McFadden's Restaurant and Saloon - Flushing, Queens
By Jay Fox
Brooklyn, NY, USA
Oh, the butcher and the baker and the people on the streets where did they go? To meet the Mets! – Meet the Mets
The New York Mets organization is punching bag of New York sports. It's not because they are a constant disappointment. It's not that they lack the resources and talent to put together a good team. It's not that they always lose. Sometimes they end the season with a record that's better than that of the Yankees. Sometimes they have more wins than losses. Sometimes they make it to October. Sometimes they win the pennant. Sometimes they even win the World Series.
The Mets are not the worst team in baseball. While they did have the worst season in MLB history, they have been crowned as champions more times than the Anaheim Angels despite the fact that the Angles played their first season in 1961—a year before the disastrous debut of the New York Metropolitans. And while the Mets' number of World Series titles is modest at only two, it is worth pointing out that that is no different than the number of championships claimed by the Philadelphia Phillies, a team that has been around for forty-five years longer than sliced bread.
All teams have droughts and all teams occasionally choke, but the popular perception of the Mets is that they are the epitome of the loser. Their failures and shortcomings are expected by New Yorkers. It is not just because they have to play second fiddle to the Yankees; there seems to be a real belief that they are just doomed to be terrible. According to legend, they only proved capable of winning the World Series because of supernatural forces that worked in their favor. In 1969, it was myriad instances of divine intervention (the Miracle Mets); in 1986, it was the Curse of the Bambino that caused Billy Buckner to miss a routine grounder, thereby allowing the Mets to win.
Even the papers in their hometown have adopted this belief. When the Yankees win two in a row, but are in dead last place, they're treated like the pride of the city. Should the Mets lose one game, but retain the best record in baseball, readers of the Post and the Daily News get the impression that the streets of Manhattan are filled with people waiting in lines to toss their Mets memorabilia onto bonfires to avoid the embarrassment of being associated with such a pack of bums.
Back when I was very young, long before I moved to the city, I perceived this disdain all the way from Detroit. In fact, I thought that the Mets were similar to the California Angels. Whereas the Yankees were the team for the city, I assumed the Mets were the team for the rest of the state of New York. That explained why no one in New York City really cared for them—they were from upstate.
Even though this is ridiculous, it almost seems true. The Yankees are a New York City institution, but the Mets are not. Even the songs that play at their ballparks clearly illustrate this point. When the Yankees win, Sinatra sings "New York, New York." When the Mets win, the handful of fans at the stadium hear "Takin' Care of Business," a tune by Winnipeg's own Bachman Turner Overdrive.
There are legitimate reasons why New Yorkers were not quick to embrace the Mets, but that's not the point of this brief story. The point is that popular imagination says that New York City's team is the Yankees, and that the Mets are just a baseball team based in Queens. In other words, the Mets have a geographical connection to the city, while the Yankees have both a geographical and a cultural connection to it. The Yankees organization embodies the glamour of New York life, and to knock it is to knock the most exaggerated illusions the Big Apple has with regards to itself.
While a Yankees fan would have no problem saying something along the lines of, "The Yankees are New York," few, if any, Mets fans would say the same of their team. This is odd when one considers the types of experiences that one has when going to a Yankees game as opposed to going to a Mets game.
Going to a Yankee game means taking your pick of one of three express trains. For a tourist, you may feel as though the MTA is actively trying to make your life more convenient. You will notice that at least half of the other people on the train are wearing apparel branded with the iconic Yankees logo. Once you get to the stadium, you will feel as though you are about to enjoy a necessary component of any trip to New York City. As you wait in line for food and beer inside, you will gripe with locals about the price of the sausages and the Heinekens. The fans will taunt a guy in a Red Sox hat who has come into the stadium with his Red Sox hat even though the Red Sox are not playing in the stadium. At least half of the people in attendance will spend close to 90% of the time on their phones. When you leave, you'll be able to hop on another express train back to Manhattan. You will be able to anticipate being back in your Midtown hotel room within twenty or thirty minutes.
It's the type of thing that's straight out of a guidebook. It's not inauthentic. It just appeals to a lifestyle that few people who live in New York City get to experience on a regular basis. It is the celebration of an idealized New York.
Going to a Mets game can be a little different.
If you're trying to get to Citi Field for a game that does not overlap with regularly scheduled express trains, your only option from Midtown Manhattan will be the local 7 train (also known as the International Line). There will be track work, which means delays. The sign explaining how the aforementioned delays effect you will be conveniently posted, but the language on the sign will not be English. Once you board the correct train, you will begin your painfully slow passage through Queens. You will get the opportunity to hear arguments in no less than thirty different languages, many of them specific to extremely tiny provinces in China, Vietnam and Cambodia. If there is a sick passenger (and there will be at least one), you will have to exit the train somewhere in Woodside or Jackson Heights, wait on a platform, and then board the next 7 train. The train will now be overcrowded, and the number of languages you will hear may exceed fifty. You will notice very few Mets hats, jerseys or shirts. You will breathe in air saturated with the breath and musk of hundreds of others surrounding you as the train jerks around every turn and minor curve in track. Abrupt stops will send human dominoes tumbling in all directions. Someone will have a bag that ostensibly contains food, but it won't smell like food.
For a tourist, you may begin to feel as though the MTA is run by a group of greedy and corrupt sons of bitches, and that forces stronger than either ethical duty or historical necessity are compelling you to organize, and to then violently oust this group of parasites in order to usher in a straphanger's utopia. In other words, you'll feel like just about every commuter coming into Manhattan from either Brooklyn or Queens during the morning rush. Try not to take it out on the conductor.
Once you get out of the train, you will find yourself in a vast parking lot within close proximity to the airport. You will question why the hell you came all this way just to see a baseball game in a stadium that, while admittedly very nice, does not have any historical aura surrounding it. Once you get inside, you will find that you do not have to drink shitty beer. You will find that the food options are rather sophisticated. Though these consumables are expensive, you will not feel like you're being totally ripped off. Most of the fans will try to keep their young children interested in the game. Before you leave, you will desperately try to find a place to go for one more drink because the idea of taking the train back to Manhattan sounds absolutely awful. You will feel like just about every commuter considering a happy hour drink in Manhattan prior to taking the train back to either Brooklyn or Queens during the evening rush.
While there is no cure for this sense of dread, there is a place to delay the inevitable. To the very back of the stadium, down the stairs leading to 126th Street, you'll find McFadden's Restaurant & Saloon (36-2 126th Street).
McFadden's is, in some ways, similar to the Mets. It couldn't exist anywhere else, but it's not the type of place that a tourist would go out of the way to visit. It isn't an institution. It isn't the type of place that someone showing you what New York City is like on the Travel Channel would pick out, either. You can make fun of it, too. There are people from Jersey and Long Island pumping their fists to Bon Jovi while slugging Coors Lights, even if it's only four in the afternoon on a Sunday. However, there's also longtime Mets fans quietly doubting the dominance of deGrom over bottles of 60 Minute IPA and Brooklyn Lager. This menagerie is the New York City that you come to take for granted after you've been here for a few years. You simply can't imagine this city without it.
This is precisely why places like McFadden's are integral to this city. McFadden's is the mortar of New York. It's like a brownstone in Crown Heights, a row house in Elmhurst or a tenement building in the South Bronx. It's the part of no-part—the fabric that defines New York more so than the tourist attractions like Yankee Stadium, the Empire State Building or any number of museums ever will.