Tag Archives: New York

House Rules: Buybacks

We’re loathe to admit that New York City has ever done anything better than Baltimore. Sure, they do everything bigger, but that’s not necessarily better.

It almost killed us when we were forced to admit that they’ve outdone us for happy hour, and it hurts us again when we have to discuss the matter of buybacks.

The next round's on the house, Hon.

For those unfamiliar, a ‘buyback’ is a round of drinks received on the house after buying a few rounds in a row. The idea of the buyback is an old tradition which is present in bars nationwide, and even internationally, but nowhere is it more ingrained than in New York. In Manhattan and its surrounding boroughs, a round on the house is almost an entitlement in any bar worth drinking in. Instead of giving bartenders ‘shift drinks’ to comp at discretion, it’s not unusual for management in NYC to have stated policies on buybacks for employees and patrons to follow.

Granted, it is a decidedly old school practice, and like much of old New York is barely fighting to stay alive. This is why we were so pleased to discover by accident a website devoted entirely to finding and documenting the best bars for buybacks on the internet.

BuybackNYC.com never appears to have made it out of beta, and their scant blog hasn’t been updated in some 14 months. Still, their FAQ page is an excellent primer on the culture of buybacks, and the idea of mapping buyback bars is absolutely genius. We’re sorry it didn’t work out better.

Here in Charm City, people are currently still in a months-long frenzy over ‘deals’ sites like Groupon, LivingSocial, Chewpons, CityCents, Mobile Deals, Google and Facebook deals, etc. Personally, we’ve never understood the appeal of most of these, as a lot of them are designed to get you to buy something you wouldn’t otherwise, and to spend more than the value of the ‘deal.’ How many times has a $10 for $20 worth of food coupon turned into a $50 restaurant check? Many, we’d wager. Then there’s a whole host of restrictions and limitations to deal with, not to mention the problem of places closing down before you’ve got a chance to claim your deal.

We’ve always been more partial to specials that are offered directly by bars and restaurants themselves, and we’ve long admired the potential for sites and mobile apps like 600 Block, which like BuybackNYC is still in beta, and seldom if ever updated. At its inception, 600 Block was an invaluable tool for keeping track of the cheapest drinks in town. Unfortunately, a site like that is just too much for one or two people to keep updating daily when the only revenue is Google ads and a few local restaurant sponsorships.

The only solution we can see to the failure of such great ideas is is the publication of a fixed list, with regular specials that recur year in and year out, or to make happy hour calendars a wiki, which can easily be updated and edited by anyone, whether they happen to work in a bar or not. We’d love to see a wiki buybacks site here in Baltimore, to help prevent certain neophytes from walking into bars and behaving like a hipster dufus.

In the meantime though, we’ll continue to find our buybacks and happy hours the old fashioned way; on a barstool.

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Hello Neighbors, and Welcome to Mister Chop’s Neighborhood

Whenever we travel anywhere outside Baltimore, we can’t help but notice the differences and similarities Charm City has to whatever city we’re in. When we went to New York to visit a friend last week, we noticed plenty of both, including one difference in particular that struck a nerve.

It was only about two minutes after our arrival that we met our friend’s neighbor. The old lady who lives upstairs is almost as stereotypically NYC as we are Baltimore: Irish, Catholic, working class, and lived in the same apartment paying way less than market rent for more than 50 years. She had that quality peculiar to retirees, where her sphere of activity had shrunk from the whole city to Queens, to the neighborhood, and finally, at 80, to the building itself. We’re not saying she was a busybody, but she did know everyone in the building and what they were up to at any given time.

A visual approximation of the Chop in his neighborhood.

It hasn’t been the only time that it’s come up recently, and it got us thinking that we’re the exact opposite. We don’t know hardly any of our neighbors, and frankly, we don’t want to.

It’s not just a difference between New York and Maryland, or between apartment buildings and rowhouses, but mainly a difference between the 20th century and the 21st. Fifty years ago, neighborhoods were not only a lot more homogeneous, but the people who lived on your block were also the same people you went to work with. They were the same people you went to church with, and having only three channels on TV, they were the same people you went to the Moose or the Masons with, or just down the corner bar. When people bought a house back then, they didn’t do it with the intention of flipping it at a profit and moving to the county as soon as their first born was ready for kindergarten. Of course, some people didn’t buy their houses at all… a lot of people inherited them.

Things aren’t that way any more.

We’ve lived all over Baltimore, so we’re no strangers to bad neighbors. We’ve lived next to junkies, alcoholics, white trash, thieves, lead-paint-eating children, tranny prostitutes and even yuppies. There was one neighbor in particular who liked to yell things at us from across the street, such as:

“HEY WHITE BITCH! GIMME SOME FOOD WHITE BITCH I’M HONGRY!!!”

Now that we’re a homeowner we like to mind our own business more than ever, and associate with people because we have an affinity with them, not because we happen to live near them. That option to just wait for the lease to end and pack up and leave isn’t there anymore. By the same token, we plan to be here for a loooong time, so there ought to be no hurry to make nice with the neighbors. There’s plenty of time for that later.

And anyway, none of them really rolled out the welcome wagon when we moved it. We’re still waiting for our homemade lasagne and chocolate cake.

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House Rules: Free Food for Happy Hour

The Chop is jumping on the Bolt Bus and heading up to New York for a party tonight. As much as we’re loathe to admit that any city anywhere has some advantage over Baltimore, and especially New York City, we can’t deny that there is one aspect in which the Big Apple is thoroughly and completely superior: free food at happy hour.

The tradition of free food at happy hour traces back to some time of yore in some place that we don’t really feel like Googling right now. However it is mentioned in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1906) in a scene in which Jurgis is low on money and chooses to go to the bar and buy whiskey in order to enjoy the free meal being served with it.

Rudy's in Hell's kitchen has been giving away hot dogs for decades and hasn't gone broke yet. Baltimore bar owners, please take note.

The Jungle is set in Chicago, of course, but we believe the tradition of free food to have originated in Manhattan, probably in bars with specific ethnic clienteles who all enjoyed specific ethnic foods. Rudy’s Bar in Hell’s Kitchen has made itself famous nationwide as ‘the place that gives away free hot dogs all day every day’, and any New Yorker who is hungry or broke or both can easily pull up many lists of plenty of bars which are more than happy to feed customers for free during happy hour. And we’re not just talking wieners here; these bars are serving up everything from dogs and burgers to wings, hummus, cheese plates, pasta dishes and even bagels and brunch spreads on Sundays.

In an era when people are as thirsty as ever and still feeling the lingering effects of the Bush Economy, free food at happy hour makes perfect sense. Baltimoreans are always quick to embrace a deal, and a local bar scene in which taverns compete not on the basis of who can throw the best dance party or tap the most microbrews, but who gives away the best and most food is a winning situation for everyone.

If Baltimore wishes to hold onto its claim of being The Greatest City in America, we need to get our act together on the happy hour food giveaways.

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The East Coast, Simplified

People from Boston are great…

    …until you get them talking.

People from New York are interesting…

    …until you get them talking about food.

People from New Jersey aren’t as bad as all that…

    …until they start talking about New Jersey.

Those corn-crackers in Delaware are nothing but a bunch of trifling toll collectors.


People from Philly are really awesome…

    …as long as no one mentions pro sports.


People from Baltimore are the best people on the face of the earth…

    …until you mention you’re from DC.

People from DC are delightful…

    …until you get them talking about their careers.

And people from Virginia are wonderful…

    …until it’s time to talk about the South.

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