New York Bar, an expat watering hole, passes into history

Héctor Vega Zuñiga, an eight-year employee of the New York Bar, is helping owner Richard Arthur sell the fixtures. He is well-known to expats as a bouncer, guard and a sometimes nursemaid to inebriated customers. He would often get a taxi for those under the weather. Photo: A.M. Costa Rica staff

The bar, operated by Richard Arthur, held a final night party Wednesday. The fixtures were up for sale Thursday.

Arthur, like many downtown business people, has experienced financial pressures lately. There are fewer tourists and expats roaming the downtown streets. And there is strong competition from places like Belén that hardly counted a few years ago

The New York, in its latest location since 2002, featured a small balcony with a clear view of Calle 9 from Avenida 1 on the north and the downtown pedestrian mall on the south. For years, the New York was on Avenida 1, but the Del Rey hotel took over that location in 2002, forcing the bar to move.

For five years at the previous location the New York Bar was operated by businessman Pat Dunn and his associate Michael Yafarano. That location was as wide as a rail car but gained legendary status particularly during the years that the Villalobos Brothers were fueling Gringo excesses with their 3 percent-a-month borrowing operation. That ended in 2002. Many tourists or expats still cherish the memories.

The new location was about four times as large as the old New York Bar but some say it lacked the cozy feeling.

Sign announces final party and swinging doors are stilled. Photo: A.M. Costa Rica

Expats are mourning the death of the New York Bar, an institution in downtown San José for 36 years.

The New York, like most of the downtown Gringo bars was a place where tourists and expats met professional women. Lately even that occupational category seems to have moved in the direction of the Pacific beaches.

The bar business is labor intensive, and operators have to pay a number of government fees. There is the social security charges levied on employee salaries each month and comprehensive insurance. In December most business people had to pay the annual aguinaldo, an extra month’s pay to employees as a Christmas bonus. Bar operators also are targets of predatory government inspectors who frequently find real or imaginary violations.

The price of beer has gone up, exerting more pressure on bars that deal with expats on fixed incomes.

Longtime residents remember a litany of defunct nightspots in what is known as Gringo Gulch. There is the Nashville, the Piano Bar, The Beatle Bar, and Sharkey’s (both operated where the New York last stood), the more distant Park Hotel, and an assortment of strip clubs and watering holes.

The area still is perking with four casinos and their associated bars and restaurants. But the go-go days when overly generous Villalobos customers would drop $2,000 to $3,000 a night on wine women and song have passed into history along with the New York Bar.

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