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November 23, 2011

Tonight instead of going out in search of a swizzle stick as I usually do on Tuesdays, I’m going out in search for cheese. Last week I read some disturbing news at Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, that the DOH made Sardi’s get rid of their legendary and traditional communal cheese pots and crackers. That’s right, the DOH in all it’s Nazi-like wisdom has forced Sardi’s to cut the cheese (sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

When I first moved here and discovered the cheese pots at Sardi’s I would go there a couple times a month and order a draft beer and make a meal out of the free cheese and crackers.
Reports are mixed on whether the DOH forced them to get rid of them or whether Sardi’s banished them for fear of future fines, but one thing is for sure, they’re gone. Well, not totally, from what I’ve read you can now buy your own pot for three bucks. I thought I’d go check out this cheesy situation at Sardi’s tonight.

It's a rotten, rainy and chilly-ass night out tonight. Sardi's is 14 blocks away, so I decided to walk there instead of hassling with the subway. It's one of those decisions that halfway there I may be sorry I didn't take the train.

I should've taken the fucking train, it's miserable out here.

And the only thing worse than slow-walkers is slow-walkers with umbrellas. Impossible to get around. Fuck.

Finally, here we are at Sardi's. Let's go in and escape the rain.

The bottom bar is open, but it's three deep at the bar...

And so it's upstairs we go.

There's plenty of room up here...

And there's bartender Joseph and Bill, a semi-regular here who's working on a book. Here's Bill's blog: Our Missing News, the book is scheduled to come out next year and from what he told me, it's something you'll want to read. Stay tuned for further word about Bill's book. And now, onto the cheese!

There's quite a void at the bar, but Joseph tells me I can have my own private cheese pot. But it costs three bucks.

This is the future at Sardi's thanks to the DOH. A little cheesepot that's fresh from the fridge and somewhat hard as a rock.

Before (taken one month ago...)

And after.

So what’s the big deal about the free cheese at Sardi’s? For me it’s a lot.

When I first moved here in 1993 I went to Sardi’s to look at all the caricatures on the wall and see a New York bar I had only read about in books and had seen in movies and TV shows. When I discovered the free cheese and Ritz crackers at the bar I was elated. I had cashed in a pension plan to move here and pursue a career as a writer back in those days. A lot of doors had been slammed in my face, but I was getting stuff published, but some weeks my sole income was a 35 dollar check from the Manhattan Spirit newspaper on a wise-ass story I had written about the Hard Rock Cafe. I had bigger paydays from New York Newsday and The NY Daily News, but those choice assignments were fewer and farther between. I mostly toiled at the free weeklies, which was an exercise in poverty.

I’m a nervous person to begin with, but when the outgoing money greatly surpasses your incoming cash, it can grate on your nerves and make you dream about sleeping over a heating grate in front of Penn Station.
Whenever I got something published back in those days it was a cause for celebration. I had a byline in New York and a staff writing job just had to be just around the corner. A lot of times I’d go celebrate at the P&G Bar in my neighborhood and buy bags of potato chips for the regulars slumped around the bar, but other times I’d take the express train to Times Square and go and eat some of the free cheese and Ritz crackers at Sardi’s and think about the day that writing would finally pay the bills and I wouldn’t be sweating rent and bills. I’d always take my latest article with me, because you never knew if you’d meet a tourist of the female persuasion that you could say, “Me? Oh I’m a writer here in New York, in fact here’s my latest piece that just came out.”

After a while I surrendered and got a night job and did my own thing as far as writing goes.
I still am. and if you’re reading this, I thank you. I always loved going into Sardi’s and savoring the free cheese and Ritz crackers and think about the days when a staff writing job appeared to be looming it’s happy head right around the corner. Happy memories of days gone by.

And now the cheese is gone, but at least for me, my dreams live on. There’s some things Mayor Bloomberg and the DOH goons can’t touch. Goodnight everybody and see you tomorrow after dark.

Further reading: NY Times, Eater and The Bovina Bloviator.

Big cheese, make me,
Mine says, go to the office.

(Surprise link...click on it...I dare you!)

References (1)

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Reader Comments (41)

Well, thanks to the DOH and public health scares in general, more and more special little culinary delights like the cheese bowl at Sardis are either disappearing or starting to look like the dinner trays on board the Discovery in Stanley Kubrick's 2001 a space odyssey.

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJaws the Cabbie

The future ain't what it used to be.

Yogi Berra

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGENE

That stinks. Free snacks are the sign of a good place! Let the people eat their communal cheese!

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBritta

@Jaws: Ha ha ha! The new cheese tray's do look like something out of a Stanley Kubrick film!

@GENE: rr's going to be jealous of that quote!

@Britta: I agree and the DOH is also shutting down free peanuts and pretzels, there's no end to this!

November 23, 2011 | Registered CommenterMarty After Dark

Well, I for one am very grateful that you stuck it out and are writing this blog! Have a great Thanksgiving!

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKatrink

I wonder if the hot dogs at Rudy's are still free ?

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGENE

@Katrink: Thanks! That's sweet of you to say! Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

@GENE: I bet they still are, the tipping point seems to be communal bowls left out in the open. Soon they'll probably ban toilets!

November 23, 2011 | Registered CommenterMarty After Dark

For my first few years in the city, generous bars with free snacks kept me alive. There are still several places to get free cheese (and other snacks), but I won't name them here as the DOH is ever-watching and waiting to quash our joy.

The Gramercy Hotel (I can say this because they are long dead), used to serve hot chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks and fish crackers - a feast!

