The Happy Hours that Saved New York

With apologies to Bill de Blasio and Charles Dickens, when Superstorm Sandy hit the New York area, in a matter of hours, we had our own tale of two cities. Or three. Downtown, Uptown, and the Outer Boroughs. Gin Mill facade

Downtown and Outer Boroughwise, if it wasn’t the worst of times, it was damn close. Mandatory evacuations. Gale force winds. Water flooding the streets. No power and no public transportation. No way to reach higher ground without a pontoon.

Uptown, it was one claustrophobic day under of lockdown. With snacks and Stormtracker 7 and Doppler 4 fully operational. We weren’t exactly lounging on the couch eating bon bons—but only because we never eat bon bons. We could eat anything else within reason. (As Jon Oliver grumped on The Daily Show, they were out of mocha chip sprinkles at Serendipity, and it was brutal.)

By Tuesday morning Uptown got the all-clear. By noon, we had gaped at the uprooted trees and offered couches and hot showers to our less fortunate friends. By 2pm, we were famished. With much sympathy for the folks under water elsewhere, we went out in search of an open restaurant. And let me tell you, it was bleak. (Not as bleak as it was Downtown, where more than a month later, there are still as many restaurants closed as re-opened.) But still. Bleak enough for us (okay, me) to squeal when we found out the Gin Mill was open.

Not that I was surprised. The Gin Mill is an Uptown legend with the best happy hours in the neighborhood, and I do mean hours. Every day from 11:30 to 8pm, drinks are half-price. And the food? Let’s just say there are two kinds of tater tots on the menu.

The place was packed. As packed as I’ve seen it. (And I’ve been there on football Sundays when the Giants were worth watching.) One look at the college boys bussing their own tables(!) and I knew our favorite Uptown bar had expanded its geographical horizons. The Gin Mill was a uniter.

Some Downtowners had walked. Some had found—and many shared— the rare cab. Others were out with their couch and shower-lending buddies. And at least for a little while, we could all act like this was one big Snow Day.

The staff, as always, was incredible. Apologizing for delays when apologies were unnecessary. Smiling at the neverending chorus of “Excuse me”s as they sped by. Special mention goes to the manager, an easy-going efficiency expert in the best of times and a steely force of nature in the worst. The day after Sandy hit, when really, just showing up was more than enough, he was a master layout-reconfigurer. Helping the wiseguy trying to wedge the sixth chair around the four-person table instead of making him stand in the corner (or causing a fire hazard.)

I would have paid anything for my Pinot Grigio that day—and the Gin Mill could have charged it (rumor has it other bars were price gouging)—but it was half-price, as always. Because it was just another day in the neighborhood.

Except that it wasn’t