About five years ago following a work event in New York City, my colleague and friend Jeff Hanle and I ended up in a dive bar not far from Columbus Circle.
I don’t remember the name of the bar, and I’m not sure I could even find it again on my own.
But I’ll never forget it because it was the night I met Anthony Bourdain.
It was the kind of place that oozed character. You could tell before stepping inside that it was a real neighborhood bar, perfect for two guys from Colorado searching for an authentic New York experience as much as a drink.
Although it wasn’t very late (maybe 10 p.m.), the bar was pretty empty. A couple huddled together in a corner table, and a man sat alone at the bar.
Jeff and I bellied up to the bar, a couple stools down from the man, who didn’t so much as bat an eye when we sat down.
After ordering two beers, Jeff nudged me with his elbow.
“I think that’s Anthony Bourdain,” he silently mouthed.
“Impossible,” I silently mouthed back, shaking my head.
To be fair to Jeff, it really did look like him. The unmistakable features – salt and pepper hair, the tall and lanky build, noticeable even from his perch on the bar stool — made me look again slyly. It sure seemed like he could be an incredibly convincing Anthony Bourdain impersonator.
Maybe even a Bourdain proxy that the real Anthony Bourdain could send to events he didn’t want to attend.
But the real thing? Here? No chance.
Out of the literally thousands of bars in New York City, I couldn’t believe that we had randomly wound up at the bar Anthony Bourdain supposedly frequented. (Later, I’d learn that Bourdain lived near Columbus Circle and the bar, The Coliseum, which has since shuttered its doors.)
But what if it was him, I thought, and we wordlessly devised a plan to figure it out.
Jeff struck up conversation with the bartender, asking him both about the bar and the neighborhood. “Is this considered the Upper West Side?” he asked nonchalantly.
“Not really, but close,” the Bourdain doppelganger interjected before the bartender could answer.
And then we knew. It was him. It was Anthony Bourdain!
And he was talking to us!
Long-time admirers of his work, Jeff and I were floored, but we tried to play it cool and did our best to act normal, like this was any other random conversation one might have with a friendly stranger at the bar.
We talked idly about the neighborhood and New York in general for about 10 minutes before he extended a long right arm in our direction, making it official.
“Hi, I’m Tony,” he said warmly, shaking our hands while a slight smile creased his face.
We introduced ourselves, barely missing a beat before we continued the conversation, which ended up taking a meandering route – as great conversations with astonishingly interesting people tend to do.