My stomach has long admired Hell’s Kitchen-dive Rudy’s for its dedication to free hot dogs. It’s a beautiful marriage, beneficial for drinker and bar. Sure, those of low moral fiber (such as myself) simply pop into Rudy’s to cadge a quick meal, staying for a single Miller Light. For others, hot dogs buffer the booze, providing drinkers with staying power and the bar with a healthier, if greasier, bottom line.
Rudy’s glory—shaded backyard, cheap drinks, free food—is its downfall. The space is terminally teeming. Thankfully, a nearby alternative also offers endless pig-based sustenance, paired with prices that would make even a Port Authority drunk grin. Allow me to introduce Port 41.
No, you’re not experiencing déjà vu. You have likely visited Port 41 before. The bar sits on a sketchy block decorated with whale murals, across from the bus station and near a postal depot. Beside the bar’s entrance sits a seemingly out-of-place ticket booth. A few years ago, however, lines would’ve zigzagged down the block as music fans waited to enter Tobacco Road. This was a delightfully seedy, if somewhat incongruous spot to catch musical acts like jazz singer Etta Jones and ska legends Toots and the Maytals.
Those days are dead. Yet Port 41 still offers clues to the club that once was. The men’s bathroom features a white music note embedded in the tile, and a neon sign advertises a coat-check room, now empty save for a dusty glass display case topped by a chafing dish. At the bar sit construction workers, daylight souses (Port 41 opens at 10 a.m.) and office workers anonymously tying one on. A couple color TVs broadcast sports, though the sound’s often drowned out by the digital jukebox playing heavy metal and hippie music. It’s a head-scratching amalgam, which only gets stranger.
The bar is not only a low-rent boozitoirum, but equal parts soup kitchen and pool hall. Like Rudy’s, Port 41 provides unlimited hot dogs, though these wieners are served not by curmudgeons, but rather by busty bartenders (“Hot girls!” advertises the chalkboard outside). The girls also serve domestic pints (Bud, Miller, etc.) for a three-buck song, and Guinness for a five spot. Whiskey and fine spirits are a smidge overpriced ($6 for a Jack Daniels). Pitchers, however, cost $10 (served with freezer-chilled pint glasses), while vodka runs three dollars. All. Day. Long. Really, that’s too enticing for a 60-year-old man hoping to blow his pension and his liver.
Prices and clientele are equally tempting—and frightening. After all, end-of-the-line men hoping to blackout their brains are mankind’s equivalent of a fire-engine-red spider. Approach with caution, that’s what I’m saying. But if you dig grubby bars like Mars and Holland, you’ll fit right in at Port 41, which redeems itself with a fabulous rear room.
At one time, this housed the stage. That’s since vanished, leaving a wide-open brick room filled with dart boards and three beauties: tournament-size pool tables perptually 100 percent free. Now, local bar pool tables are a crapshoot. Either tables are too expensive (the just-opened Fontana’s charges $1.50), too shitty (the table at Williamsburg’s Capone’s should drink V-8) or too crowded (breaking balls at the East Village’s Blue and Gold often entails smacking an NYU undergrad). So to find not one, but three beautiful, albeit slightly shopworn, tables that provide ample room to shoot—for free!—why, that’s a blessing. On several visits to Port 41, I shot pool until my fingers blistered in a room so desolate that snorting a $20 bag of blow would’ve attracted little attention (not that I’m advocating nasal leakage).
Now, Port 41 is no date bar (unless you’re trying to expedite a relationship’s end). Bartenders grin (and grit their teeth) at the men ogling their bosoms. It’s a bit like Coyote Ugly, minus the manufactured bacchanalia. Sure, beer is cut-rate, but will you really party at Port 41? Probably not, for the bar’s a jack of all trades, master of none—except for free hot dogs and pool, which are gold stars in my book.
Some nights, you just want to quietly drink beer, munch meat and peacefully play pool in a last-chance dive. And that, my friends, is when you kiss Rudy’s pig goodbye, and pay a visit to Port 41.
355 W. 41 St. (at Ninth Ave.)