Wednesday, March 17, 2010

An Irish Brew

 Cup of the Day #7
Filigree Cup by Gwyneth Leech
White-out pen on green cardboard cup, 2009

My painting studio is on 39th Street, eight blocks down 9th Avenue from my apartment and a walk to work invariably full of incident. This morning, getting underway rather late, I am surprised by the volume of foot traffic until at Amy's Bread, the soda bread and paper shamrocks in the window plus the line out the door of people in green remind me that it is Saint Patrick's day.

I wait my turn in the amiable crush and order a scone and coffee to go. They serve excellent Illy espresso at Amy's and one of favorite breakfasts in Manhattan is to sit in here for a large bowl of Cafe au lait with french bread and butter, but I don't have time today. I get the Oran's decaf coffee on tap and am then am disappointed to find it extremely bitter when I taste it on my way down the street.

The Saint Patrick's Day Parade is already underway several blocks East and green-clad bar-flies are smoking their breakfasts outside the bars all the way down to 42nd Street. I dump my decaf in a trash can and go into Empire Tea and Coffee at 41st and 9th. This no-frills shop carries a great range of whole beans which the owner has roasted upstate. Their tea selection is also excellent - boxes at the front, loose leaf in glass jars at the back. And they sell a full menu of hot drinks to go, including outstanding espresso drinks at great prices.

I have been coming to Empire for years and always enjoy the personable baristas who seem to be drawn from a never-ending pool of aspiring jazz and pop musicians. The clientele includes artists, people heading to offices, construction workers from the burgeoning high rises in the neighborhood and postal employees from the depot on 42nd Street. There used to be a steady stream of musicians carrying instruments and headed for rehearsal studios on 41st, but that building was torn down to make way for a skyscraper a few years ago.

I order a Barry's Irish tea to mark the day. Barry's is Empire's house tea and it is a vigorous black brew which I drink strong with milk, no sugar. I like it almost as much as Brooke Bond's Scottish Blend. I lived in Scotland for 15 years and we swore by Scottish Blend, an unpretentious, full-bodied black tea sold in super markets at a modest price. When I moved to New York 10 years ago I persuaded Empire to order it for me and it is always stocked, and quite popular - despite the New York price tag.

By 4 PM I am heading back up 9th Avenue after a productive day painting. I didn't go to the parade. My ancestors are Irish, English, Scottish and Welsh in pretty equal parts so I choose not to celebrate any of the historically warring factions. The green revelers are more numerous now, and some are staggering. Here are some green wigs, there a green torso, lots of green trinkets. Outside Rudy's Bar and Grill at 44th Street I pause to admire the Swine on Nine. Today he is wearing a kilt!

 A reveler celebrating with the Swine on Nine
Saint Patrick's Day, NYC, 2010

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