Walking into Blarney Cove is like entering some sort of beer-soaked, ashy twilight where everyone is old and baseball is always on. While this description fits countless dives around America, for this to exist in the current state of the East Village is, to say the least, increasingly rare.
Located on 14th street just off Avenue A, the bar serves a staple for the area’s dwindling community of aging day drunks. All the regulars know each other, and whether they get along or not depends on the topics at hand and the amount consumed. As an insular community, their bickering functions as collective entertainment. It’s when the hipsters and yuppies try to blend that they begin not taking too kindly, aware of the invasion of those who’ve transformed the area from a neighborhood (however sketchy it may have been, it was still home to many) to what it is today: boutiques and cocktail lounges with rent pushing $3000 a month. It’s not that you can’t have fun at Blarney—some of the people are great and you can have an amazing time—you just might find yourself in some sticky situations as night begins to fall.
The bar is extremely narrow—a hallway really, and it becomes very dark in the back due to some broken lights. Besides the juke box and ATM at the front area, which could serve as a tiny dance floor if everyone gets drunk enough, there’s just enough room to squeeze behind bar stools. Except for on weekends, people don’t really stand near the bar; if you can’t find a seat, I suggest you head out. The walls are paneled wood on the bottom with thick green and cream stripes on top—very Irish. Behind the long linoleum "wood" bar sits liquor amongst numerous patriotic decorations (Fourth of July is approaching, and their decorations remain holiday appropriate) framed by lacquered stone and mirrors.
Blarney Cove is pretty cheap, but not cheap in the way that draws in an unwanted college crowd looking to experience a piece of Old New York. I once asked if they had a shot and beer special and the bartender said sure, for nine dollars—four for the beer bottle and five for the shot. Generally drinks run around four or five dollars, and the pitchers that come in thin plastic buckets are about fourteen, more or less depending on what you get. They have all the regulars on tap and in bottles—pretty much everything you would expect that’s not fancy.
But don’t go to Blarney just for the cheap drinks; go for the unbelievable cast of characters. Everyone in there is hilarious, creepy, terrifying, or absurd (or all of the above). When you combine all this into one dark and drunken hallway, crazy things are bound to happen. Even the bartenders are quite the bunch. So far I’ve encountered an Irish broad with a bad dye-job who tried to overcharge me for almost every drink, this cool old guy named Popeye who encompasses everything you want your dive bartender to be, a tough chick from South Brooklyn who dresses like a tween and loves "club bangas," and my personal favorite, a witchy woman who must have been pushing eighty shrouded in various black garb with lightening bolts coming from her eyes drawn in eyeliner.
However eccentric the bartenders may be, they don’t hold a candle to the customers. Here’s the line up last Monday evening: a middle aged Irish guy with his girl grinding to the Three Six Mafia he played on the jukebox, a stoic and at times sleeping ninety-year-old woman in the far dark corner, a fat guy trying (and failing) to chat up said Irish guy’s girl when she grew tired from dancing with her man, and finally the creep directly to my left in a news cap and horn-rimmed glasses who whispered, “My son’s school costs five hundred thousand dollars a year," among other things, only becoming animate when Derek Jeter messed up the Yankees game. While I have no qualms with the weird or insane, I call the latter a creep because when a psychotic prostitute, who I’d recognized from when she tried to fight me for brushing against one of her customers last summer, burst in and bee-lined him, proceeding to hang all over him until they disappeared to the bathroom ten minutes while the bartender watched her purse. Charming! But that’s what you get when you go to the Blarney Cove, and that’s why people love it. It’s a no-frills dive, a peek into the area’s past, which is why so many people flooded the area to begin with: to experience New York’s unadulterated grit. If you can’t take the heat, stay out the cove!