Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Best Dive Bars In Williamsburg (Part 1)

             The Dive Bar.
            A place to write peacefully, hidden away from the world. A place to drink your sorrows down alone in the darkness.
            The lawlessness.
            The depravity.
            Whitman sung hymns to such places. Bukowski formed a career from their dirty floors and back alley brawls.
            On any given night, in some of the best dive bars, you can take your potential mate and grope each other in peace. You can play Pantera and Prince back to back and no one blinks an eye. You can snort cocaine with impunity (and maybe even find a supplier).
            A Blowjob in a bathroom.  
            Clothes-lining someone off their bar stool.
            Meeting someone you fall in love with (Damn The Young Raven-Haired Beauty).
            Passing out, head down, slumped in the corner of the bar.
            The Dive Bar is the last true vestige of human freedom where one can still feel like an outlaw. No “yes, sir’s” and  “thanks, ma’am’s” here. More like “What the fuck do you want?” and “Why are you so fucked up?”
            The world outside may slowly be descending into some kind of sick kitsch gentility, but right when you can smell the smoke and beer from the floorboards, you know no version of manners will save you from the grimy reality of lives lived hard and lived well. You act up, you’re likely to get your nose broken. You bitch, the bartender will tell you to fuck off and bounce. No, you can’t talk to the manager. This ain’t the fucking Gap.
            To bartend in a true dive is the highest aspiration of the discerning bartender. The graduate class. I learned how to chicken wing a drunk out the front door, how to throw empty beer bottles over 12 feet into garbage cans with alarming accuracy. I’ve learned how to spot a good tipper quick, and how to tell when someone will eventually brandish a weapon.
            A Dive Bar is the truth of the world no one wants to see. Take away all the money, strip away all the pleasantries and lies, and here life is, steeped deep in Evan Williams and PBR.
            And as Williamsburg slowly gives way to the suburban, mauve colored condos, and increasing tyrannical health regulations by the New York City Hygiene Department, we are losing these cabal of drinking rooms to the ten dollar cocktail, zinc bar mentality of a gentrifying, speedily growing dull neighborhood.
            Here is a short list of the last true outlaw joints and why, like wild, beautiful, and highly dangerous animals, they are close to extinction:

            Note: We will have a grading system for these bars using 1-5, 1 being less violent, less dirty, and less dark, and 5 being incredibly dangerous, heavily soiled, and poorly (but fantastically) lit.  

            THE SUBWAY BAR (527 Metropolitan Ave at Union.)
            Rating: 4

            Anyone, ANYone, ANYONE who knows me knows that in my heart of all hearts, The Subway Bar is the greatest creation that has ever graced this neighborhood. What more do you want in a dive bar? Fantastic, well-formed barmaids, chalk full of sarcasm and wit, kindness and altruism for the impoverished, but respectful drunk. Some quotes from patrons have included “…where all good dreams go to die” and “…continuous drinking at the Subway Bar leads to nihilism, depression and suicide”. Just what I was looking for!!! The hipsters and newcomers to the hood are still afraid to drink here, and the tourists who stumble in off the Lorimer stop learn quickly to keep your head down and your mouth shut. Just ask the tourist who thought it’d be funny to steal a bottle of wine from behind the bar. Quickly followed out by several regulars who happen to be neighborhood guys, the tourist found himself on the back end of a severe beat down.
            *Perks: cheap drink specials, habitually sexy bartenders, and an assortment of psychological cases all for your anthropological needs.
            *You must be cool with: No music, bad lighting, and you, all alone with 3 regulars who stare with frightening expressions of fear/paranoia/wrath at you from across the room. Bring a good book and some Percocet.