We ought to do a cheese crawl some time...

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGoggla

I also wonder about the Rudy's hot dogs, something they given away for ages. You need to go to Rudy's and investigate this matter as soon as possible, this is very important to maintaining the integrity of legendary bars, free snacks have always been there, where will they draw the line? Go to Rudy's in Hells Kitchen and give us your usual full report. Thank you in advance on this matter. It was in my top 5 New York bar,,,,Sardi's shame on the NY Health Dpt for ruining that place.

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAl

You know, I read somewhere that germs and such actually do a great job of boosting our immune systems so that we become resistant to strains of yuck that may come our way in the future. It said that all of this sanitizing, with the anti-bacterial soap and lotions and now cutting the cheese (ha ha ha!), is actually doing us quite the disservice because it opens us up to all sorts of dangers that we could have easily avoided had we just wiped our noses with chicken hands or shared peanuts at the bar or licked the occasional pay phone. If the super virus ever hits, we will have only ourselves to blame! And the DOH, of course.

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBiff

@Goggla: Wow, I never knew that about the Gramercy, a true feast indeed! A free cheese and snack crawl sounds like a great idea!

@Al: I'll try and check it out tonight, when the co-pilot requests a trip, consider it done!

@Biff: "or licked the occasional pay phone." Ha ha ha! Love that line, you still gots it, Bifferoonie!

November 23, 2011 | Registered CommenterMarty After Dark

What really is misrable is you have to do what these people say or THEY can ruin your business... if they don't fine you they can put a notice in the newspaper making your business sound like its the worse place on earth ....BUT THEY KNOW WHATS GO FOR US

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commentertehennessey

Yar, Marty, and besides the free snax, what I love about Sardi's is that despite being in the tourist zone, it is a place the grotesquer of the Harveys were afraid of, though it was better when they employed a doorman -- seeing a man in uniform helped keep the place light on yokels.

(Free potato chips still on the bar at the West Bank Cafe as of Monday.)

@Goggla, oh, I miss the Gramercy, too. Pepperidge Farm Goldfish and a piano player. That was swell.

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGrade "A" Karen

sorry it should say THEY KNOW WHATS GOOD FOR US....I get upset when I see the these departments go around and make up new rules as they see fit, always moving the goal posts....HUMBUG

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commentertehennessey

Sounds like a tough time when you first got here. I hope one day you get that staff writing job, I'll subscribe. In the meantime, thanks for entertaining us here.

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJason

@tehennessey: I hope you don't have any free ice cream bowls set out on your counter!

@Grade "A" Karen: I forgot they used to have a doorman there. At least there's always interesting characters at the bar and behind the bar.

@Jason: Thank YOU for reading and commenting! I truly appreciate it.

November 23, 2011 | Registered CommenterMarty After Dark

Sardie's charges 3 bucks for cheese? Um.. no thank you.

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermeleah rebeccah

you have a great blog here Marty, it's funny with great observations and i enjoy reading it.

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

@meleah: I may pass the next time myself, but I'll still go there, I've always met interesting people at that place. One of the few places in Midtown/Times Square I can stomach. Going to miss that cheese though!

@David: Thank you very much, sir! I appreciate you reading it and chiming in!

November 23, 2011 | Registered CommenterMarty After Dark

Cutting the cheese--a high art form. I love cheese--Happy Thanksgiving Marty and Gumby and All.

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie

@Melanie: Thanks! Happy Thanksgiving to you too!

November 23, 2011 | Registered CommenterMarty After Dark

Still recovering from Wayne War I. Happy pre-tomorrow.

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercsp

Melanie hope you and all the MADSTERS all have a great turkey day...yep vanishin' new york for sure one communal cheesepot at a time...tradition tossed w/ the trash...MAD forgot (well maybe not "forgot" maybe just didn't mention) but "Other bar-food staples like peanuts and pretzels in little bowls? Sardi’s has taken them off the bar, too"...DOH says we're gettin' a bad rap—Sardi's say “It has to do with the health department,”...oh well a tweet:

Corporations are people, Pizza is a vegetable, the Internet will be censored and protest is illegal. Welcome to 21st century America.
~@Spytap Barrett Garese


November 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterraginrr

Agree with Biff about the building up resistance to germs thing. Sure, cleanliness is good, but the nannying fussiness goes too far. I've survived some putrid dining experiences (a street hot dog & a bad diner Coney Island diner experience spring to mind) which left me about 15 pounds lighter & with limbs like noodles, but that hasn't stopped me eating at all kinds of places. Excessive caution leads to a very dull life indeed.
Cheese crawl? Yes!! And as ever, Marty, thanks for the great blog.

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteronemorefoldedsunset

@csp: Happy Turkey day to you, you Wayne War Winner you!

@rr: I'm eternally thankful for your colorful comments and your quotes, great tweet there, thanks!

@onemorefoldedsunset: I'm in total agreement! Every dirty water dog I eat on the way to work makes me stronger! We need to talk about the cheese crawl this Friday!

November 23, 2011 | Registered CommenterMarty After Dark

As a transplanted Cheesehead, I heartily endorse the idea of a Cheese Crawl. My uncle briefly owned a bar on the sout' side of Milwaukee and it was the first place I ever had string cheese, a fabulous bar snack. Don't require much refrigeration and come individually wrapped. Not even the DOH can quibble with that.

November 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKatrink

@Katrink: You're from Miwaukee? Maybe you know Professor Dungpie!

November 25, 2011 | Registered CommenterMarty After Dark

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