The Subway Inn Will Keep the Light on for You

Seventy-three years later, this dive is still kickin’.

EMAN9-LowRes33Like all members of Edible Communities, we love the spots that specialize in the handcrafted and the homemade. But we fall for places that speak to a time and place, too: Like the neon-lit façade of the little Subway Inn, a beyond-divey dive that’s held court on East 60th Street since 1937. This perfectly film noir bar has changed little—with the exception of the effects of passing time and drunken patrons on the now-dingy furnishings— in those 73 years. There are scuffed black-and-white tiled floors, sagging high-backed red booths and rickety, spindly-legged tables, a diamond-shaped mirror in place over each. There’s also the smell of stale beer— no pints of craft ale here, just a handful of $4 and $5 bottles and a limited line of spirits for $4 a shot—and a beat-up wooden bar where you’d expect to find a barkeep getting grilled about a dame by Philip Marlowe—had he been an East Coast gumshoe, that is.

True to form, The Subway Inn opens at 11 a.m. every day to serve the midtown lunch crowd: a mix of suits, students, punks, blue collar guys ending their shifts and the alcoholics, who often make it all the way to 4 a.m., when the place is lousy with drunks and sticky with spilled beer. Evenings, you’ll spot savvy husbands belly to the bar, cooling heels while wives peruse the same across the street in the shoe department at Bloomies. The city’s most diverse crowd—and that heartbreakingly lovely sign—make this one of Manhattan’s best bars, but what we love most about the place is the way it feels this time of year. When flurries dust suit shoulders with snow and the waning light of a winter afternoon renders the streets cinematically black and white, you can tuck into the neon-lit door of the Inn on a sleepy Saturday, order a rye with a water back, and make believe you’ve just arrived in the Big Apple, circa 1940.

Photo credit: Micah Beree

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Rachel Wharton is the former deputy editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. She won a 2010 James Beard food journalism award, holds a master’s degree in Food Studies from New York University, and has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and reporter. A North Carolina native and a former features food reporter for the New York Daily News, she edited the Edible Brooklyn cookbook and was the co-author of both Handheld Pies and DiPalo's Guide to the Essential Foods of Italy. Her work also appears in publications such as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Saveur.