, and that's why I've had so many amazing times there. So if you're the type of person who wants to deal with shady bouncers, shadier clientele, and watered-down pitchers, then enjoy the new Havana Central at the West End or whatever they're calling it.
But if you're a decent person who likes a strong drink and a good time? I'll see you at 108th and Broadway. I'll be the one sitting at the end of the bar.
Jake Olson is a Columbia College junior majoring in American studies. Send any comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.