The Irish Riviera

August 26th, 2014 § 0 comments

Yes, that was New York’s Rockaway Beach in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s–The Irish Riviera. The area between Beach 116th Street and 98th Street (the site of the Playland amusement park) was the summer home of hordes of working class Irish-Americans fleeing the steaming streets of New York. The neighborhood was called Irishtown and its center was Beach 102nd Street (Seaside Avenue). This was a street lined with Irish bars.The favorite of teenage HG and his pals and girlfriends was O’Gara’s Sligo House. Spacious, loud, raucous. Beer was 10 cents a glass. Live entertainment. Step dancers, Irish tenors and delightful comics singing satirical songs poking fun at the Irish (HG remembers a song which noted that the Irish were Egyptians long ago and built the Pyramids “because no one but an Irishman could carry all those bricks”). Housing for the Irish consisted of flimsy bungalows and ramshackle boarding houses. Air conditioning was non-existent. There was similar housing in the Edgemere and Arverne neighborhoods which were densely packed with working class Jews from New York. An HG friend who summered in an Edgemere bungalow said he learned the facts of life at an early age because there was no privacy in those surroundings. Said he: “I went to sleep to the sound of lusty, sunburned ladies having orgasms.” As one would suspect, the food sold along the Boardwalk in those proletarian Jewish neighborhoods was superior to anything available in Irishtown. The Jewish boardwalk sold garlicky kosher hot dogs slathered in hot mustard and kraut, knishes, frozen custard, corned beef and pastrami sandwiches and the famed “Takee Cup”. The Irish side consisted of low grade hot dogs (no sauerkraut, only insipid mustard and sickly sweet bottled relish). Gristly burgers on soggy rolls and greasy French fries. That was it. The emphasis was on perfectly chilled and perfectly drawn tap beer. Despite the cliches abut the Irish, HG encountered little drunkenness. Just family guys who liked lots of brew. No gourmands. Of course, Rockaway is now becoming cool. Young Brooklyn hipsters have discovered Rockaway’s ocean joys and creative restaurants have opened. SJ has deejayed vintage reggae music at a number of Rockaway venues. HG’s pal Peter Hellman, the author/journalist/wine expert, has been a Rockaway pioneer for years. A dedicated surfer, Peter subwayed out to Rockaway’s waves for more than a decade before the Williamsburg young adventured into the surf.

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