Johnny America


Drink­ing: The In­ter­na­tion­al Bar, Re-Animated


Af­ter a three-year hia­tus, the for­mer best lit­tle dive bar in the Low­er East Side re-opened its doors in 2008 as a ser­vice­able but less mem­o­rable pub. Much of the grit and spit’s been scrubbed clean with the New­ing and Im­prov­ing of New York City’s In­ter­na­tion­al Bar (120 12 First Ave., be­tween 7th and St Marks), and the re­sults are a mixed bag if you fre­quent­ed the old. The new In­ter­na­tion­al cer­tain­ly meets more build­ing codes and ba­sic san­i­ta­tion re­quire­ments than in days now past, but in smooth­ing out the for­mer’s rough edges, the new In­ter­na­tion­al’s has lost much of its charm. That said, it’s a pleas­ant enough spot with buck­ets of potential.

The phys­i­cal lay­out of the re-an­i­mat­ed bar is much-im­proved — el­e­gant, even, giv­en that the In­ter­na­tion­al is on­ly slight­ly larg­er than a match­box. The two (two!) lava­to­ries are now lo­cat­ed with­in the con­fines of pri­vate bath­rooms, which vis­i­tors to the old haunt will re­call was not al­ways so. In the In­ter­na­tion­al of old, if you did­n’t wash your hands the oth­er pa­trons knew if not cared — the sink was few un­ob­struct­ed steps from barstool and juke­box. Now you can dry your hands with­out pry­ing eyes, but you’re do­ing so in just an­oth­er tiny wash­room. The juke­box has moved and been minia­tur­ized. The old Wurl­itzer floor unit’s been re­placed with a diminu­tive ma­chine on the wall, but the se­lec­tions, as be­fore, are su­perbly edit­ed. Bowie, Miles Davis, and Lou Reed share disc space with the Dead Kennedys and Lor­re­ta Lynn; you could drop in your change, push at ran­dom, and have lit­tle son­ic wor­ry. Many of the old In­ter­na­tion­al’s lov­able relics have been dis­ap­peared — no Christ­mas tree tacked to the ceil­ing, no rag­tag book­shelf in the cor­ner. The new in­te­ri­or is sim­ple an unas­sum­ing. It won’t win hearts like the old, but it’s pleas­ant and per­fect­ly lit (i.e. just dark enough): equal­ly well-suit­ed for af­ter-work beers with with co-work­ers and pre-din­ner cock­tails with ob­jects of af­fec­tion. The back pa­tio, slight­ly larg­er than a piece of peanut brit­tle, is a small oa­sis for smok­ers. The one gen­uine­ly trou­bling as­pect of the In­ter­na­tion­al is that nei­ther of the two oth­er­wise af­fa­ble new bar­tenders I test­ed knew the con­stituent in­gre­di­ents of a “bour­bon press” (a.k.a. Pres­by­ter­ian): bour­bon, so­da, gin­ger ale mixed to per­fect and de­li­cious pro­por­tions. It’s a mark against them and the new In­ter­na­tion­al, but I’ll re­serve judg­ment and write it off as bad luck.

I miss the old In­ter­na­tion­al, but I’m un­bi­ased enough to stitch my sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty on my sleeve. As a lover of dive bars it’s im­pos­si­ble to vis­it this new more-pleas­ant-by-check­list In­ter­na­tion­al and not feel loss, nos­tal­gia for what it once was, hy­po­thet­i­cal nos­tal­gia for what oth­er di­rec­tions the New­ing and Im­prov­ing of the In­ter­na­tion­al might have tak­en (in the back of my mind I think: preser­va­tion, recre­ation). But those are day­dreams. The new In­ter­na­tion­al is a de­cent bar. It has beer on tap — a wild im­prove­ment over the for­mer in­car­na­tion’s bot­tles-on­ly se­lec­tion-and the prices are still sur­pris­ing­ly af­ford­able for Man­hat­tan. It does­n’t have the filth of the old, but that might grow back with time.

Filed under Drinking on September 18th, 2008

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