The Pictures of Dorian Gray

In the East Village of New York City there is a bar called Dorian Gray and this week I made my inaugural visit. 

It styles itself as Simple, Cheery, and Charming—which it is, and that will have to suffice as a review as I was only there long enough for one drink. And therein lies a tale.

I had heard about the award-winning Guinness, the excellence of the Sunday brunch, and the welcome on the mat, but this was a windy Wednesday weekday at two in the afternoon and the doors were closed.

As my companion and I had just walked for an hour to get there I decided that a little judicious Dorian door-rattling was justified, and, with the luck of the Irish, we managed to scare up the barman from the inky interior just as he was “about to open up” anyway.

The barman turned out be Jesse, an affable budding musician from Oregon, newly minted in the big Apple, who informed us the chef doesn’t start until four o’clock. No matter, we said. Then we’ll just have a drink.

After only a little thoughtful perusal of the bar, and for sadly predictable reasons, I desperately wanted to order a pitcher of Dorian Gray.

I was rather pleased with this idea, not only because a pitcher of Dorian Gray would be the perfect addition to the beer menu, but also because it would epitomize that elusive locution: a pun that never gets old.

However, as we still had Lillie’s (named for Lillie Langtry) and the new Oscar Wilde Bar ahead of us, I did not not want our literary pub crawl to become literally a pub crawl, so I ordered a pint of the Amber instead, obviously influenced subliminally by the color of the Dor-mat.

Amber Dor—mat
The pictures of Dorian Gray

It was then that the tradition of ye olde pub challenge came up, the ritual being that anyone who can name 15 of the assorted literary faces who adorn the exposed brick walls gets a free drink.

I don’t know what the record is but the regular clientele, presumably comp-sci undergrads from nearby NYU, often fall short. Locals discount the anomalous score of 43 achieved by an English-Lit professor as an unlawful act with knowledge aforethought. I, being somewhere betwixt, thought I could name the required 15.

I immediately cinched the canonical: Joyce, Twain, Whitman, even Shakespeare (pah!); coped with the challenge of Longfellow, Alcott, Dickinson and the like; and then after circling the saloon several times finally clinched the quaff with Samuel Beckett.

The amber nectar tasted all the better for the achievement, and we moved on to waterholes uptown (and that’s another story) but not before deciding to make Dorian Gray, and its ghosts of literature past, a regular haunt.

Another picture of Dorian Gray

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John Cooper

John Cooper is a independent scholar who has spent 30 years in the study of Oscar Wilde. He is a long-standing member of the Oscar Wilde Society, a founding member of the Oscar Wilde Society of America, and a former manager of the Victorian Society In America. For the last 20 years Cooper has specialised in Wilde’s 1882 lecture tour becoming a consultant on Wilde’s American experience to biographers and the wider media. Cooper lectures on Wilde and has conducted new and unique research into Oscar Wilde visits to New York culminating in a guided walking tour. Online he is a popular blogger and the creator of the noncommercial archive 'Oscar Wilde in America’ which incorporates his work on the Sarony photographs, and a detailed documentary verification of Wilde’s American lecture tour. In 2012 Cooper rediscovered Wilde's essay The Philosophy Of Dress that forms the centerpiece to his book Oscar Wilde On Dress (2013).

5 thoughts on “The Pictures of Dorian Gray”

  1. Excellent pun, John. Wish I could join you for that pitcher. When the beer is out of the pitcher does it taste really bad?


    1. I enjoyed a Sunday brunch there a week or so before and have to say I was pleased with the menu and good service. Thanks for revealing some of the names of those who hanged on their Dorian Hall of Fame.


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