            THE ABBEY BAR (536 Driggs Ave, at North 7th)  
            Rating: 3

            Dark and red, the stuff out of some kind of narcotic legend, finding yourself at any given time at The Abbey Bar could lead to all manner of adventures. Okay, more honestly, the first time you walk into the Abbey you will not be impressed. On some days you could walk into an awkward Sunday movie day, with odd regulars who resemble something between the Beverly Hillbilly’s and the Addams Family, staring blankly at TV screens, shushing anyone who dares to speak. Other days you could run into raging cocaine fueled ex-musicians and construction workers drunkenly raving about the good old days when there were whores on the streets and syringes floating in the gutters.
            You may not like this place at all. It is not ‘cool’.
            And that’s okay.
            We like it like that.
            We don’t want you judgmental fucks drinking here. The Abbey Bar is the last bastion of true communities left in Williamsburg. This is where the real artists of the neighborhood drink. Any given day; musicians, poets, filmmakers, pool sharks, playwrights, braggarts, costume designers and painters saddled with methadone addictions drink whole-heartily with each other in the true spirit of what a dive bar should be: CHAOS!
            Secret unknown fact! Long ago in the early fledgling, violent days of Williamsburg, there were only three bars to go to and The Abbey Bar was one of them. Famed for their amazing jukebox (that no longer exists), the Abbey Bar soon grew as a destination spot. But what people don’t know is that The Abbey Bar started as a gay bar, but because of the great vibe, chaotic bartenders, and stumbling-home distance location, straight people came anyways. What’s left now 13 years later is the only mixed bar in existence, where the gays and the straights could give two shits what each other do. That, my friends, is a rarity indeed.
            *Perks: Cheap drinks bathed in red whorish light.
            *You must be cool with: Really, really long winded conversations with painfully obvious psychopaths, degenerates, and drug addicts. Hooray!

            THE LEVEE BAR (212 Berry Street, at North 3rd)
            Rating: 3

            The two greatest words in the English language are “Yes” and the “Sportsmen”. Don’t know what a “Sportsmen” is?  Let me tell you (free advertising):
            The “Sportsmen” is a shot of Evan Williams and a can of Carling Black Label.
            And for how much?
            You heard right: Four Fucking Dollars!
            If you have 20 dollars in your pocket, the Levee wants to fuck you up. Like stupid drunk. Like sleep with a very dirty and unwashed person drunk. And you even have money left to tip (which you damn well better do, or I’ll come after you personally).
            The Levee bar, under the constant roar of shitty metal bands, serves drunk types of food like Onion Dip and a bowel-ravaging meal called Frito Pie, all for incredibly hobo prices.
            The best time to drink at this fine establishment is during the day. Under the careful tending of Heather, Samantha, and Jeff, one can still feel proud about being a man, even if there’s only a $1.87 left in your bank account. The grainy light fading slowly through the windows, the well worn wood of the bar, and constant flux of early twenties hipster women to leer at make The Levee an A+ experience for the degenerate in you.
            But get out before night fall. The evil side to The Levee Bar is the unbelievable amount of douche bags that end up populating the joint. I don’t know where these people are from or how they found out about this Shangri La of watering holes, but they sure aim to ruin it.
            *Perks: Backyard patio to start drinking at noon and meet others with the same emotional/psychological problems you have.
            *You must get used to: Fighting. Yeah, it still happens here. Get hip to your backhand or some fisticuffs. It will serve you well.    

            Stay tuned to find out more on the topic of “The Best Dive Bars In Williamsburg”!    

