Smoke ’em while you got ’em

The New Yorker

By - Jun 25th, 2010 04:00 am
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All photos by Jennifer Bartel

Nestled between the Badger Bus depot and Dunkin’ Donuts  at 345 N. James Lovell Street sits The New Yorker, an unassuming little bar with a plethora of karaoke options. “Over 190,000 songs,” proclaims Sal, the owner-operator and karaoke singer extraordinaire.

The New Yorker has been in operation for over 8 years. It began as a jazz club that offered karaoke sporadically, but over time Sal converted it into a full karaoke bar due to its popularity. Hanging from the drop ceiling are a trumpet, saxophone and trombone, decorative remnants of its jazz past.

The decor is that of a basement bar circa 1989, and I mean that in the most endearing way. There are some Christmas lights running along one of the walls and a rad neon sign in the window. There are a few pictures of Frank Sinatra, as well as that one famous picture of the Rat Pack in front of a Las Vegas marquee. Oh, and there are lots of mirrors.

I asked Sal what he thought about the impending smoking ban he casually responds, “It doesn’t matter.”  He’s more concerned about the fake ID’s that frequently come through the door with Marquette kids. The difference between the New Yorker and many other bars might be that it offers a service — both performers and demure spectators come here to be entertained.

Basically, the people that go to the New Yorker are going for their karaoke fix, and will most likely be willing to go outside for their nicotine fix.

I should mention that my conversation with Sal was punctuated by his performances as the bar’s emcee. He’s there five nights a week operating the karaoke machine and singing his renditions of Frank Sinatra hits, which hauntingly recall ‘Ol Blue Eyes himself.

The best part about the generally low key bar  is that you can come with a large group and pretty much rule the place. It’s great as a birthday destination or a work party, both of which were reasons for my prior experiences there.

I spoke to a few other patrons about the smoking ban, including the group I met up with; once introduced to the bar two months ago, they have become weekly regulars.

The people I talked to didn’t mind the coming of the new law – at least not until it gets cold. My friend Amy, a smoker, thought that it should be the right of the establishment to decide whether or not to go non-smoking. But she also understands that non-smokers want to enjoy their favorite hangouts without sacrificing their lungs or walking out smelling like an ashtray.

As a social smoker who usually only smokes in bars, I am looking forward to the ban as an excuse to finally quit all together. I’ve been pretty good the last handful of weeks, but it would be easier if it were not even an option.

I’m not exactly sure how the ban will affect the bar scene in Milwaukee, but one this is for sure: the impending law may prevent cigarettes from being smoked in bars, but there is no law that can prevent smoking karaoke from billowing out of the New Yorker.

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