A bar is the beach for people who can’t swim. This is what my friend Roger told me one night as we scanned the The Kettle of Fish one bustling, rainy Thursday evening. Propped up at the corner, our favorite spot, the collective white noise of everything and everyone heaved and ebbed like waves. I couldn’t have agreed more.
I never thought i’d be that lone guy who sits at a bar, talks to strangers, has one or two drinks and leaves. But I am. I can’t think of a better place than New York City to do this. I have my favorite spots, some have closed down, others haven’t change at all in the fifteen years i’ve been here.
Earlier this week I drove into the city to pick up some equipment I left behind at a venue I had performed in the previous Friday. It was close to one of my favorite dives, The Double Down Saloon so of course I ventured in for one. The rear patio during the summer is a filthy oasis lined with fire escapes. Now the weather has turned I like to sit by the window and watch the chaos where avenue A meets Houston. I regret not visiting the east village or lower east side when I visited NYC in the 90’s. It seems a shadow of itself now. I still love it though. I pull out my notebook but instead of working on lyrics I daydream out the window or make small talk with the bartender. I’m foolish to think this will ever play out any other way. Why be productive when I could be calm?
When I drive I allow myself two beers, this is an unbreakable rule. If I feel like having more, i’ll drive home or dump the car. So for my second I walk across the street to The Library, a bar I hadn’t been in since I first performed Supersmall songs at UCB East Theater two blocks away. After that show we all crammed in the back and got ridiculous with some of the audience that trailed in with us. The bar itself hasn’t changed in six years, but tonight it is lined with young kids reading thick books, buldging shopping bags at their feet and eating take out. I get my beer and a small dinosaur which indicates my next drink is free as it’s still happy hour. I know I won’t use it (two beer limit, i’m driving) so I give to the girl sitting to my right. It’s starts a conversation I soon regret. She’s drunk, and nuts, and privileged enough to talk over me, the bar girl and anyone else wither own options that are barely coherent. Marisa texts to see if I am still in the city. I agree to drive to Varick Street and pick her up. When I arrive the cops pull up behind me and turn on their lights. No siren so I know they just want me to move on. In the confusion that is that part of the city I find myself in a lane of traffic that takes me to the holland tunnel. Next stop, New Jersey. Fuck! I text Marisa, she’ll have to Uber home. No idea how long it will take me to get back to NYC, let alone to Varick Street. It’s hard to even be a pedestrian down there.
A toilet break is desperately needed but as I emerge from the tunnel I am blocked in by traffic that seems like its down for the night. I break left and drive south into what quickly becomes the suburbs. I look for a park, a laneway or anywhere to take a quick, discrete relief stop. Nothing but brownstones and speed bumps. I see a neon light in the distance. A bar.
I find a spot directly outside. I’ll grab just one, three beers in three hours? I’ll be fine. It’s a little on the fancy side. All waistcoats and stiff white shirts. I sit at the corner by the window with a clearly inebriated business man to my left. He looks miserable as he pours vodkas into himself. His shiny red face only looks up from his phone to indicate for another. I’ve felt like that before. I’m not judging. Families start to come in and fill the tables at the back. Kids are well behaved but their parents look exhausted and get testy over which table to sit at. Its a war of attrition as more couples arrive also looking for prime spots wielding weaponized politeness . I’m safe and isolated at the corner of the bar and the beer, without fail provides its usual welcome relief from anxiety. Burning coals, stabbing pins, constant flight or flight responses and a persistant struggle to breathe all drown in the crashing white noise that washes over me. The shallow social victories being fought out around me drift away. I’ll leave for home soon. Until then, all I hear is the ocean.