he first bar where I was ever a regular belonged to my Uncle Joe, eldest in a robust line of male McCanns and therefore the inheritor of McCann’s, a one-time hotel and ultimately drinking emporium. Our role as McCann cousins was to get shooed out of the narrow space behind the bar, drink Uncle Joe out of red lemonade (and no, it never occurred to us that this drink ostensibly from a yellow fruit should come in any other hue), and absorb the stories. Like the one about the policeman who placed a list of young men to be arrested on the bar in front of my great-grandfather and then excused himself to use the outhouse. This ensured my grand-uncle, whose name appeared thereon, could be spirited off on the boat to England that night and avoid ending up behind the other kind of bars.
The next time I found myself behind a bar was at the Black Lion, a small, English-style pub run by an alcoholic immigrant in a side street near a Tokyo subway station. The clientele was a mix of frozen-in-time expatriates from an E. M. Forster novel—Old Bill, who wore an immaculate linen suit daily and called everyone “kid,” Young Bill, who at 70-plus wore the moniker with evident pride—and younger Japanese professionals looking to practice English or marry the next Bill. I filled glasses there for three months, during which time the two biggest lessons were on how to change a keg and how much our Japanese clientele truly, deeply adored Princess Diana.
For the hat trick, I offer the Gibraltar, the Buenos Aires bar at which I accidentally found a job after a night on the tear. It was the kind of sitcom-style watering hole where everybody knew everybody, if not at the beginning then at least by the end of the night, a place where one regular ran up a tab so high the owner ultimately had it framed. I spent a year there learning lunfardo (Argentine slang) from bereft ancianos and lovelorn pibes. I collected drunken proposals, free pool lessons, a scar on my leg from that one time I fell through the basement trapdoor midorder, and lifelong friends. Also a husband, after that American from some place called Portland walked in one day.
All the stuff of life happens in a bar, the highs of a sporting win or a chemical connection, the lows of heartbreak and closing time. That’s why I’m excited to celebrate our favorite bars in the city, old standbys as well as newcomers heralding new communities, collecting their own stories, setting the stages for whatever may come of a dark night and the right libation. They’re raising the bar—let’s raise our glasses.
Editor in chief