Johnny America


Re­view: In­ter­na­tion­al Bar


The In­ter­na­tion­al is prob­a­bly the best dive bar in Man­hat­tan. With its name paint­ed on the lone win­dow, and half a dozen neon beer signs, its like the bar is try­ing to call out to passers­by, to pull them in for a cock­tail, but de­spite such in­di­ca­tors the bar re­mains com­plete­ly in­con­spic­u­ous. A wise drinker track­ing down the in­spi­ra­tion for the word-of-mouth will have no trou­ble lo­cat­ing the In­ter­na­tion­al, be­tween 7th and 8th streets, but it dis­ap­pears in­to the white noise if you’re just walk­ing around the East Vil­lage and stroll down 1st Avenue.

The juke­box, if it choos­es to ac­knowl­edge a de­posit, will on­ly play punk rock, or non-punk and qua­si-punk mu­sic ap­proved of by punks (e.g. John­ny Cash, Leonard Co­hen: they’re not punk but they car­ry a cer­tain spir­it-in-arms). It’s a cramped space. There’s a pair of bath­rooms flank­ing the door at the back, which opens to a small pa­tio that’s a refuge to pa­trons itch­ing for a cig­a­rette. The bath­rooms are so mi­nus­cule they don’t in­clude sinks; there’s one out­side the left bath­room, in the bar, laugh­ably close to the ta­bles. Some­times there’s a roll of pa­per tow­els, oth­er times not, leav­ing you with the choice be­tween not wash­ing your hands and hav­ing all on­look­ers know you’re a filthy pig or wash­ing them and grab­bing a hand­ful of nap­kins like a lit­tle kid. Choose the lat­ter, if it comes to it: Keep New York City Clean.

There’s an up­side-down Christ­mas tree nailed to the roof of the ta­ble sec­tion, Christ­mas lights strung ’round the mir­ror-back of the bar, and a hat-wear­ing moose head (pic­tured above) that tan­ta­lizes all who gaze it: pret­ty com­mon hip-to-some dive bar dé­cor, but the In­ter­na­tion­al does with­out feel­ing con­trived, and that dis­tin­guish­es it from the pack.

All the bar­tenders I’ve test­ed at the In­ter­na­tion­al have had the com­pe­tence to make and sug­gest de­cent mixed drinks and the re­straint to not push Mo­ji­tos, choco­late “mar­ti­nis,” or oth­er sil­ly, over­priced drinks when asked for a rec­om­men­da­tion  —  a rare and ap­pre­ci­at­ed com­bi­na­tion.* They’re a pret­ty at­ten­tive lot too, and pret­ty good about hon­or­ing NY­C’s buy-back custom.

The In­ter­na­tion­al is a wa­ter­ing hole to hip­sters, six­ty-year old men, and blue-col­lar de­liv­ery dri­vers, but there’s no ten­sion be­tween the dis­parate per­son­al­i­ties. Walk through the door and sit at the bar; in­vari­ably you’ll be pulled in­to con­ver­sa­tion and served a fine drink. Is it the best dive bar in Man­hat­tan?  —  tough call; I’ve heard de­cent ar­gu­ments for oth­er holes in walls. With con­fi­dence, though, I call it my per­son­al fa­vorite. Worth your time.

Up­date: Clin­ton Idol, Gaslight Tav­ern bar­tender ex­tra­or­di­naire, points out that the Mo­ji­to, with the right bar­tender, at­ten­tion, and in­gre­di­ents, can be a de­li­cious, grace­ful cock­tail. I agree with his as­ser­tion, in prin­ci­ple. My char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of Mo­ji­to-push­ing bar­tenders comes from liv­ing in New York City cir­ca 200102, when the Mo­ji­to fad re­sult­ed in a wave of wa­tered-down pre-mix mon­strosi­ties, each bar claim­ing their crap Mo­ji­to was the best in town. No doubt it is a fine drink, but like the Bloody Mary, when done poor­ly, it is a abhorrent.

Filed under Drinking on May 27th, 2004

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Reader Comments

Faso Latido wrote:

Sounds like my kind of place – not!

Emily wrote:

Fa­so, you’ll go any­where I tell you to.

Faso Latido wrote:

Sha…right…as if…I’m no­body’s mon­key boy, lady.

Bob B wrote:

I rent­ed an apart­ment up­stairs from the own­er of the bar (a re­al­ly cool la­dy who gad in­her­it­ed the bar from her re­cent­ly de­ceased hus­band) with my best friend’s ex and her friend from North Car­oli­na in 91 – 93.
No TV, so we spent nights down­stairs, on the pa­tio out back if it was dry/warm. Great, hazy mem­o­ries of in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters- bik­ers, ad­dicts, hip­sters and the sort all hang­ing-on in Dink­in’s era Low­er East Side.
Peo­ple move on: I left the neigh­bor­hood in 1999 with my wife to be for Mor­ris­town, NJ; best friend passed of ALS this past April (RIP Baron, I miss you); room­mates off to parts un­known. In­ter­na­tion­al Bar brings em all to­geth­er in the heart, ya’know?

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