Keep an eye out for the beer neon, the awning and the step down instead of a map pin.
That an almost perfect New York City dive bar named Blue & Gold Tavern can be found in the city’s Ukrainian Village should come as no surprise, the name reflecting the famous colors of the Ukrainian flag. Opened in 1958 by the Roscishewsky family, Blue & Gold Tavern is a neighborhood institution and family-owned legacy, the grandson of those original owners the current owner and operator of the building and bar.
As with any building in New York, the history of Blue & Gold’s plot of land runs deep and a fascinating retelling of it can be read here, a history marked with bootlegging, suspect prescription writing and a stabbing or two. The Slovak Welfare Club took residence of the building’s current footprint in 1946, naming the bar on the first floor Tatra after the Slovakian mountain range. And though the Ukranian population that flocked to the area after World War II had dipped in the subsequent years, Blue & Gold Tavern certainly found an audience, a phenomenon that thankfully remains true today.
Mercifully, and in the best possible way, the building still looks and feels like it wears the weight of its history in today’s incarnation of the space. Outside, a slight step down from street level creates that sense of sneaking into a friend’s basement for an after-hours beer, a feeling that accentuates the ground floor brick entrance. There is no blaring neon sign here to mark the New York dive bar, but rather a simple sign on the end of a long and ancient awning, the entire contraption ringed in Christmas lights. Some bar neon in the window provides further hint as to the contents inside, a Ukranian flag in one window a reminder of the neighborhood’s heritage.
The classic New York dive bar vibe can be found inside, tight quarters, well-aged woodwork, a long illuminated bar counter. The immediately recognizable signature feature of the Blue & Gold Tavern is seen to the right upon entry, the faded wood panels that run the length of this wall inscribed with what look to be very, very old depictions of village life. These amazing wood panels feature ancient wooden booths beneath them, hard wood benches that look like they might have been carved by the Slovak Warfare Club include short wooden extensions from the wall.
The bar itself contains a sporadic assortment of stapled monetary bills from the world, but they quickly give way to a simple selection of glassware and house liquor, all of it under a chalkboard that features rotating beer and cocktail offerings. The selection here is certainly friendly to dive bar domestic beer drinkers, but extends well beyond that, top shelf liquor at reasonable prices mixed in with cocktail suggestions. Large bulb Christmas lights set the vibe around the bar area, accentuated by spot and rope lighting throughout the space that throws the light on the ceiling to cascade down, a great plan to create a warm environment in an ancient building.
Toward the back of the bar, a pool table, but more interestingly, a set of nooks and crannies that provide a bit of bench seating as well as home to quite a few books, an unexpected dive bar library feeling nestled behind the booths and bar up front. Framed black & white photos of days and patrons past line one booth, vinyl records and paperback books taking up residence along an adjacent wall. Paired with the floor, all of the wood features in Blue & Gold Tavern look like they could have been carved a single time from some gigantic piece of wood, forever cemented together. Though that is clearly not the case, the cohesive and aged ambiance is unmistakable and certainly in line with expectations that come from drinking in such a historic part of New York City.
The bathrooms certainly contain the requisite amount of dive bar graffiti, but they’ve been updated over the years, matching some of the renovations within the space that have very clearly been executed to only add to the dive bar authenticity rather than paper over it. And that authenticity extends to the CD-based jukebox just inside the front door, set on free play during this reviewer’s visit and stocked with classic rock give or take a couple decades.
It should come as no surprise that Blue & Gold Tavern offers a classic New York dive bar experience given the neighborhood, the history, the building and the name. This is a Ukrainian Village staple that has persevered for decades through a pandemic and everything else, supported by devoted regulars that have made the dive bar a family-owned, New York City tradition.