by Sarah McCully

It’s easy to feel welcome at Bob’s Your Uncle. I’ll admit to some bias here; it’s been my regular bar since moving to the area four years ago. I head inside on a cold and rainy Saturday afternoon to meet with some longtime bartenders, and pull up a stool at the end of the bar as I wait for their shifts to start. Inside, it’s warm and colorful from the festive decorations around the place: lights and garlands on the walls, ribbons in the windows, and a huge evergreen laden with ornaments. 

When Fred Rice walks in, he’s greeted by a slew of regulars on his way to the bar. Rice, an accomplished voice actor and performer, has worked here since February 2020, in hindsight a strange time to begin working at a bar. Despite the “sucker punch of the next two years,” Rice stuck around. He says that Bob’s Your Uncle has a unique connection to its local community.

“For a neighborhood bar, a sense of community is important,” he says. “Not every place has that.” Rice would know. He’s worked in bars across the city for nearly 20 years, including in restaurants with celebrity chefs and Michelin stars. But Bob’s seems to have all the right elements. 

“The owners did a wonderful job of setting it up as part of the community and neighborhood,” he says, pointing to the slew of events and classes that have taken place here over the years. In recent memory, those have included yoga classes, paint and sip nights, a gallery exhibition by a local artist, and even monthly shuffleboard tournaments.

Rice is soon joined behind the bar by Chelsea Cooksey, who was actually the very first employee hired when the bar opened in May 2015. “I was in the process of looking for something new,” she explains, and had met owner Danielle Savin once or twice when she tended bar at another place in the West 80s. “At that time [during the opening], they only hired people that they knew. It was important to have folks they could trust.”

It was a slow start for the bar, which saw many empty nights at first. “But a few key regulars started coming in to support us,” Cooksey reminisces. It was the community’s embrace that finally turned the tide. “They got us up and running, and turned us into a bar.”

Bob’s is located at 929 Columbus Avenue, part of a row of nearly identical 1890 apartment buildings designed by Cleverdon & Putzel. It’s nestled within the Manhattan Valley neighborhood, known for being a more diverse and affordable pocket of the Upper West Side. Rice himself lived in the area for several years before coming to Bob’s. When he was deciding to move here, he spent some time walking around the streets to get a feel for the neighborhood. “Every person I made eye contact with smiled,” he remembers fondly. “In New York City, that’s not a thing.”

A bar regular chimes in to agree. “I’ve only had four apartments in 30 years, and this is the most neighborhood-y place I’ve ever lived.”

That’s not to say the neighborhood hasn’t seen its own share of changes through the years. “Some folks here are still very old guard,” Cooksey explains of the many neighbors who have lived in the area for decades. But with Columbia just 10 blocks away, many young transplants to the city have come to Manhattan Valley to seek its lower average rents. “It’s interesting to watch the big changes,” she says, citing chains that were never there before and rising housing prices. “It [might be] good for local businesses, but it’s jarring for the old guard.”

Through it all, Bob’s Your Uncle will be here. It’s the kind of place where bartenders and customers alike tend to stick around. “I [still] love the enjoyment someone has when they have a drink,” says Cooksey, and Rice agrees. I’ll stick around too, to finish my cider, bask in the holiday glow, and get to know my neighbors a little better.

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