Drink: Hockey Bars
With three “local” pro teams and a population composed of folks from around the globe, the iconic NYC hockey bar as a gathering place of hotheads all united in a single cause might just be a breed of another era. Case in point, the Irish bars surrounding MSG, lit by the neon glow of domestic beer logos, which tend to be rather utilitarian to accommodate all types of sports fans and nine-to-five clientele. But on Rangers game nights, it’s a given that these bars are hockey HQ. Elsewhere, however, bars might be showing hockey from any team around the league. Here are a few standouts.
1. The Flying Puck is the undisputed king of hockey commitment. It’s the only hockey bar bold enough to stand by its allegiance in name as well as creed and patronage. Located two blocks from the heartbeat of NYC hockey, Madison Square Garden, The Flying Puck is the most well known Rangers bar in the city. Its sacramental status and reputation is a staple of New York ordained by stained glass windows depicting stations of the Rangers. The Puck is as pricy as you’d expect any midtown joint to be. The crowd is loud ‘n rowdy. The food is ok. It’s basically the old MSG blue seat, blue collar crowd stuffed in a bar.
2. The The Flying Puck’s tasteful, white-collar cousin Warren 77 in Tribeca will always have an NHL game, but rarely audible play-by-play. Warren 77 was co-founded by ex-NHLer Sean Avery and it shows. Hockey paraphernalia is the predominant sport when it comes to wall-mounted sports kitsch. The bar itself is a reflection of its clientele: hockey jersey over collared shirt. Solid bar food, meh service, classy understated sports ambiance. Best for corner-of-your eye game watching.
3. The East Village’s Kelly’s Sports Bar is a hockey fan favorite whose accommodations and hockey-centric approach (known by reputation only) overshadows its Buffalo Sabres affiliation. True hockey dive bar. Beer buckets, cheap cans and devoted fans. Outside food delivery is acceptable. Kelly’s might be the only bar with throwback, analog bubble hockey.
4. And then there’s Red Star in Greenpoint, BK which is currently Brooklyn’s unofficial hockey bar king. Tribeca, East Village, Greenpoint? Oh that’s right, none of us actually live by MSG, so a hockey bar’s success is going to have to depend on the neighborhood.
“Oh, we’re definitely hockey first. It’s really up to whichever bartender is working. But everyone who works here is a huge Rangers fan,” a bartender at Red Star explained to me. They’ve cultivated thier rep over the past couple of years with Thursday hockey nights, where you get $4 Molson Drafts if you wear your favorite hockey jersey. “NFL season wasn’t as good as the Rangers run to the 2014 Finals and the World Cup,” a bartender told me. Award-winning wings are worth the visit even if it’s not gamenight. Friendly bartenders don’t hesitate with buybacks. Being off the G train, however, means it’s a little tricky to get to.
5. Angry Wade’s in Cobble Hill, like Red Star, is a neighborhood bar. “Yeah, we did great during Rangers playoff games and World Cup, but Sunday football is our main thing,” an Angry Wade’s bartender shared with me. In a neighborhood that is more family oriented, Angry Wade’s is a staple standing strong amongst new arriving sports bars like Union Grounds, which also confirmed that football rules in Cobble Hill.
6. A cataclysmic shift promises to forever change the landscape of hockey bars in NYC as the Islanders prepare to move to the Barclays Center.
There are great pre/post game bars currently around Barclays like Uncle Barry’s, 4th Avenue Pub, and 200 Fifth. However, Atlantic Avenue’s version of The Flying Puck has yet to be established. I anticipate some dedicated and not-so-dedicated hockey hot spots to pop up around the new hockey epicenter. Hopefully, one of those bars will gamble on the proximity to the Islanders’ home ice and proclaim itself not only in reputation, bartender preference, décor and Canadian draft beer selection, but also in title. Maybe The Flushing Five Watering Hole? Or the Prospect Penalty Box?