The Stoneleigh P's red neon sign serves as a beacon for those driving by. It also casts half the ambient light inside the bar, echoed in the burgundy painted walls. The televisions show the baseball game but not many are watching; the jukebox is filling the space with a mix of '70s pop.
Two cooks in an open kitchen casually glance up at the screen between flipping burgers and chopping ingredients. They man the standard minimalist bar food setup: a six-burner stove, two-basket fryer and your choice of an open or flat top grill depending on the menu you want to drive. Stoneleigh's is an open grill, and the burgers boast the requisite char.
Order nachos with fajita beef and one of the cooks will turn from the game, pull two small strips of blood red beef from the reach-in fridge and toss them on the heat. The steak is limp at first, but then fat starts to render and juices flow, dropping to the gas burner below and bringing the grill to life with spits of flame and smoke.
Mike Shropshire's not here. He hasn't been each time I come and ask the bartender if the man with a burger named after him, who used to write sports, still drinks at the bar. Turns out Shropshire is a daytime drinker these days, and he's still in often.
Back in the kitchen the knock knock knock of a heavy knife on a plastic cutting board signals my steak is done. The cook sprinkles the tiny, chewy morsels over a composed plate of nachos dressed in black beans and then adds cheese in excess, working on hot plate that's shoved in the oven. Minutes later they're ready.
Weekdays at the P are quiet, patronized by the regulars who keep the place afloat when the hotel across the street isn't full. Occupancy at the Stoneleigh Hotel is the best indicator for business to come at the Stoneleigh P on any given night. When the hotel is full, guests who want a drink at a watering hole that's a little more rustic than the polished brass of their hotel bar pour across the street and order cheap beer and whiskey and Cokes. Tonight the bar is filled with out-of-town football fans priming their weekend with Thursday night booze.
Weekends are always busy. The youthful uptown crowd descend en masse with starched button-down shirts and strappy heels, filling the tables and booths and gathering in a gaggle in front of the bar, changing the tone of the space from neighborhood haunt to trendy dive bar.
In the ninth inning, errant cheers signal a crowd that would prefer the Rangers play Detroit at home, versus the Yankees away. They've gotten their wish and I've gotten mine: a decent plate of nachos, an ice cold beer and a bar that doesn't suck, in walking distance from my home.