When I found a New York country bar three years ago I knew I could make this city home, because the only real positive connection I have to my childhood is country music. It’s one of the few constant things that have defined me my whole life and one of the only things I’ve inherited from my family. I got my first pair of cowboy boots when I learned to walk, and I danced around the kitchen using a mop as a microphone, singing along to the Judd’s farewell tour cassette tape with my sisters until it wouldn’t play anymore.
While other kids were watching Disney movies, I was watching Coal Miner’s Daughter on repeat. I used to ride in the bed of my grandpa’s pickup truck, with his Camel Country radio station sticker on the back and the middle window slid open, while my sisters and I sang along to every single song on the radio.
When I moved to New York City back in 2014, the first thing I had shipped to me from the few boxes I had stored away at my sisters was my cowboy boots. In the last fives years, I’ve worn out and had the soles replaced on them twice, clinging to them like a baby blanket. It was all I could do to make this hectic city feel like mine. That was until I found my home away from home at The Waylon Bar in Hell’s Kitchen.
In a league of it’s own.
When I was putting together my list of favorite midtown bars to eventually put in a blog post, The Waylon went right at the top. But it didn’t really seem right to put it on a list with other bars in the neighborhood, especially given the word count I could devote to this particular bar. Even though it feels a tiny bit strange to write a blog post about a bar that I work at, it really does deserve it’s own spotlight.
This isn’t shameless promotion or a way to suck up to my bosses (I swear); it’s just straight up, hands down my favorite bar in the city. And it was my favorite bar before I ever started working there.
Every night I used to go in after I would finish with my other bar job in the neighborhood. I would put my $5 in the Jukebox, sip my Jack & Coke and listen to the only songs that made me feel connected to this big crazy city. I got to know the bartenders, the regulars and the managers, as you tend to do when you’re a nightly fixture, and ending up behind the bar only seemed natural.
This New York country bar is the real deal.
To find an authentic country music bar anywhere in the world can be difficult to do. Even in a city like Nashville, country music is now synonymous with Florida Georgia Line and Carrie Underwood. I’ll pause for a second to say that when iconic Nashville bars like Tootsies are closing the night with Blink 182’s “All the Small Things” (an actual real thing that happened to me while I was there), I find myself wondering what the hell happened to Country music.
Before I offend any of their fans, I want to say that I DO LIKE Carrie Underwood. And there are those couple catchy Florida Georgia Line songs that you might find me singing along to. But I have to ask…where are Loretta Lynn and Merle Haggard fitting into what I deem to be the greatest music in the world? You may not find them on mainstream radio much anymore, but you absolutely will at the Waylon.
When I first found the Waylon I was specifically looking for a country bar in New York City. At the time I wasn’t even sure that one existed. I found so much more than that. And I want to tell you all the reasons you will love this bar as much as I do.
All of the Country Music in this bar.
Country music is at the forefront of what this bar is about and it shows up everywhere you look. The walls are cluttered with memorabilia of old outlaw legends like Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and (obviously) Waylon Jennings – just to name a few. It’s designed to look like an old Texas saloon and no detail goes unnoticed. Everything from the custom vintage ceiling fans to the old railroad track being used as a foot rest at the bar brings the country right to the center of the city.
My forever favorite part of the bar is the Jukebox that just plays country music. It was probably the one thing that kept me tethered to the bar before I actually started working there. I still can’t help but throw in a few bucks when I’m drinking to provide the bar’s soundtrack for awhile. There’s classics in there like Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash, and new artists like Miranda Lambert and Zac Brown Band.
If you ever walk into a country music bar and there is anything other than country music on the jukebox, walk right out.
The best backyard in Hell’s Kitchen.
A few weeks ago on one of the first really nice days of Spring, I ran into a regular at the bar on my day off. He laughed a little about me being there when I wasn’t working. I guess it makes sense that most people don’t want to spend their free time at the place they work, but it’s not unusual for me.