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Walking To New Orleans

            Just did.
             I just crawled out of the most exciting and extraordinary cities America has to offer. The first thing you notice are the smiles, from EVERYBODY. By far, the nicest people I have ever met. Then again, the other ones who don’t smile and talk to themselves as they walk grimy down Canal Street at 5 in the morning might just kill you.
            That’s the dichotomy with New Orleans. Bizarre luck, both matched with a sort of poetic decay and undefeated hope.
            I have been going down to this fair city for over a decade now. It is a bar man’s dream, the moody allure of the live oaks off Magazine Street, to the idyllic double shotguns homes in the Marigny, and everywhere, EVERWHERE a to go cup can be found stacked on the bar for you to take that drink you don’t quite feel like chugging down and move on. You do just that.
            Move on and smile.
            With a friendly gesture to the bartender, you’re off, sweat glistening on the skin, the faint sound of brass echoing in the distance, a fresh cold beer in hand.
            I could go on and on about this town, and I will in future blogs, but I have a grievance to address.  
            To me, New Orleans is The Big Easy, a place where a man or woman down on their luck can find a friend for the night, drink cheaply, and bask in the modern carnival of this citadel of inspiration.
            But I ran into someone who did not share this idea. And guess who it was?
            A BARTENDER.
            That’s right, my drinking friends, a man of my trade, a brethren in arms.  
            So, I’m on a small budget, trying to get my drink on and take some friends to a great bar I know in the Quarter.
            The Chart Room (Chartes and Bienville).
            This is like Captain Ahabs wet dream (nautical old maps and foreign moneys line the walls) meets a Bukowski den of dust, ice cold glasses of High Life, and a slew of battered regulars who look like they just got off a long ships voyage themselves.
            A Beautiful Place.
            I roll in, right up to the bar, filled with the spirit of New Orleans in my heart. Happily, I look up to the tall bartender and ask, very politely.
            “Sir, what are the cheapest beers you have in this fine place?”
            Right then, it happened. His face, once chipper and smiling with glee to the other customers, grows callous, as he says, bluntly:
            “Yeah, great opening. If you ain’t got no money, why don’t you just drink a sixer in your backyard? Bad start, brah.”
            And with that, walks over to some other regular, leans on the bar with some pride, and continues, chewing gum while he smiles, to finish his story.
            I look back at my friends. We’re all stunned.
            I mean, we live in New York. We’re used to douche bag bartenders. But here? Down in my favorite city in the world?
            My friend finally flags him down and gets us three High Life (which are two bucks all the time, by the way). We awkwardly watch him be super-sweet to everyone but us.
            Now look. I get it. Anyone who has read this blog understands I know how shitty this job can be. And I get it. Maybe he thought I was some jerk-off tourist.
            There are reasons a sane bartender would be rude like he was.
A)    I  was rude first.
B)     I was visibly wasted.
C)    He knows psychically about my Karma from another life and deemed himself some sort of delivery service of justice.

              Either way, I was definitely not the first two. So we split and head over to Molly’s on the Market (what up Kate and Michelle!), a bar where we could receive the true love New Orleans has to offer. And we did. All night. And danced to an all brass band. And drank cheaply. With no rudeness. Sat by the Mississippi River. Drank. Smoked weed.
            Glory, glory, hallelujah.
            Let me explain what a bartender is. We are there to get you drunk in any manner you see fit. You want high end Tequilla. We’ll fuck you up with it. You got 10 bucks. We’ll figure out a way to get you where you need to go (sobriety-wise).
            Bartenders are here to aid the wounded souls of the world. We’re the EMT’s for the spiritual bleeders. This guy (Will is his name, people) apparently does not live by this credo. And it’s guys like him that give bartenders a bad name. Someone asks you what the cheapest drinks are, you just fucking tell them and help them get where they need to go.
            I could have told him a million things about myself being a bartender, and I know how it is, and tried to bond with him, especially if he was having a bad day. But the fact he was so friendly to the others made his rudeness far more barbed then necessary.
            But as my Well Published Friend who watched the whole thing transpire said as an afterthought: “Where there’s a Will, there’s an asshole…”
            The Chart Room was redeemed, in the end, by native New Orleanian Julie Lacoste, whose absolute sweetness, warmth, and charity made our next several day drunks a glorious time.
            And to you, Will, I’ve got one last thing to say.
            Don’t be a dick, you Ron Reagan Jr. looking motherfucker. And if you still want to, I can get you a job in the Upper East Side. You’ll fit right in.
            PS- Other bartender notables and shout outs: Luke over at Mimi’s, Claudia at the Balcony Bar, and Krystal at the R Bar. Love you guys. You make bartenders proud all over the world. 

Ron Reagan Jr.

 This place Rules!!!!!