Not since Zack Morris has a name been so often associated with the word preppy than Dorrian’s Red Hand, an unabashedly anti-hip bar on 84th Street and Second Avenue.
Dorrian’s became notorious during the investigation that led to the conviction of so-called "preppy killer" Robert Chambers, a Dorrian’s patron, in 1988. But, for a close-knit cadre of boarding school-educated, liberal arts degree-toting young professionals, living uptown and toiling away at investment banks, PR firms, auction houses and the like, it is better known as "Club D."
In a city where neighborhood haunts morph into velvet-roped nightspots or are gobbled up by Duane Reade in the blink of an eye, the dark wood, red-checkered interior of Dorrian’s has changed very little over the past decade, though it looks like they are doing some sort of renovation at the moment.
It’s an Upper East Side watering hole where twenty-something men wear madras shorts, pastel polo shirts, and rainbow flip-flops with pride-as well as without offending the sensibilities of their female cohorts perched expectantly on bar stools on any given night, twisting their pearl studs, with practiced nonchalance.
One hedge-funder, who used to frequent Dorrian’s about 10 years ago, remembered baseball caps being verboten and collared shirts required for men. Even the burly long-time bouncer at Dorrian’s wears Nantucket reds (alongside a solitary diamond stud), while skeptically scanning the ID’s of each and every entrant.
With September approaching, a new crop of recent college grads will attempt to make their marks on New York City by day and, undoubtedly, on other grads at Dorrian’s by night.
Though other bars have tried to break Dorrian’s grip on the preppy, post-collegiate market, it is still the bar that Celia, a 26-year-old Trinity College graduate, returns to when she wants to "run into people she knows."
Towards 11 last Wednesday night, she shared a smoke with a fellow alum outside, while a half-dozen of their former classmates from "Camp Trin-Trin" gathered around a red-checkered table for an impromptu reunion. The same group, give or take a few, used to descend on Dorrian’s during weekend jaunts to the city. Now that they are all installed in Manhattan full-time, they still pass by a few times a year.
"I come to run into people I know," Celia said. "It’s my cheers if you will."
"I come here to see the ultra-WASP-y crowd in New York," her male friend said. "If I were single, I would come here to find girls to hook up with," he said.
Celia countered: "As a girl I would not come here to hook up with a guy for just that reason."
Dorrian’s reputation as a pick-up spot is well-deserved, judging by the looks of the single patrons milling about. This reputation partly drew a band of four suited, younger-looking guys based in Boston and Minneapolis to visit Dorrian’s for the first time on Wednesday.
"I came to see the place where the preppy killer was," said one, who looked too young to have been alive 22 years ago.
"Also we came to meet some preppy girls," his friend said.
"But there are none here so we’ll come back tomorrow," said another.
MORE CIVILIZED COURTSHIPS CAN also thrive amid the bluster and beer. One tanned, blond 26-year-old guy, wearing a blazer with a folded handkerchief peaking out of his breast pocket had just come from a date with a girl who worked at the jewelry department of a Manhattan auction house. She had slipped a pink calling card with her phone number in his lapel a week earlier, so he took her to drinks at the Museum of Modern Art. He was not sure if there would be a follow-up date.
"At the moment, magic eight ball says no," he joked. "Do I have any Dorrian’s memories," he mulled when asked. "I feel like they disappear as soon as they happen. When I wake up I think I had fun the night before, and then I reconfirm it with other people."
Self-described panhandler Claude Miles–"with a big M"–has been working the corner of 84th and Second every night for the last month and half, since he got in a fight with his wife and moved out of their home.
"I came down and stopped at Elaine’s and there was nothing happening," he recalled on a recent Wednesday night. "Everybody there were snobs, noses up in the air," Mr. Miles said, mimicking a look of disdain.
So Mr. Miles wandered a few blocks downtown to Dorrian’s, where the "people are more real" and has been there every night since, earning about $30 to $40 on weekend nights and $25 to $30 on weeknights.
"I’ve been to a lot of places, and there’s no place like Dorrian’s," he said. "The best thing about Dorrian’s is that they’ve got a pretty good class of people. … If they can help you they can’t they’ll say not, they won’t just walk away.
"The bouncers don’t disrespect you like some places that want to call you all sorts of–," Mr. Miles demurred. "Excuse my language, I’m going to say buttheads. It’s a great place. One of the best."
"Most of them are white and young. … I notice how preppy they are. But these are good kids. It’s one thing to be preppy and be a shithead, excuse my language. But these guys are good kids."
Another male patron, 26, said he comes to Dorrian’s about three or four times a year to relive memories from college. "Christmastime during college was the most fun," he remembered. "You’ve branched out and you go to lots of other places, but at the end of the day what makes Dorrian’s different is that you came here when you were younger. You come back here and it’s almost…," he trailed off, "nostalgic."