696 10th Ave at 49th St, Hell’s Kitchen
The Place: A small whiskey bar that has a solid crowd of male Hell’s Kitchen regulars.
The Time: Thursday May 18, 9pm. I went by myself to see A Doll’s House Part 2 on Broadway, and a friend of mine went by herself to see a different play, so we decided to meet for a drink after. Her show got out later than mine did, so I had an hour to kill while waiting for her. I’d heard of On the Rocks from a friend who used to live in the neighborhood and since most bars in HK either suck or are super expensive, I thought I’d give it a shot.
The Vibe: I enter this tiny, dimly lit hole-in-the-wall and I’m struck instantly by the skewed gender ratio – it’s almost entirely men. Men of all ages wearing button downs. As I make my way toward the back to the only empty barstool, I turn the heads of all these button-down-wearing men, simply because I’m a woman who’s entered this bar alone. (There are two other women here, but they are with men.) The bar top is a thick gray stone slab, and the walls are exposed brick. The back bar is filled with a shit ton of different whiskey bottles. It’s fine here. I’m fine texting and reading articles on my phone while waiting for my friend to join me, but this is not a place I can whip out my book which is what I really want to do but you can’t have it all, I guess.
The Bartender: A nice guy named Josh who I chat with a little bit. He eventually apologizes to me for his barback (see below).
The Drank: My go-to, an Old Fashioned. There’s no menu, and before I get a chance to look at what they have, Josh suggests Buffalo Trace bourbon which is a classic move that won’t break the bank so I accept and appreciate it.
Was I Hit On? Not exactly. But the barback, an older man with tattoos and a bandana around his head, straight out of Hogs & Heifers (RIP), decides that he’s going to park himself and his beer right in front of me and start talking to me. And he doesn’t stop. He tells me all about the time he spent up in the Hudson Valley. Specifically the time he served up in Peekskill jail and this guy Rodney who was his prison buddy. It’s also clear that he’s pretty drunk. I feel the polite woman in me kick in, that horrible defense mechanism/societal pressure that’s put upon women to not hurt men’s feelings. So I nod and smile and say “yeah” occasionally while trying to give off hints that say “leave me alone,” like looking at my phone, texting, not engaging. But he doesn’t give up. He’s not threatening, he’s not being lewd, but he’s clearly singled me out because I’m a woman alone and he’s severely interrupting my otherwise pleasant time. This gets so relentless that I’m considering leaving, but I haven’t paid yet, and my friend is on her way, and I really don’t want to let one man to ruin my night. Finally my friend arrives and the barback goes away, presumably to do his motherfucking job. We move further down the bar, stay for one drink, then book it.
Should You Drink Here Alone? No. I can’t in good faith tell any woman to drink here alone because of this one barback, which is a shame. Everything else about On the Rocks is fine; it’s a decent whiskey bar off the beaten path in Hell’s Kitchen. But ladies, spare yourselves.