45 East 18th Street
New York, NY 10003
(212) 529-6732

Every so often you don't care what you eat. Every so often the food is secondary to having a good time. Every so often, you order something not because you want something new... or even good. You just don't want something bad. Like the smokers on the corner who maybe take three drags before they're down to the filter; like the guys who spend three hours at a bar, but maybe have two drinks. You want to eat because it's an excuse to hang out. Okay. I'll admit it, that wasn't why we were at Old Town. But that's what it turned into.

Courtesy of Mr. Dogz, I, like Ernest Hemingway, carry around a Moleskine notebook. Unlike him, I write down restaurants I want to try out instead of prose. Also unlike him, I'm not a depressed alcoholic. Dogz and Speeds and I were hungry and happened to be in the neighborhood of an entry in my little black book. So turning a corner, we headed on over. And for the life of me, I can't figure out why I wrote down Old Town. It looked like a dive bar that hadn't seen sunlight since the heyday of bowler hats. I half expected to trip over an elderly drunk with a cockney accent on my way in. And yet, I'd gladly go back now that I've been there. It's good. Real good. Hell, it's even made the New York Times and Time Out New York "Best Of NYC" lists.

I think Ernest might have liked this old-school place. And by old-school, I mean old-school. Old Town claims to have been opened in the 1890s, and I think it's still there. The ceilings look about three hundred feet high with pressed tin embossed designs along its entire length. The wood-paneled walls are dark and decorated with antique photos and posters. The black and white porcelain tile floors and massive mahogany bar that, from where we sat, seemed to stretch practically out the door, would have been enough to complete the time-warp. Would have been even if I never went to the bathroom.

Ah, the bathroom. The one place where originality could easily be sacrificed in lieu of modern stuff. You know. Like modern stall doors. Mr. Dogz went in and there was some poor guy on the can, probably just finishing a prayer specifically begging that no one enter while he sat. See, the stall doors start so high that you can see up to whoever-it-is's thighs, pants around his ankles, hairy knees, and all. I think the lesson is obvious: don't take a dump. I wasn't too fond of the urinals, either. First, they're right by the door and it doesn't close all the way. So see that cutie you just left at the bar for two minutes? If she stretches while waiting and twists to face the bathroom... peekaboo. Second, since they go all the way to the floor, there's a splash factor. Um... I was wearing flip-flops. ...yeah.

Let's move on.

The food: Geez. Who even cares? It was about the atmosphere, people! Fine fine. Dogz and I split a Mozzarella Sticks, and the table split a French Fries. The mozzarella sticks were very good and the fries were huge. Massive. There were three of us and we would have had to invite more people to finish them off. Speeds ordered a Freshly Squeezed Lemonade, which they advertised in the window with a hand-written sign that informs us how awesome it is with vodka. Speeds said it would have been more awesome with more lemon. But whatever.

I ordered a BLT which was pretty much a standard BLT. No complaints except that I asked for cole slaw instead of fries, since Speeds ordered them already, but no slaw came. I didn't bother pointing it out. Like I said, I didn't care. Dogz chose the Fish Sandwich. He though it was perfect. Not content with merely one great big fried piece of flounder, he also stole the anchovies from Speeds' Chicken Caesar Salad. And by the way, that salad was hu-mon-gous. It took up the entire plate and I'm not kidding when I say that there was so much grilled chicken on top that it blocked out the view of the lettuce.

The difference between Old Town and retro is that retro is fake. Retro is an attempt at recreating the fantasy of being around that which we idealize as classic. Like the new Mustang or those phones you can get at Pottery Barn. Like one of the few guys who can pull off a fedora, it looks cool, but it's just a modern attempt at authenticity. Old Town is authentic. There's nothing retro about it. It's pure.

Most bars are clones of the one down the block. Another Irish pub, another hipster dive bar, another yuppie gin joint, another smooth cocktail lounge. They're all good, but if you've been to one, you've been to 'em all. If you're looking for a bar that's unique, that's enough of a dive to keep yuppies away like garlic to a vampire but that not so divey that hipsters have it on their radar prepped for colonization, this might be the place for you. It's a one-off. And just look at that neon sign! ...and watch your feet.

Two appetizers, three main dishes, a couple of beers, and a lemonade, plus tax and tip, and we dropped $63. Not bad.

UPDATE: 5/6/08
A recent return to Old Town this past Saturday was disappointing, to say the least. The men's bathroom has gotten worse, if such a thing were possible. Now you can sit on the toilet and look clean through the door. Lovely. But the biggest thing was the service, which was awful. Screw giving her a tip, I came close to the border of just leaving, tab be damned. Anyway, one miserable time will not dissuade me from returning, but I write this as a warning to other customers.

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