With an illustrious history that includes Al Capone, a six-legged pig, Prohibition, poets, celebrities and NY characters holding up the bar, Rudy’s in Hell’s Kitchen is more like a museum than a dive bar. With its original mahogany bar, custom-made for $300 on the Bowery more than a century ago, this spot exudes history and tradition. If there’s a caste system within the world of dive bars, Rudy’s is no doubt in the top tier.
Rudy’s was selling booze as a speakeasy back in 1919. The owners must have been politically connected, because they also received New York’s first liquor license when the Prohibition Era ended in 1933.
The place also has a definite connection to music, although it’s not a live music venue. When you walk into Rudy’s for the first time, you will immediately see three mosaics created in the 1990s featuring images of Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, and a 12-foot sax. In 1996, Rudy’s was voted Best Jukebox in the City by Rolling Stone for its eclectic mix of jazz and blues. Although the jukebox has been updated over the years, you can still listen to the likes of Johnny Lee Hooker and Charlie Parker.
Regulars at infamous dive bars love to drop names, and Rudy’s is no exception. In addition to Capone, Frank Sinatra, Drew Barrymore, the band Steely Dan, Paul McCartney, Julia Roberts, James Gandolfini, Lauryn Hill, Tommy Ramone, Dexter Gordon, Sonia Braga, Ethan Hawke, Slash (of Guns ‘n Roses), Mike Schembri, Colm Meaney, Christina Hendricks, JFK Jr., Morley Safer, Danny Rettig, Timothy Hutton, Johnny Knoxville, Halle Berry, and Jimmy Fallon all have imbibed at Rudy’s over the decades.
This place has stories galore to share, and the bartenders are more than willing. In the 1940s, their bouncers were two big German Shepherds to mind the door and today people are greeted by Baron, the bar’s iconic statute of a six-foot tall swinish mascot. He’s been in more selfies than Paris Hilton. The crowd at Rudy’s consists of actors on the way up (or vice versa), media and movie types, business tycoons, and normal people consuming cheap drinks and free hot dogs.
If you like Rudy’s you can also purchase a wide range of merchandise with Baron hogging the spotlight. In order to look cool in front of other Dive Bar Tourists, and let the world outside of NY (I hear it does exist) know it, you can buy hats, sweats, hoodies—even backpacks and coffee mugs.
Many of the drink specials at Rudy’s feature the “shot and a chaser” approach. For example: the Jameson Pickleback (a shot and a kosher pickle), The All-American Shot & Beer (Seagram’s with a pint of Rudy’s Blond Draft), and Rudy’s Mexican Hat Dance (where an Estrella meets a shot of Sauza for a muy buen time). More than 40 beers are available in mugs or pitchers, and if you want something a little different, they also sell ginger beers and spiked seltzers.
Rudy’s is a basic bar without any frills. Like flying with Southwest Airlines, you’re going to have a great time, and it won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Get past the pig, go through the old wood door, order a shot and a beer at the huge mahogany bar, and after a few pops, who knows? You might see the ghost of Al Capone partying with the Rat Pack, especially if you try hard and drink enough.
Located in: Hell’s Kitchen, New York City, New York
Be sure to try: The All-American Shot & Beer