Well, another bar is closing in New York: Smithfield on 28th Street. This was mostly a soccer/sports bar, as the above photo of Six Alex Ferguson, legendary manager of Man United, hanging out with the owners shows. But as Ben and I knew these owners and much of the staff, this was also a little bit of a comic book bar.
Tom, one of the owners, gave Ben and me a tour before it even opened, and the minute I saw the care that was being put into the place, I got the dream of having some big gatherings for comic book folk there. It had everything that was needed: a central location close to transportation, space so you didn’t get jostled, a great staff, excellent food and a good pint of Guinness. Thanks to the help of the truly amazing staff and my co-sponsors Z2 Comics, Dynamite and the CBLDF I held a couple of parties there—the Beat 2012 relaunch party and the 2013 NYCC Beat/CBLDF/Dynamite party—which were, I think, good times for all. The space allowed the kind of big bashes with crazy random unexpected attendees showing up that make for memorable evenings. In fact, every time I had a party, people who came would decide to throw their own parties there, the sure sign of a venue that had that intangible air of hospitality. (I have to mention that the food at Smithfield was really outstanding—a pub with good Guinness and way above average food is always a Yelp +1 for me.)
Although at night Smithfield was mostly a big loud sports bar, it was also a community. The morning after the lights went out following Hurricane Sandy, Ben and I hit the streets looking for a place to charge up, watch the news, work and get warm. We both thought of Smithfield (luckily it was on the side of town with power) and when we got there we had a warm welcome from our friend Kieron. It had become a real “public house,” with people from all around using the many outlets while having one of those fine pints and watching the often heartbreaking news. We called our friends who were in the same boat, and they all came over and it become a big party, and a respite from a grim time. Smithfield became our home away from home for the rest of the week, a time I’ll never forget.
But now it’s closing. Today is the last day. New owners are tearing down the whole building and putting up high rise condos. I know Smithfield tried to fight the zoning change, but those changes, which often dragged on and on pre-Bloomberg, just breezed right on by in a matter of months. It all happened so fast that I had actually been planning a party there with Z2 for the week after next. We’re rescheduling at a new venue, but it will be hard to find a place that had all the right elements.
When Ben and I got the preopening tour, I was impressed at the level of detail (and expense) that was put into Smithfield—from an antique bar to the number of bathrooms. Smithfield was run by some of the same folks who owned Nevada Smiths, the first big soccer bar in NYC, and the closest place to the Mos Eisley cantina (fights and all) I ever beheld. I’ll never forget Tom proudly showing me all the ladies rooms at Smithfield—the ladies restroom at Nevada Smith was a cold horrible cellar that often backed up (to be fair it was a really old building)—to go in there, you really had to be brave and need to go. Tom wanted the new place to be welcoming to everyone. And it was.
Nevada Smith is long torn down (although reopened as a sinister place with lighting out of the Chernobog sequence in Fantasia), and Openers before it, and soon Smithfield will be too, along with so much of the New York I’ve known for so long. Yeah yeah, this is another “vanishing New York” wail, but damn, it’s happening so, so fast. Along with the end of Smithfield, it’s also the end of Mayor Bloomberg the same day, and while he made New York City an amazing place of bike paths and Highlines and parks and median strips, the old candy stores and butchers and fish shops and bakeries and signs and, yeah, the character, is all scrubbed away, too. If you’ve seen Inside Llewyn Davis (which I HIGHLY recommend) you’ll see another long ago vanished New York, the “MacDougal Street” scene of folk music in the village in the early sixties. There’s one scene that takes place at the one place from those days still around, Cafe Reggio, which has the same battered furniture and ornate fixtures that untold thousands of coffee drinkers have sat in over the decades. It’s what a certain romantic vision of New York City has always been, as outdated and antique as it is. Soon it will all be just photos, like the original Penn Station.
Ironically, when those high rise condos go up, they’ll wish they had a nice pub like Smithfield to go to. But it won’t be there.
Or maybe they won’t wish that. I suspect all the newcomers to New York care about as much about Cafe Reggio as I do about Edith Wharton’s horse drawn carriages.
Tom and his crew, Kieron and Robbie, are moving to a new venue, and I have no doubt it will be a fine one, and we’ll throw some more parties there, I hope. New York changes and evolves, and to be a New Yorker you need to change and evolve too.
So thanks for all the great memories, Smithfield. And I raise a pint to the future memories.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.