One point for every dollar it takes to get a High Life & a shot.
New York dive bars run a gamut, from classic taverns like McSorley’s to urban honky tonks like Doc Holliday’s, but Billymark’s West is of its own kind, a product of the intensely urban neighborhood that surrounds it and the kind of bar that makes you consider whether you should really come inside…in a good way.
There are times when a dive bar might be referred to as ‘no frills’ but still feature walls inundated with neon signs and time-stained photographs, and while Billymark’s does have its fair share of poster art (friendly term), this place is no frills even for a dive bar. Sagging ceiling tiles, sparse seating, plain black bar complemented by a plain black partition in the middle of the room, this is a New York dive bar in every sense of the term.
And it that sounds off-putting, then you’re in the wrong place, because Billymark’s personifies New York City at its best, no-nonsense, unpretentious and open just about every legally-available hour. The squat building on the corner of 29th and 9th, just a few blocks for Penn Station, is unmistakable with its searing blue paintjob and array of murals outside. The signs that adorn both street-side walls might well be the default setting on a massive sign-making machine, if there were such a thing, with plain red type against a white background. Even the sign has no frills.
If Miller High Life were a dive bar, it would be Billymark’s, a fact underscored by the perpetual High Life & a shot special advertised behind the bar. And almost impossibly, the space feels open and bright during the day, the corner lot providing rare corridors to sunlight that pours in through the often open doors. What wall art that exists is largely movie-themed, with classic film posters throughout and even a couple of silver records behind the bar.
A pool table dominates the rear area of the bar, with a profoundly TouchTunes-averse jukebox a few feet away that looks like it may have come from a late-80s movie set. And of course, the bathroom graffiti is of the highest quality, with the added bonus of forced creativity to somehow apply fabulously dirty phrases to a bright blue wall.
The reviews here often use the term ‘dive bar’ liberally to include some of the world’s best drinking spots that might not, strictly speaking, be entirely divey, but Billymark’s West is the real deal. Its beauty is in the bare essentials it provides without fuss or frill, an authentic reflection of the people that frequent places like this one, clad in majestic, mind-aching blue.