Of course I had to explain to him that it’s my favorite bar in New York City. But also that I just couldn’t stay away from the backyard. I never get to enjoy the patio while I’m working and it is probably at the top of the list of reasons I love the Waylon so much. It is a nice escape from the hectic streets of midtown. I love relaxing back there, writing a little on my laptop or having a drink and hanging out with friends.
Every summer there’s a few backyard BBQ’s that bring the entire neighborhood together. Anyone who stumbles into the bar unknowingly while these parties are happening will get sucked into the overwhelming sense of community. Every time I’m fully immersed in a plate of Mac & Cheese or a plastic pint of something poured from a backyard keg I’m reminded that you don’t need to live in a small town to get a dose of welcoming and hospitable southern charm. You just need to spend some time at The Waylon.
It’s normally in these moments when I realize that New York’s little neighborhoods are just slightly enhanced small towns. They are full of adoptive families who came together in this crazy city.
It just further reiterates how much I love New York.
Live Country Music.
You can find me almost every Thursday night after my shift ends, sitting at the bar with my Westbrook Gose listening to Bobby McGrath play some amazing country music. I usually intend to stay for a few songs and just one beer. However, I am constantly sucked into one song after another because the band is really that good.
Bobby’s not the only act you’ll see at The Waylon though and I love to watch whoever is playing. Just last Saturday I stayed late to catch The Bookhouse Boys. It was probably the most fun I’ve had out listening to a band ever, including concerts I’ve actually paid for. I’ve never seen a band live who literally played every song I didn’t know I wanted to hear. They even played songs I forgot existed.
The Waylon really does stay true to an authentic country bar, and they’re in New York of all places. You can regularly find some insanely talented local bands putting on a great show.
Go Pack Go!
I used to hate football, like really hate it. I’m not a big sports fan by nature anyway, but after you’ve worked in a few sports bars with multiple football games on and people yelling at different TVs for different reasons, you really get to see the ugly side of sports. But then I started working at The Waylon which happens to be a Green Bay Packer’s bar.
I started my first football season behind the bar annoyed at the game and indifferent towards the team. It didn’t take long though for me to get sucked in to the roller coaster of emotions that go along with watching a team’s entire season from beginning to end. I’m not an expert but I would go as far as saying this was one of the best seasons to watch the Packer’s play for the first time.
It was three years ago. The season of Aaron Rodgers throwing three Hail Mary’s and squeezing into the playoffs at the last minute. I stared at the TV with a bar full of people, a complete hush over a normally loud environment. I watched until each Hail Mary pass was complete and every single person in the bar lost their minds. Three times. After that I was all in. I look forward to every Sunday during football season when I get to see the same faces show up.
Wednesday Night Trivia.
We have the best Trivia night in New York City, hands down. Yes, I said it and I meant it.
Every Wednesday I get to feel incredibly stupid for a few hours while one of the most fun and difficult trivia nights in the city happens. Sure you can find a trivia night at almost every bar in New York City. I promise there is no host quite as dynamic as Austin. Even before he had his long winning streak on Jeapordy! and turned into a minor celebrity he was filling up The Waylon every week with his brutally hard questions.
I don’t officially play while I’m working, but I am still always tuned into the questions hoping there is a handful that I know. And I always feel really smart when I do. Even though his questions are terrifyingly hard and he never quite lets up on the hilarious verbal abuse, he has a very regular crowd that keeps coming back for more.
But seriously, it’s home.
The Waylon country bar has been with me through almost my entire time in New York City and I don’t ever see it not being a part of my life. I know it probably sounds a little lame, but it has been a huge part of what this city means to me and who this city has turned me into.
I’ve had some of the most fun I’ve had anywhere in the world behind those doors. It has been the spot of multiple birthday celebrations, reunions with people visiting from out of town, long drunken talks with my best friends, loud sing alongs with the jukebox, and the site of many nights I just needed to sit by myself and drink away a problem or two.
It’s seen every mood I’ve ever been in – good and bad. It’s seen me at my most dressed up and my most hungover, dreading my shift, when I could barely make it out of bed to show up makeup-less and open the doors. It is the first place I suggest to meet for drinks and even when I don’t mean to I find myself drawn to it anytime I’m in the neighborhood.