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NYC bars get spotlight in new illustrated guide from Brooklyn bartender

If you’re looking for your personal “Cheers,” John Tebeau has a few recommendations.

In his new book “Bars, Taverns, and Dives New Yorkers Love” ($29.95, Rizzoli New York), out this week, the author and artist spotlights bars that are, in a word, beloved — with tips and tidbits accompanying his illustrations of his picks. 

The book is born out of an art project that started five years ago, when the Brooklyn Heights resident started drawing his favorite watering holes, including the Red Hook spot Fort Defiance, where you can now find him three days a week behind the bar, too.

His initial list of six Brooklyn bars has grown to 50 across the five boroughs and include brewpubs, cocktail dens and neighborhood joints.

amNewYork spoke with Tebeau, 54, about his book, and on some of his favorites, below. 

Brooklyn Inn in Brooklyn. From the book
Photo Credit: John Tebeau

How did you start making your list of bars?
I could have made a list easily of 20 or 25 that I just knew were good pretty objectively. But I needed to come up with a bunch more. So I asked my friends by email and Facebook, then I would get in touch with friends of friends that lived in different neighborhoods and they would suggest places. The research was so much fun. It renewed our New York experience and helped my wife and I get to know New York better and love it more.

Was there a bar that you were introduced to that is one of your favorites now?
There were many that I kind of fell in love with that I didn’t know at all. Some of the ones I loved the most are Adobe Blues in Staten Island, and Lee’s Tavern in Staten Island as well. They’re fantastic places. In Queens, there’s a place called Neir’s Tavern, which is one of the oldest bars in New York. It’s a wonderful, local tavern. Harry’s Café in the Financial District I just love. It’s a real kind of urbane, quiet place. And the Bronx Beer Hall up in the Bronx in the Arthur Avenue Retail Market. It’s a little bar in the middle of this indoor market, where you can hang out and watch the game and have a beer and walk over to the deli in the market, or the sandwich guy or pizza place, and bring it back and have it with your beer.

How did you narrow down the list? Were there certain rules or requirements?
There were unspoken rules. I’d go with my gut — does this place feel good? Did it have a good atmosphere? I know that’s amorphous, but did it exude cheerfulness, from the bartender to the décor of the place? And very specifically, did it smell good? Some bars don’t. So a friendly bartender, a place that smells neutral or better, music — I love a bar with a good jukebox. There’s also the sound of conversation, and I really love talking bars. Which comes back to, is it a good atmosphere, is it a socially vibrant place, is it a vital place, is it a cheerful place?

How would you describe your approach to drawing and capturing a place?
My approach comes from a cartoonist’s point of view. I was always a cartoonist more than anything, so the bars are drawn almost like caricatures sometimes. They’re a little exaggerated or distorted.

What kinds of details would lend themselves to being exaggerated?
It would probably be in some cases the feel of the building and the perspective you get when you stand in front of it, especially if it’s a corner bar — you would get that verticality. If the detail was important, I would go deep into the detail. I would play up the ornateness, the architectural flourishes. 

Is there a place like that in your book?
Easily one of my top favorites was the Brooklyn Inn (pictured above). It’s a gorgeous corner bar. That one just looks beautiful.
 
Who was the audience that you had in mind? 
I would say anybody in New York, or that likes to visit New York, that loves to explore cities. It’s a guide of places for people that love places. ... There’s a writer named Ray Oldenburg, who was an inspiration to me, he wrote a book called “The Great Good Place.” He coined the term “the third place,” and it was where you go between work and home. It’s important to people to have these third places. There are so many good ones in New York. We live amongst an embarrassment of riches of great good places.  

Adobe Blues

Adobe Blues in Staten Island. featured in the
Photo Credit: John Tebeau

“The very first sentence of the first chapter goes: ‘It’s just a great neighborhood place. A place people like to go. It’s like ... it’s like f------ “Cheers.”’ That was [regular] Doug Kenny at Adobe Blues. It’s a very local and cheerful place.” (63 Lafayette Ave., Staten Island)

Stan’s Sports Bar

Stan's Sports Bar in the Bronx. From the
Photo Credit: John Tebeau

“Stan’s Sports Bar is a beauty. It’s right by Yankee Stadium, just a classic. And it’s a cool-looking place. The train comes out over the streets there, so it’s underneath the girders of the train.” (836 River Ave., the Bronx)

Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden

Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden. From
Photo Credit: John Tebeau

“That’s one I had never been to before this book. It’s a good place at the right time, in the summer and when you can be outside in the afternoon, before it’s too crowded. A lot of these places, it’s timing.” (2919 24th Ave., Queens)

Pete's Tavern

Pete's Tavern in Manhattan. From the book
Photo Credit: John Tebeau


“Pete’s Tavern is beautiful. It’s one of the absolutely bona fide oldest bars in New York.” (29 E. 18th St., Manhattan)

Sunny’s Bar

Sunny's Bar. From
Photo Credit: John Tebeau

“Sunny’s Bar is great. After work quite often I’d swing by Sunny’s. It’s so good.” (253 Conover St., Brooklyn)

Fort Defiance bartender John Tebeau is the author
Photo Credit: Rizzoli New York / Alex Halberstadt

John Tebeau celebrates the release of “Bars, Taverns, and Dives New Yorkers Love” with a panel discussion with Amanda Schuster (“New York Cocktails”), Robert Simonson (“A Proper Drink”) and David Wondrich (“Imbibe”), moderated by Long Island Bar’s Toby Cecchini, on May 1 from 6-7:30 p.m. at Rizzoli Bookstore | 1133 Broadway, RSVP by April 26 to rsvp@rizzoliusa.com

© “Bars, Taverns, and Dives New Yorkers Love” by John Tebeau, Rizzoli New York, 2018. All illustrations © John Tebeau and may not be reproduced in any way, published, or transmitted digitally, without written permission from the publisher.

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