Friday, March 6, 2009

...and now for something completely different: Two Boots Tavern

Pork buns in Chinatown. Lox and whitefish at Russ and Daughters. Smiley face pizza (that's olive eyes, mushroom nose, and red pepper mouth) at Two Boots. Food = memory.

Two Boots holds a really special place in my heart even among the aforementioned spots. Their original restaurant on Avenue A was a place I grew up in, eating smiley face pizzas, drinking coke out of boot-shaped mugs, and picking songs from their well stocked jukebox. It was a heartbreaking moment when I came back from Boston one spring break and took some friends there to find it was under new ownership. The fried calamari was gone, replaced with an appetizer menu of vegetarian options. The pizza was just not that great. Not long after, it closed down. There's been a sign about its eminent reopening in the window for what seems like years now, but the place is dead to me.

Now, while I'll always miss that space, this story isn't as sad as all that. Two Boots To Go, the slice joint/delivery place across the street still makes the stuff the way I remember, and they deliver to Stuy Town, so I've hardly been deprived of Two Boots for the last few years. They're also littered all over the city. I think most of the others are franchised out, but I'm not sure about all those details, and I don't really care, as all of them seem to more or less live up to the original. One thing's for sure: none of them miss the mark as badly as what the new owners refer to in the aforementioned sign as "Re:Boot." God, I hate them.

Well, last night I found a place that reminded me of the good times I had at Two Boots as a youngster. Two Boots Tavern is on Grand and Suffolk, a neighborhood that seems as random at first glance as Avenue A and 3rd Street must have back in 1987. It's a bar, it's an authentic Two Boots experience, and it's somewhere I'll be returning to quite a bit in the future. I had a chance to speak to owner Phil Hartman last night, and in between gushing to him about how I was raised on his pizza, he asked me to tell all my friends about the new spot. Well, Phil, that was already the plan: I can't recommend it enough. This place has a real appeal to it. Sure, that neighborhood doesn't hurt for lack of bars, but it could use more laid back spots, and that was exactly what we found at the Tavern last night.

So please, everybody reading this in the New York area, check out the Two Boots Tavern. You can drink (full bar plus beer on tap) AND eat delicious pizza. Plus they invented this thing called Cajun Pigs in Blankets that's a piece of andouille sausage wrapped in pizza crust. And it is GOOD. There's other bar snacks too, the drinks were reasonably priced, and what's more, Two Boots is back to its former glory. See you there.

Update: Phil Hartman just emailed me some kind words and corrections about the history of Two Boots:

Thanks for sharing your memories with me, and thanks for spreading the word to your blogsters...I raised three kids in the East Village -- and in Two Boots! -- and they've shared many of the same experiences as you...

Just wanted to clear up some of your misconceptions about Two Boots...

Two Boots was started by Doris Kornish and I in 1987 at 37 Ave. A. A local real estate developer, John Touhey, owned the original space, and we gave John permission to open Two Boots Brooklyn in 1989 -- he's done a fantastic job out there in Park Slope, especially with parents and kids.

Two Boots has grown over the years -- we just opened in LA, have a big, beautiful, full-service location in Bridgeport, Conn. with a stage for live music, and are building a small branch in Hell's Kitchen (9th Ave. & 44th St.)...NONE of the branches are franchises; all are owner-operated, and my office is right here in the EV on East 3rd St.

As for the original location at 37 Ave. A, Doris and I split up several years ago, and while I got Two Boots in the settlement, she received the original restaurant...Doris is a vegetarian, and Re-boot expressed her interests and sensibility. What more can I say? I find it as sad as you that our original location has been lost, but I'm glad you see that the spirit is still alive and well on Grand St. -- and at every branch of Two Boots, I think.

So, there you go. Avenue A, still dead to me, other branches, still legit.

What to Eat at Two Boots Tavern
[Grub Street]
Picture also lifted from Grub Street.
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