Update: Since the time of this post, our Retro Roadmap pal who introduced us to P.J.’s is reporting that while the business and building are still there, much of the old-school charm has been diminished at the saloon. You can read his article here, and make the decision for yourself if you want to check out P.J.’s or not. Caveat Emptor!
My first visit to P.J. Clarke’s in New York City was like something out of a movie. A really cool, “OMG I can’t believe this is happening to me!” kind of movie.
At PJ. Clarke’s of course!
Even the description on their website seemed to echo our experience:
For 125 years this venerable New York institution with its colorful history has entertained the famous, the infamous and everyone else who appreciate the ambiance and food of a real saloon. The pay phone is still “Out of Order”, the broken cigarette machine remains broken, and the ashes of one of our favorite patrons still reside behind the bar. Our little terrier faithfully watches “the joint” while P.J.’s famous jukebox plays Frank, Buddy and Sting. The wives’ beer window stands open and anyone can say “So, set ‘em, Joe” where Johnny Mercer penned “One for My Baby”.
But would the magic hold up in the bright light of day? When I was in NYC a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to find out.
So while my school chum and I were planning on a frozen hot chocolate at another area establishment, when our request was rebuffed with an attitude and declaration of an hour and a half wait, we turned on our heels and headed directly to P.J. Clarke’s.
She had never been there, so we walked through the front door for the true experience of using the entrance that’s been welcoming patrons since 1884.
Why wouldn’t you want to walk through a bar where,
- The Lost Weekend was filmed
- One For My Baby was written
- A scene from Mad Men was set (though this link I just got from a pal seems to indicate that P.J’s was represented by an L.A. bar…!)
We could’ve easily averted the raised glasses and pointy elbows of the Saturday afternoon drinkers by using the Dining Room door on the side.
We walked past the jukebox, playing a great selection of tunes, and I even pointed out to her table 20- ”Sinatra’s Table” – where RetroManNYC and I posed as Francis Albert and Ava on my first visit. It’s Sinatra’s Table. We Just Sit Here.
Menu – even though we had just had pasta downtown I could not get the memory of P.J.’s Baked Macaroni & Cheese with Peas and Bacon out of my mind, so we got an order to share. They are also somewhat famous for their burgers, especially the bacon cheeseburger, that Nat King Cole proclaimed was “the Cadillac of burgers!”
I could not get a cocktail this time ’round as I was driving back to PA after this, but made up for it with an indulgent slice of New York Style Cheescake. I had spied a slice at a neighboring table and admit to totally falling for the power of suggestion. It was worth it!
While we waited for our food, and between the gabbing that always happens when good friends get together, I loved looking around at the decor and timeless interior. Tables of regulars, tourists, families and couples, seen in the low light of the back dining room seemed just as timeless on this sunny Saturday afternoon.
While the company has expanded, with locations elsewhere in the city as well as Washington DC, Las Vegas and even Brazil, nothing puts a smile on my face like that scrappy 2 story brick building holding its own on the corner of 55th and 3rd.
P.J. Clarke’s – The Original
915 3rd Avenue 55th St
New York, NY
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