Friday, July 6, 2012

P.J. Clarke's Owners Make a Misstep

You have to wonder about the sanity of the custodians of New York's great saloons these days. The Irish owner of the building the housed the Prohibition-era Bill Gay 90s declined to renew the lease of that beloved bar earlier this year, resulting in the longtime owner packing up, and taking all the priceless interior antiques with her. The space will soon be occupied by another faceless, trendy, upscale restaurant.

Now, the parvenu owners of P.J. Clarke's, who bought the timeless Third Avenue saloon in 2002, have seen fit to kick the joint's second-greatest asset (after the timeless bar itself)—bartender's bartender Doug Quinn—to the curb. Quinn's offense was defending some women from a groping drunk. The managing partner side with the drunk and fired Quinn and another bartender—an astounding move, given that the New York Times had called Quinn one of the best bartenders in New York City in a flattering 2010 profile.

I spoke to Quinn the day after the kerfuffle, and wrote up the incident in the New York Times. Some of his saltier comments I left out of the family-friendly pages of the Gray Lady. Let's just say he didn't hold back, and doesn't think much of Clarke's owners or the Third Avenue bar's new managers. (The Clarke's people dodged my phone calls.)

Since buying Clarke's, the new owners (who include actor Timothy Hutton) have seemed intent on branding the bar, opening branches across Manhattan and in other cities. No doubt, they didn't see the value of a single employee, or care for Quinn getting attention that they felt should have been going to themselves. True, Quinn can be a bit grandiose. He's referred to himself as the Babe Ruth of bartenders, and declares he's going to open the greatest saloon in New York. But he's popular, and good to the customers. And if the comments in response to my article, and others, are to be believed, the Clarke's reputation has been seriously dented.

Stay tuned for the imminent opening of Quinn's.

Here's the article:

P.J. Clarke’s Drops a Top Bartender
8:44 a.m. | Updated 
We reached the bartender Doug Quinn late Thursday evening. “The phone has been…,” he said in a hoarse voice, trailing off. “You can’t even imagine. People calling me, e-mailing me, texting me.”
Mr. Quinn said that since word got out early Thursday that he had been fired from P.J. Clarke’s, he has been inundated with offers. Taverns have offered bartending jobs, and some frequent Clarke’s patrons had volunteered to bankroll him in opening his own bar. “Some of these guys, they have a few bucks,” he said.
Mr. Quinn contended that management had been intending to dismiss him for some time. “These managers, they wanted to get rid of me.” Matters came to a head, Mr. Quinn said, when he advised that a drunken customer, who had been harassing women, be ejected from the bar.
“I’d never seen him before,” he said of the patron. “At some point he said he’s been coming there for 30 years. But I didn’t know him.” Mr. Quinn said one manager told him, ” ‘This guy just ordered a bunch of raw bar.’ I said, ‘I’ll take out my wallet and I’ll pay for it all.’ ”
According to Mr. Quinn, it was the co-owner Philip Scotti who fired him and his fellow bartender Justin Marvin. “Phil said he’s had complaints from customers,” he said. “This is the first I’ve heard of it.”
Mr. Quinn plans to take his family to Cape Cod for two weeks and recuperate. After that, he will consider his options. “I want to open a real New York saloon,” he said. “Maybe the best New York saloon of them all.”
Doug Quinn (above), a familiar bow-tied presence behind the bar at the landmark Manhattan tavern P.J. Clarke’s and a semilegendary figure in New York bartending circles, was sent packing by the management on Wednesday night, according to the Web site Business Insider.
The site reports that when Mr. Quinn admonished a male patron who was groping women to behave, the customer became verbally abusive. Mr. Quinn told Business Insider that he took the matter up with the general manager who, instead of asking the customer to leave, took the man to the dining room and bought him dinner.
Mr. Quinn said the bar’s managing partner later fired him and another bartender. According to Business Insider, a large number of patrons responded to news of the barman’s ouster by walking out.
P.J. Clarke’s management did not return phone messages seeking comment. Mr. Quinn didn’t respond to e-mails.
Mr. Quinn began working at P.J. Clarke’s in 2003, and was admired for his ability to capably handle the noisy throngs that nightly crowd the corner bar, and for his ability to remember customers’ names and favored drinks. His departure of Mr. Quinn resulted in an eruption of angry and stunned messages on Twitter.
A squat, two-story corner building, P.J. Clarke’s stands out as a holdout from old New York among the towers of Third Avenue in the East 50s. (It is named for one-time owner Patrick Joseph Clarke.) Founded in 1884, it was purchased in 2002 by a group that included Philip Scotti, a proprietor of Dock’s Oyster Bar and Sarabeth’s, and the actor Timothy Hutton. Since then, branches bearing the name of the saloon have opened in Lincoln Square and the Financial District, as well as in other cities. (On the official P.J. Clarke’s Web site, under “News,” the only story is a 2010 profile from The New York Timesof Mr. Quinn.)
Mr. Quinn told Business Insider he planned to open a new place.

1 comment:

Freddy said...

As I've mentioned myself, this was a horrific mis-step on management's behalf. Actually, having been to the original location myself, I think Doug's firing is one of series of screwups by current management - another being a succession of additional openings under the same name... kind of like The Olive Garden or Bennigans. As a bartender as well as patron, a P.J.'s last now lost a good bit of luster in my book.