I stopped by the White Horse Tavern tonight. The downtown one on Bridge Street, not Hudson. I made notes on my meeting with SH regarding a variation on my children’s book that was published back in ’06. It’s a new project, and an exciting one. Of course, I continued in note-making mode until I had a chance to converse with Mike and Helen, scribbling bullet points about my list of things, virtual and physical, to do. Which is long.
I had not seen Helen and Mike, the owners (on Facebook, it’s specifically "The White Horse Tavern, Bridge Street" – the “The” matters), since early October. Even when my office moved from lower Manhattan to lower Tribeca last spring, I’d managed to stop by once a month. It was time.
When I got to the White Horse around close of business, there weren’t enough people there. Normally when I arrive, those people who get out of work at close of business have been there drinking for a few hours, but there weren’t even half a dozen people. Soon some 20-somethings in pleated plaid skirts too short for Catholic school showed up to promote an Irish red ale, Smithwick’s (pronounced “Smiddix”) by giving away free pints. No one argued. Alas, I include myself in that. Still, too few folk for “hump day” in the financial district. The reason became apparent in conversation.
Around the corner on Stone Street has always been A.J. Kelly’s, another Irish pub. As of tonight, A.J. Kelly’s is no more. Their so-long-farewell-it’s-our-last-night-in-business-as-A.J.Kelly’s party was in full swing, and apparently no customer paid for anything.
A.J. Kelly’s and the White Horse Tavern lived back to back facing Stone and Bridge Streets, respectively, for decades, linked by a parking lot that one could enter and/or exit from either street. In the past few years, a hotel chain had taken over the space inhabited by the erstwhile parking lot. We’d been waiting for this new hotel to be completed and spark new business for the two bars, as well as the other businesses in the area. Alas, there is still no hotel. This is no surprise to New Yorkers, who just blame the mob for every delay in construction. What with one thing and another, the partners who ran A.J. Kelly’s (none of whom were named Kelly) had no choice but to sell. The good news: The people on staff at A.J. Kelly’s have kept their jobs, and the holiday party reservations will be honored. So A.J. Kelly’s doesn’t exactly bite the dust – under its new management the bar will be rechristened something-or-other-Murphy’s, and will still serve bar food and alcohol, and provide employment.
This is a typical New York story. Why does it hit me so hard tonight? Especially since I haven’t frequented Kelly’s for the better part of a decade…..?
That’s about my friend George.
My friend George and I drank too much in our years together at a massively major investment banking firm. When our offices were at New York Plaza, we drank alternately at the White Horse and A.J. Kelly’s. When our offices moved up a smidge to Old Slip, we went to the closer bars, the Old Blarney (not part of the Blarney Stone chain, although we cheered many a Yankee game at the nearest of those) and then back down to its sibling, the White Horse Tavern. George and I were malcontents, frustrated artists, and we liked to drink and grouse, but the place one chooses to drink -- after all, there are so many possibilities -- must eventually be narrowed down, and the deciding factor is: people. And we really, really liked Mike and Helen, who, at the time, owned and ran both the Old Blarney and the White Horse.
The thing is, tonight, I want to call George. I want to tell him that Eamon (the younger) is still tending bar at the soon-to-be-erstwhile A.J. Kelly’s, and will keep his job after its reincarnation. I want to tell him that I chatted with Mike this evening, and with Helen.
This past summer I wrote George of my resignation from the aforementioned investment firm. I expected to hear joyous congratulations. I heard nothing. Finally our mutual friend KG-D told me why. I am happy beyond measure that George and I had the chance to speak before he died in September. I suppose I never thought my friends could die. 2010 has taught me otherwise.
I never knew how much I would miss him. After all, George moved back down to South Carolina years ago. Still, we corresponded. Occasionally spoke. He visited New York a few times. No matter the distance, I could always write to him. Even if he didn’t answer for months at a time, if something he might want to know occurred, I could and did write. Now, my e-mail provider bounces back messages undeliverable to his erstwhile e-mail address. Now, everywhere we used to go, someone asks me about him, as Eamon did tonight. And every time I have to relive the reality that my friend is dead, I’m shocked. It makes me want to restart my life somewhere else so no one ever asks. So I don’t have to recognize and admit that this man, this friend, of my own generation, is dead. This man with whom I felt free to share my thoughts, my aspirations, this man who shared his thoughts and dreams with me, this man who was my friend… is dead.
I never knew how much I would miss him.
-- Molly Matera, signing off, turning off the computer to do what George would have wanted me to do: Write.