By Jill Colvin
MURRAY HILL — Nearly 200 Obamaphiles packed elbow-to-elbow in a Murray Hill bar to watch President Barack Obama deliver his State of the Union address Tuesday night, cheering loudly as he defended health care reform and promised better times to come.
"It feels like we’re ringing in the New Year. It’s kind of surreal," said Brooklyn’s Catherine Zinnel, 23, as she waited for the speech to begin at the Mason Jar NYC Bar and Grill on East 30th Street along with the rest of the assembled crowd.
Zinnel said she was excited to hear the president outline his agenda for the coming year.
"Obama’s such a presence. When he speaks everyone sort of pauses to take it in," she said.
But it wasn't all serious. Zinnel and her friends also prepared a drinking game for the occasion, ordering everyone to drink whenever they heard certain buzz words including "civility," "bipartisanship," and "reaching across the aisle." And the kicker?
"If he says 'audacity of hope,' everyone downs a Four Loko," she joked.
The bar erupted into cheers as Obama took to the podium in front of a Congress that abandoned its traditional Republicans-on-one-side, Democrats-on-the-other seating arrangement in a game of symbolic musical chairs.
"Tucson reminded us that, no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater, something more consequential than party or political preference," Obama said, referring to the tragic Arizona shooting.
But the bipartisan hopes were quickly shattered as the crowd booed Obama’s mention of Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s name.
The loudest applause at the Organize for America-sponsored event came when Obama defended health care reform, called for an end to oil company subsidies and celebrated the repeal of 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.'
"That’s my president!" yelled one fan as Obama defended his record.
But he was also booed loudly when he proposed freezing domestic spending for the next five years.
Earlier this week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg had called on Obama to discuss the toll of gun violence during the speech, but the president failed to heed his call.
Bloomberg lamented the omission.
"Its absence was disappointing, but it will not slow the momentum we are building around the country, and in both parties, for common sense measures to strengthen law enforcement and improve public safety," he said in a statement.
Independent voter Joan Cavanaugh, 73, who lives on the Upper East Side and sat in the front row wearing the hat she bought at Obama’s inauguration, said before the speech that she was looking for the president to share a message of hope.
She said she got exactly what she was looking for with Obama’s promise that "the future is ours to win."
"He’s a visionary, yet absolutely practical," she said, smiling, at the end.
Sen. Chuck Schumer also offered praise, saying Obama had "offered a balanced approach that hopefully can garner bipartisan support."
"The President showed the kind of optimism that America relishes, thrives on and believes in," he said in a statement following the speech.
But Brooklyn resident Nicole Possin, 38, was perhaps most enthusiastic of all.
"That speech made me proud to be an American," she said.