In his new book, John Tebeau (A.B. 1986) uses colorful illustrations to indicate the kind of drinking establishments he wants us to see. The Van Gogh reds and yellows of Mona’s, a dive bar at 224 Avenue B, bring out the rowdy feeling in the bar. At 321 Fifth Avenue, the Gate’s placid burgundy awning and green backdrop give off a Park Slope-y vibe long before you read the description that says where you’ll find the bar.
Tebeau, the son of a saloon owner and the grandson of a speakeasy proprietor, grew up in Michigan but has a deep and abiding affection for the taverns of his adoptive home of New York City. Bars, Taverns, and Dives New Yorkers Love, his first book, grew out of his affection for the city and for the places where people collect themselves and connect with each other.
“New Yorkers in particular love and need these ‘third places,’” Tebeau says. “Not home, not work, but the in-between places where you can socialize, be yourself, meet up with friends, and make new ones.”
The idea for the book took root in 2013 when Tebeau started searching for a new project. He began by painting his six favorite bars in Brooklyn—Fort Defiance and Sunny’s Bar, both in Red Hook; Mugs Alehouse in Williamsburg; the Gate in Park Slope; Bar Great Harry in Carroll Gardens; and the Brooklyn Inn in Boerum Hill. He thought he would turn the paintings into prints, t-shirts, and posters, but when the attention they drew also included a book deal with Rizzoli, Tebeau jumped on it.
The book collects prose and portraits of bars across the city. It suggests cocktails, offers thoughts on ambience, and reflects on the differences between sitting at the bar and sitting at a table. The entries give a sense of what each establishment is going for, who it serves, and why—and when—you might want to visit.
“You can't go to a sports bar during a big game for a heart-to-heart talk any more than you can ask the bartender at a sleek cocktail lounge to put on the Yankees-Tigers and crank the volume,” Tebeau says.
“When I feel like unwinding after a busy day I might hit the Long Island Bar, shortly after their 5:30 open, when it's still mellow and not yet crowded,” Tebeau says. “Or I might pop over to Sunny's, an old dockworker bar on the waterfront a couple blocks from Fort Defiance, where I tend bar. All woody and old, with cool music—jazz and soul and weird, vintage pop. There’s a small, cheerful crowd of neighborhood folks who work at home, and maybe a tourist or two. It can feel really nice in the late afternoon.”
He hopes that his book can serve as a useful guide for the right bar and the right feeling.
“For both locals and tourists, I hope the book helps them love New York more,” Tebeau says. “For locals specifically, I hope the book helps them find a bar or two that they can fall in love with and call their own, and where they can become part of the family.”