New York Hangover
By Dylan Foley
With heroic photos of Vladimir Lenin and collective farms gracing the walls, New York's only
Irish-run subway bar is packing them in every night of the week, full of Soviet nostalgia and
The bar is called Siberia and is run by Damien Dillon, a 23-year-old from Birr, Co. Offaly. The
name comes from story that the old storefront the bar is in was a document drop-off spot in the
1950s for the KGB, the old Soviet spy agency. "This bar is really busy from seven in the
evening until 4 am," said Dillon, standing in front of a row of bottles of Russian vodka,
surveying his 400 square-foot domain.
Dillon, a budding hotel manager, came to New York several months ago after bouncing around the
States for three years. He met a politically connected Irish-American named Tracey
Westmoreland, who recruited him to run the bar. "Tracey told me the KGB history of the place
and I thought he was nuts. Then he showed me the rubles and old Soviet pictures he'd found in
Opening up a bar on the edge of Hell's Kitchen can have its difficult moments. Some of the
local roughnecks told Westmoreland, "Hey, Tracey, we'll help you out, no problem." "I told
them, 'I'd love your help, but this is going to be a gay bar,'" said Westmoreland, recounting
his big white lie. Two local men showed up a few nights later when Venus, a striking
transvestite was behind the stick.
"When the guys came in and ordered beers, Venus still had her shirt on," said Westmoreland.
"She then took it off, revealing a fur top." The toughs calmly finished drinking their beers.
One slammed a ten-dollar bill on the bar and said as they left, "Well, we won't be seeing you,
"This place is a safe place for a woman to come into," said Dillon, a soft-spoken man with
steady eyes. "We don't tolerate obnoxious drunks. We put them on the train going downtown,"
he said with a laugh. "Anyone who comes here should be comfortable -- Irish, black, white
straight or gay."
Siberia is in the busy 50th Street subway station, near Manhattan's business and theater
districts. Commuters flood by and some gawk at the out-of-place bar, wedged next to a Russian
barbershop and across from an Indian newsstand.
Siberia has caused a big stir in the media since it opened last Halloween. At present, it is
the only subway bar in New York, but also some of its most loyal customers work for the press.
The New York Post, Rupurt Murdoch's personal cudgel, has written two pieces already about the
place and seemingly has a reporter stationed at the bar at all hours of the day.
"We've been getting members of some well-known bands stopping by," said Dillon. "The women from
Luscious Jackson were here, filming something for MTV, and some of the Violent Fumes stopped
"That's 'Femmes'," said Westmoreland.
Though success has hit them like a tidal wave, it hasn't spoiled the lads yet. But plans for
the future are big. "We are going to open an 'old man's bar,'" said Westmoreland, "taking over
a local bar where old men hang out."
Dillon said the new place will improve on the formula for the Irish village bar: "It will be
like the kind of place where men sit around talking about cattle, except it will have lots of
Copyright 1997 All Rights Reserved Dylan Foley
This article may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the