Learning comes in all shapes and sizes. But some of the best is paired with good food, good drink, and great conversation.

This past week, I got to travel to the wintry East for a conference on criminal justice. I wrote before about how I managed to be named a Fellow, which garnered an all-expense-paid learning opportunity. Thank you to the Guggenheim Foundation and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice!

I’ll report later more about the conference and its roster of noteworthy speakers. For our Friday Change of Venue Day, though, I write about the conference’s kickoff session.

Given that the invitees were 26 journalists, it was a stroke of genius to host the first event in a bar.

Pardon me. I meant to say “public house.”

Kennedy’s Restaurant has been on West 57th Street for a generation or more. And that is where we gathered on Sunday evening, Jan. 31. We met for the first time and chatted about stories and story ideas. It was a wonderful event. But none of us knew it would be historic.

What we found out that night was that Kennedy’s was shutting its doors after last call—perhaps forever. Spiraling values in New York City real estate (even in a down economy) had led to a landlord–tenant conflict that could not be resolved. So the restaurant owners made the difficult decision to close up shop rather than pay a suddenly spiking rent.

Our event had been scheduled far in advance. But due to the oddity of circumstances, our kickoff was held alongside people enjoying and reveling in an evening that would signal the end of an era.

Not a bad analogy for journalism, come to think of it.

I took a few poor cell-phone pictures of the great old establishment (see below).

After I got home, I read more about the then-closed Kennedy’s. I was pleased to see it had been mentioned in 2010 by Esquire Magazine. As they described it in their “What Men Eat” offering:

The best Irish pubs in America do not look correct. They don’t look Hibernian or Celtic or some corporate idea of Hibernian or Celtic. They look only vaguely “Irish.” Take Kennedy’s, the closest decent bar to Esquire’s offices. Its stuff on the walls is actual stuff. Its patina is actually aged. The amiability of its bartenders seems genuine enough. And its fish-and-chips tastes and looks like exactly what you’re imagining right now. Exactly. It’s an American–Irish pub that is not trying too hard to be a pub. It just is one.

327 West 57th Street; 212-759-4242

Click here for more on Kennedy’s via Esquire.com (it is number 18 in the slideshow)

Have a great weekend, pub or no pub. And here are the photos.

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Last week, I mentioned in passing that this spring I would be working on a story about criminal sentencing and sentencing reform. I also alluded to what had spurred me to the topic at this time.

Well, that kick in the pants came in the form of an upcoming conference to be held in New York City this coming week. And I am honored to have been invited.

The invite came to me from John Jay College of Criminal Justice (and its Center on Media, Crime and Justice) and the Guggenheim Foundation. They were offering some fellowships (read “all-expenses paid”) to attend the conference. But they asked applicants to write a story pitch that had some connection to the conference topics.

The conference is titled “Law & Disorder: Facing the Legal and Economic Challenges to American Criminal Justice.” The complete program is here.

Given the depth of the conference topic, developing a story idea that complemented it was not the challenge. The hard part was narrowing to a story pitch that would tie to interests of Arizona Attorney Magazine’s readers. The topic had to be timely and relevant.

Thank you to my great Editorial Board, who offered a slew of story ideas, any one of which would be newsworthy. Ultimately, I submitted a pitch on the topic “Courts at the Crossroads of Sentencing Debates.” It relates to the conversation and controversy over “evidence-based sentencing.”

The reviewers must have liked what they read, because I was invited. I now am officially a Guggenheim Fellow – or a “Guggfella,” as a colleague has already dubbed me.

The City University of New York (where the John Jay College is housed) kindly sent out a press release about the event and the fellowships. As it begins:

New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman will lead a prestigious group of speakers, including three senior judges and three district attorneys from around the country,  for discussions on the evolving role of the courts in the U.S. justice system at the Sixth Annual Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City on Monday, Jan. 31st and Tuesday Feb 1st, 2011.

Judge Lippman will deliver the keynote speech on Jan 31st on the conference theme: “Law & Disorder: Facing the Legal and Economic Challenges to American Criminal Justice”

The Harry F. Guggenheim Symposium is the only national gathering which brings together journalists, legislators, policymakers, scholars and practitioners for candid on-the-record discussions on emerging issues of U.S. criminal justice.  Panel topics this year include: the courts and civil liberties, court overcrowding, gun violence, the impact of the midterm elections on criminal justice, the crisis in family courts, and the use of new technology in crime-fighting and its implication for privacy rights.

Twenty-Six U.S. journalists from print, online and broadcast outlets have been awarded fellowships to attend the conference. The unique fellowships, organized by John Jay’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice (CMCJ), are aimed at encouraging and promoting top-quality journalism on criminal justice.

The Fellows were selected from a wide pool of applicants based on editors’ recommendations and on investigative reporting projects currently underway or in the planning stage related to the topics explored at the 2011 conference.

Here is a link to the complete release, including the names of all the 26 new Fellows.

I’ll report back after the conference. And I’ll try to keep warm.