Country in the City: Rodeo Bar, NYC

When I made my first visit to New York City in May 2014, I was hoping not just to soak up the atmosphere in this incredibly famous city, but also to experience some other aspects of Americana that are of great interest to me. Southern culture is a key part my fascination with the United States, so it was with great excitement that on my first evening in the US, I headed to the Rodeo Bar, an NYC institution, having been open for 27 years.

I walked onto 3rd Ave and there it was:

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Upon entering, I sat down at the bar and ordered a beer and immediately I found myself in a friendly environment. Within minutes, I was talking about BBQ with a couple from Alabama and chatting to the friendly barmaid. A beer and a bourbon later and I made my way to the back room, where a band was playing covers of songs by the likes of Hank Williams. As I sipped bourbon in a darkly lit room while a country music band played, I could have been in a small town somewhere down South. It was hard to believe I was in the heart of one of the world’s greatest cities. The atmosphere was fantastic and I had one of the best nights of my life.

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Sadly, two months after I visited, Rodeo Bar was no more, having fallen victim to rent increases and changes in the neighbourhood, which left little room for what the New York Times described as ‘Rodeo Bar’s signature mix of country trim, Southern food and an appreciation for banjos plucked without irony’.

Southern Food in Chicago: Coco’s on S. Clark St.

‘Coco’s Famous Deep Fried Lobster’ is a small counter-serve place in the Chicago Loop, where, as the Chicago Tribune puts it, ‘the menu reads like a heartsick Southerner’s homecoming’.

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Coco’s is situated on a particularly unglamorous street and is sandwiched between a pawn shop on one side and a liquor store and a flophouse on the other. Across the street is a United States federal prison facility.

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However, I wasn’t there for the sightseeing and the food more than made up for the uninspiring surroundings. Besides, the restaurant itself was clean and a pleasant place to be. In fact, Coco’s was so good that I ate there twice during my May 2015 trip to Chicago.

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Unlike many fast food places, Coco’s do everything themselves. Their main courses are made to order, not taken from underneath heat lamps, their cornbread is made fresh each morning, and the sides are all made on site. During my visits there, I enjoyed excellent – and large – fried catfish fillets, amazing spicy and juicy fried chicken, intense macaroni and cheese, smoky collard greens cooked with ham hocks, rice and beans, cornbread, hot sauce for dipping, and Southern-style sweet tea to drink.

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If you find yourself in Chicago and you’re craving a taste of the South, head on over to Coco’s. You won’t regret it!