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America Is Alive and Well at Paradise Alley

In “Dive” Leslie Pariseau explores the bars at far edge of popular nightlife. Up now: Paradise Alley, the Queens bar where everybody is treated like a local.

Paradise Alley is a 1978 box office flop written, directed by and starring Sylvester Stallone. It was a 1924 Broadway musical. It was the Beats’ nickname for an Alphabet City tenement in the 1950s. It’s also a 2002 novel by Kevin Baker about the 1863 Draft Riots in New York City. And it’s the name of a neighborhood bar in Murray Hill, a slice of Flushing that’s often referred to as the Koreatown of Queens.

The novel is the only one of these that seems to have been named for the original Paradise Alley, a rough-and-tumble lane in lower Manhattan along the East River during the days of Five Points, that’s since been replaced with housing projects. In its heyday, it was populated with Irish immigrants who had fled the potato famine. The Paradise Alley in Flushing is populated with a whole other generation of immigrants and children of immigrants, including Arthur Fitzmaurice, the Alley’s Irish-American co-owner and resident barkeep.

On a late summer Friday, the crowd at Paradise Alley is comprised, almost exclusively, of men drinking beer. On four massive televisions above the bar the Texas Rangers play the Houston Astros, the hometown Mets play the Pittsburgh Pirates, a women’s softball game is ramping up and the QuickDraw Lottery broadcasts numbers to lucky winners all over New York. Fitzmaurice is behind the bar settling Coronas into a bucket of ice (they come five to a $20 pail), and a DJ is setting up in the rear of the bar. The scene feels charmingly suburban and entirely American in a way that even the most low-key New York City locals’ bars do not; it runs along a well-worn everyday groove, bringing together a brew of citizens—Latino construction workers, Korean restaurant workers, off-duty firefighters—who would otherwise have little cause to operate in the same social spaces.

“It’s not usually like this,” says Fitzmaurice, gesturing to the DJ. “But it’s somebody’s birthday. I’d rather not say whose. Help yourself to some rigatoni and pizza.” Several metal pans emit steam and aromas of red sauce beneath a wooden silhouette cutout of two firefighters holding an American flag. It is, in fact, Fitzmaurice’s birthday. He is beloved by his patrons, and a handful of them have arranged for a party during his regular Friday night shift.

A group of Brooklynites who have been playing Dolly Parton and Journey on the digital jukebox sip beers and reminisce about their summers. “Did you know you can pay to get your song ahead of someone else’s?” one of them asks. “That’s capitalism,” says another. Someone from the DJ table interrupts, politely asking if there’s any way they might refrain from adding songs to the jukebox queue. Within a few minutes, the vibe is less golden oldies and more Friday night in Flushing. A couple of men salsa to early-aughts rap and a couple others take over the pool table. People mill between the leafy patio and the back corridor filled with digital poker and card games.

Step Inside Paradise Alley

“I’m American,” says Fitzmaurice. “But my people came through Ellis Island.” He has a soft, ruddy face and wispy, snow-colored hair. His people were Irish, like the residents of Manhattan’s Paradise Alley before, and they settled in the Bronx where Fitzmaurice and his three siblings grew up. Before Paradise Alley, he worked at another Flushing bar called Poets under an Irish firefighter and bookie named Billy O’Connor who has since retired to become a stand-up comedian and writer in Florida. “Those days were different. The neighborhood was rough. Filled with gangsters and thugs,” says Fitzmaurice.

Fitzmaurice and his brother bought Paradise Alley in 1993 from its original owners and kept its name. “There’s a rumor that Twisted Sister used to practice in the basement,” says Fitzmaurice. Since taking over, green Christmas lights have been strung up and a neon shamrock Budweiser sign hung. Another neon New York Jets sign has fizzled out. Chairs and booths are covered in dark green vinyl, and the floors tiled in green and white. A digital display keeps track of the legal drinking age: “You must have been born on or before July 27, 1997 10:47 p.m.”

Since 1993, the neighborhood has shifted starkly. Scattered around Northern Boulevard are some of the borough’s best Korean barbecue restaurants. Just south of the Alley is a Hindu Temple and west are Mongolian, Shanghainese, Cantonese and Hunan restaurants. Fitzmaurice recalls that with the arrival of the Asian population, the neighborhood became safer, cleaner. “You never know who’s going to show up. Some nights it’s all Hispanic men. Last Thursday, it was all Korean.”

In a city that’s become increasingly expensive and homogenized, aesthetically and culturally speaking, Paradise Alley feels like an oasis of New York camaraderie—a place reflective and welcoming of its neighborhood’s vibrant, shifting population. It sparks a bit of nostalgia for the Manhattan and Brooklyn watering holes of yore, while simultaneously stirring pride for a city that continually stretches and renews itself.

On this summer Friday night, America—the real, gracious, earnest America—is alive and well way out here in Queens. The Mets are still playing (and losing), the pizza slices are being properly folded in half and devoured, and the lotto is still announcing lucky winners. “We always thought the bar was named after the movie, the Stallone one,” says Fitzmaurice. “But the original owners came in about six or seven years ago, and told us it was named after a Chicago song. He went over to the jukebox, punched it in and played it for us.”

Brothers got to stick together here 
Fight with one, you fight with three
The family blood is thick as mud
Day to day the world keeps spinning
Paradise alley

Tip: A perfect post-Korean barbecue stop, Paradise Alley is low-key, friendly and cheap. Say hello to Fitzmaurice (he goes by Artie), flip through the jukebox for the 1979 Chicago album Chicago 13, and hit play on “Paradise Alley.” Paradise Alley | 4109 150th Street, Flushing, New York

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