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OK, Doug. What's the most rank item and, therefore, the winner of the smoky bar quest?
"They're all pretty bad, but I thought this was the worst, maybe because it was the first," he said, pointing to the sweater from Buzzard. "And this," he said, gesturing toward the scarf from Chez Charlie, "was probably the worst without it being the first."
Doug's bloodhound nose didn't fail him. After a couple of months of research, I had come to the same finalists.
Now to pick a winner.
A few weeks later, after coming off a particularly vicious head cold, I walked into Buzzard Beach for a midweek, midafternoon, 75-cent Bud Light draw. During the day, the place is pleasant, almost like a fern bar. The weak winter sun filtered through the skylights, and a newspaper sat on a table for patrons to peruse.
On that afternoon, six people sat at the upstairs bar. At one end were the service-industry folks, discussing bar fights they'd gotten into, and at the other were the grizzled regulars reading the paper. Everyone had a cigarette in hand. I ordered my drink, sat at the bar and noted that the pungent smoke smell still penetrated my sinus congestion.
Earlier that day, I had spent $5 on a trophy from All Star Awards on 39th Street, a lovely, discontinued model of a gold-colored basketball player atop a luridly shiny American-flag-patterned pillar. I then glued a cigarette to the figure's free hand. After downing my beer, I got the attention of bartender Scotty Rex.
I explained that Buzzard had won the Pitch's first and possibly only Smokiest Bar Award.
"I wouldn't disagree," he said with a small, snorting laugh. He lit a cigarette, posed for a picture with the trophy, then put it on top of a cash register. But not before my bar-stool neighbor admired it.
"A basketball in one hand and a Pall Mall in the other," he marveled.
And with nonhack-ridden bated breath, all I can do now is wait for the City Council to make some sort of decision.
Enjoy that victory cigarette while you still can.