New Rochelle is on the rise, baby. I can't say why, I just have a Michael Chertoff-esque "gut feeling" about this sort of thing, though this gut feeling is a happy ponies and butterflies kind of feeling and not an imminent death is coming dot com sort of thing.
I have the latter a lot. The Party Pony doesn't wish to bring the mood down, but I am suffering "anxiety medication burnout," which usually leads to lots of physical pain that results from hunched shoulders to ward off raining debris from explosions. Yeah! I start eating a lot of ibuprofen and wishing I had a decrepit doctor who would give me bagfuls of potent painkillers. Anxiety medication was first procured soon after I rode on the Metro North and thought musingly, "I wonder what it will feel like when I get blown up? Well, at least the pain will end."
That didn't seem normal.
What does seem frightfully delightful after such dark thoughts is the presence of Juniors, a curious little sports bar right here in the heart of downtown New Rochelle. The last place to succumb to the smoking ban within a 20-mile radius (it has now succumbed), Juniors is nothing special in any way, shape or form. It's a dingy little Irish dive bar, railroad style, with a pool table at the back and a bartender who hangs the latest holiday accoutrements (St. Patty's, Valentine's, Christmas) all over the bar back. What is special are the people who call it home. Take the story of a nice young man recently released from detox, who collapsed under the pool table and required medical assistance. Or, the night when my friends went to play a friendly game of pool, did rather well against some fellow customers (no money involved, mind you), and were accused of trying to "hustle the n-----." There are the usual assortment of regulars sipping dirty water at the bar, and the drinks are always flowing.
It is completely untainted by yuppies or expat New Yorkers of any kind! Which means that it is quite real, baby. It has not been gentrified. It is just as edgily unsettling, vaguely skeevy but ordinary, and underpriced as you expected. It's the next new thing. It's what you've been looking for. If you think you can find this sort of thing in the East Village, you are sadly mistaken. There will be a poet in the corner and a writer chalking up his cue, not to mention a wanna-be hip Wall Streeter stuffing his tie in his pocket. If you want to go among the people, go to Juniors. North Avenue. New Rochelle.