Today is the birthday of two old friends, so I’d like to raise a glass of cheer!
This postcard hints that imbibing a glass or two of an alcoholic beverage might be a positive aid in our quest for a long life – indeed, the little ditty separates the human (though ‘awful’ and ‘wicked’) from the base animal not 1) by the fact of imagination; or 2) in having thumbs on our hands; or 3) knowing how to use fire to cook food – but by the fact that we do toss down our gullets the hair of the dog that wants to bite us.
I have memories of a beer here and a beer there once upon a faraway time with an old friend whose birthday is today. At Fanelli’s (once a speakeasy) we would push into the crowds gathering to order a post-gallery-hopping drink, often followed by a bite to eat with some bad coffee in the tiny room in the back. At Kenn’s Broome Street Bar we would sometimes also meet. At Kenn’s I had my first martini (for no good reason) (except that it was there) and it made me feel so strange I never had another! But Kenn’s does have good beer and excellent things to eat – though not of the elegant sort.
I went to Kenn’s last month. My children ordered burgers. With stunned looks and dropped jaws they proclaimed them to taste ‘exactly like yours, Mom!’. I had told them this, but they had never tasted a burger exactly, somehow, like mine except for mine. But Kenn’s was the first ‘real’ burger I ever had, at the age of sixteen – around the age of my own children now. The Way of the Burger must have entered into my heart in a mysterious manner, to then come out as it precisely existed for the rest of all time from my own hands. I had one of their excellent Pigwiches when we visited last month, and it made me happy in its perfect Pigwichness . . . which had not changed an iota since the last time I’d devoured one.
Mostly, with my friend whose birthday is today – my friend whom I’ve known since I was sixteen – I remember ‘shorts’ of beer at Barnabus Rex.
Barnabus shone with a highbeam, pulsed with a happy power, enclosed you in its space like being in a play with the curtain raised and the audience all agog, breath held and waiting.
It was tiny and ugly. Decoration hopeful but Twilight Zone. Bathrooms from Hell (and beyond). Pool table taking up the entire room, jukebox taking up whatever space was left, and a space the size of a card table to dance on.
We weren’t supposed to dance. You need a certain sort of bar license to allow dancing . . . but this was Barnabus, and we danced. The pool balls clicked, our quarters were lined up, our names on the chalkboard, the music screamed, and we danced.
Rupert Smith was one of my favorite dance partners. Rupert could dance! And there were two others, taller guys – one who knew ballroom dancing who somehow even in that area the size of a postage stamp would lift and throw me over his shoulders and we’d do a slightly insane version of swing dancing.
It worked, somehow. Who went to Barnabus, who that you might know? Let me think. Julian Schnabel went. He was a newbie to NYC at the time. Ron Gorchov, Duka Delight, Richard Serra, others of that ilk, but who cared really. It was Kevin behind the bar, and Andreas, who pulled beers . . . and as the foam ran over the tops of the mugs Andreas also foamed with commentary flavored with a wry post-Jesuit sense of rightness and humor – it was Kevin and Andreas who really mattered. It was magical, if a bar can be magical.
Magic, being what it is, appears in a wisp, then is gone. The bar died. It was featured in one of the big newspapers as an ‘Artist’s Bar’ and the slow creaking changes began. No longer was the crowd as mixed – the original people from the nearby printshops and industrial pockets of this and that mixed with the hungry theatre people, musicians and artists. Now it was more and more Uptown. Bland. Soft. Hungry in a glassy-eyed way for what they didn’t have – whatever it was.
Somehow the bikers found the place. There was a throat-slitting one night with a broken beer bottle – one of the bikers didn’t like that a guy was telling him to stop harassing a girl at the bar. Stewart. Stewart had his throat cut. And Stewart was one of the most seriously nice guys you’d ever want to meet in your life.
Then there was a murder, a stabbing, outside in the street. The bikers again, people assumed. But it was never solved.
Terror really does live side-to-side with joy in life. One can only pray surreptitiously that great joys will outweigh the unforeseen terrors.
We are awful and wicked. But we can be good.
I raise a glass to my old friend, a glass full of joyous memories. Happy Birthday, and many many returns.