I can handle rent increases. I can handle subway shutdowns. I accidentally dragged the bottom of my dress through a puddle of vomit once and took that in my stride. Know what I can’t handle? The slow painful death of all the good dive bars in NYC. I’m talking about the bars that make you gag the second you walk in the bathroom, that make you consider bringing your own glass, and which you should never, ever, under any circumstance, enter wearing open-toed shoes. Remember your first time in a mosh pit? When you knew you were having fun but you also feared for your health? That’s the feeling of a good dive bar.
Okay, dude: show me your weird and wacky world …
One of my first online dating prospects suggested we go to Mars Bar for a date. He told me he had researched “really bizarre” places and seemed thrilled at the prospect of actually experiencing one. I didn’t want to burst his bubble by letting him know I drank there regularly, so I agreed. Okay, dude: show me your weird and wacky world …
I got there first (as I always do) and ordered myself a drink, careful to not make eye contact with the crazy sitting a few stools down. My date showed up – this skinny little slip of nothing – and immediately started regaling me with travel stories. Oh! the places he had seen, the experiences he had experienced. As he spoke, his eyes settled on the junky and lit up. “Watch this,” he whispered, then did the unthinkable: he engaged the crazy, who immediately scuttled over. I ordered another drink and settled back to watch the show. Two minutes in, dude’s laugh had switched to a high-pitched, uncomfortable whinny. At four minutes, he was shooting me desperate pleading looks, his eyes begging me to save him. He kept trying to involve me in the conversation but I refused. Oh, no, sir… you wanted an “experience” so now you’ve got one! I let their conversation about rent, government, and the joys of defecating on trees go on for 10 blissful minutes before I ended it: “Let’s go. I need to go grocery shopping. You can carry my bags.” “Grocery shopping!” he squealed. “I’ve never done that on a date! How random!” (The Mars Bar finally closed in 2011 after health inspectors dropped by and documented “850 fruit flies in various areas of the restaurant and in a bottle of alcohol”.)
Lame dates aside, drinking in the East Village was always one of my favourite pastimes when I lived in the neighbourhood. There is no joy quite like getting smashed and being able to stumble home. This brings us to Manitoba’s. Ah, Manitoba’s. I probably spent more time there than I did in my own apartment. One of my favourite people in the world tended bar there, and I spent many happy, hazy nights watching Japanese horror movies, hunting down and berating people for peeing on the toilet seat, sharing weight-loss stories with the owner, eating sandwiches (from Sunny and Annie’s, the best sandwich shop ever, just across the street) and, one amazing night, leading the entire bar in a rousing rendition of “Runaround Sue”. Then the walls came crashing down. Most of the staff were replaced by baby glamour punks. The last time I went in (sandwich in hand, of course), some drunken swizzle stick of a girl had been deposited in the corner booth to wait out the bartender’s shift. She gently flooded her table with puke, while some boy in skeleton makeup handled the music. Standard.
At one point he discreetly threw up behind the bar and kept serving like nothing had happened
Tucked away on a quiet street in Ridgewood, Cozy Corner Tavern would be my neighbourhood bar – if I ever actually hung out in the neighbourhood I now live in. I had skulked past it on numerous occasions, peering through the window, before finally working up the nerve to walk in. This place has a straight-up locals’ bar vibe, although I’ve never seen more than four people inside at once. At first glance, I wasn’t certain whether the owner was a man or woman: all I knew was that they were lacking in the hair and teeth department and spent a good deal of time chain-smoking in front of the open door. The bartender was a sweet older lady who lives upstairs and didn’t bat an eye when I spent the good part of an hour rolling around on the pool table with my friend, belting out “Love and Affection” by Nelson, which I put on the jukebox 10 times in a row. I might owe the other patrons an apology for that night.
Then there was that other time in Chelsea, when my hot friend Tommy and I were looking for a good dive bar after dinner, but were having trouble finding anything in the area without 27 TVs blasting sports. I forget what I typed into Yelp that led us to the wonderland of Billymark’s West, but I will be forever grateful to myself. It was full of bikers. Not the leather-clad kind, but the neon spandex cycling variety. They were on a pub crawl – one drink at every bar visited. What could possibly go wrong?
Billymark’s was the last stop on the tour so they were all in high spirits. As was the bartender. Looking like some old, white-haired Buddy Holly, this dude was on fire. He was racing around behind the bar like a wind up toy on meth full of chat. It was mesmerising. At one point he discreetly threw up behind the bar and kept serving like nothing had happened. We were drinking whiskey gingers out of large glass mugs that he filled to the brim with whiskey before drifting a whisper of ginger ale across the top. When we were done with each drink, he would take the mug, dump the remaining ice cubes and backwash back into the ice trough, and refill it “fresh”. Alcohol kills all germs, right? When I went to the bathroom, they had no toilet paper. I let the barback know and was promptly asked to run down the street to buy some. Billymark’s, I decided, was my new favourite place on earth. C
Billymark’s West, 332 9th Ave, New York, NY 10001 USA
Cozy Corner Tavern, 6001 70th Ave, Queens, NY 10023 USA
+1 718 381 8397
Manitoba’s, 99 Ave B, New York, NY 10009 USA
+1 212 982 2511; manitobas.com