Thursday, March 31, 2011

Big announcement next week!

Be sure to check in Monday afternoon for a big HCAR announcement. I'm excited, or what passes for excitement and emotion in my drained soul. Read more...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mono-Lagering: High Dive

Given a gift of free beer coupons from 30 different bars from, Mr. Rice has decided to visit each one, and record his thoughts.

This week I went back to Park Slope again, to a place called High Dive. I expected either a beautifully seedy shithole or, oddly, a pool-themed place. Why I thought that was actually possible, I have no idea. When I got there, I realized I had been there under previous ownership. I don't recall the name of the place; neither it nor the previous bar itself were notable in basically any way. Entering High Dive, I knew the change had been for the better.

It was a spacious bar, decorated casually and invitingly. There was the main bar area itself, a large corridor with some high tables, a back room with lower tables, a pinball, and lots of board games, and what looked to be a backyard, too. This would be an excellent place to throw a party, or just to party.

So I sat down at the bar and ordered a Lagunitas Brown Shugga to keep my brown ale streak going. I was surprised by the amount of hop in the beer. If you've ever read this blog before, you know that hops and I are not on the friendliest terms. I was, at first, disappointed. But I have to say, it really did balance the sweetness well, keeping it from being overly syrupy. So I guess those bastards have a point.

I really liked the "buy a drink" board on the bar wall. Anyone can pay for a drink for a friend they figure will drop by later. Three columns: To, What, and From. Some people bought whiskeys for friends, others just put money down. This is a place friends go, together or separately, to have a good time. I even recognized a name or two. My brotherman Alex came in, dropped down, and ordered a Jameson.

New York is a drinker's town. Public transportation almost everywhere you look, more bars than Rykers, and a rich semi-literary tradition of great indulgence in the sauce. When we first set out to make Here Comes a Regular a drinking blog, we didn't want it to be some frat house nonsense, nor a mere house for reviews, nor some apologetic skirting-around-the-topic neurosis-fest, nor even some misguided braggadocio list of times we got SO WASTED.

No, this blog is for the drinker's life, the real drinker, the kind that a lot of folks don't quite understand. I received an email from my mother today, the kind you never want to receive. There were concerns expressed that a thirty-three year old man like myself should not find himself "living like [he's] twenty-one." People I know from elsewhere, sometimes even new New Yorkers, they nervously laugh when they point out that I go out quite a bit.

So there's a special layer of drinking life in New York. I genuinely think it's the best city on earth, but it isn't without flaws. Perhaps primarily (other than vicinity to Jersey and the existence of Staten Island), is that this is a fucking stressful place to be. Every part of your life, in New York, has a heightened level of stress than it would in a lot of other places. Working in New York? Jesus, just getting there can give you hives, whether through overcrowded subways, aromas, or chapped legs during the summer.

And dating, shit! Some of the smartest, wittiest, best looking people in the world flock to this city. You see them all around you. But we're all so busy trying to be quietly polite by giving everyone their space that we don't meet all that often. It's difficult to settle down with anyone, too, when you see hundreds of new temptations on your way home every night.

So life here is stressful; that's not exactly news to anyone. Alex and I discussed work stresses and ordered another round. This time I also got a Buffalo Trace White Dog, perhaps my favorite market moonshine. I took a belt of it and chased it with the Brown Shugga. HOLY SHIT GUYS. I think I invented something right then. That shine mixed with the sweetness of the ale to form a creamy, powerful punch. I immediately started raving, and the bartendress talked about making a drink special out of it. It was that good.

So, yes, in New York you're stressed and you're working your ass off just to get by. But you get well compensated by living in the funnest place in the world. All those bars are joined by entertainment of all sorts. Gospel every Friday at Fat Cat, Kung fu film festivals, comic shops, comedy, comfortable theaters . . .we've really got everything. So after we work our ass off we party our ass off. So maybe not everyone in the country understands; I don't really care. In this town you have to fight to be happy, and that's one fight I'm not backing down from.

And there's no one better to party with than your friends. Alex and I yucked it up throughout the night, being joined by other friends later. Stupid running jokes and plays on words, the sort of secret handshake at the core of every friend group. There's not a sad face in the crowd if its friends.

And that's the ultimate drink special, isn't it? Booze plus pals equals fun. That is fucking SCIENCE, man (this post has had so much science). And I, for one, can't wait to make science happen at High Dive again. Check the drink board; if you're lucky, I'll leave you one.

Photos by D. Alexander Cox.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mono-Lagering: Full Circle Bar

Given a gift of free beer coupons from 30 different bars from, Mr. Rice has decided to visit each one, and record his thoughts.

Despite some mounting evidence to the contrary, I believe myself to be a lucky man. I have a great love of coincidence, games of chance, etc. So when I find myself on some unpredicted ley-line of probability, I like to ride it to the end. For instance, my first outing for this project found a bartender that recommended the second. The bartender at the second recommended a restaurant that my friend Nicole and I found ourselves in randomly when another place was too crowded, and, seeing as though I know Nicole through a series of coincidences and chances, I let her pick this week's.

As she read the descriptions of the bars in the coupon book, one compound word caught her eye: skeeball. So we met up at Full Circle Bar in Williamsburg (really, is there another neighborhood that could sustain such a specific business model as "skeeball bar?") to varying degrees of excitement. See, I like games of chance, right? Well, I don't care too much for games of skill, which, nominally, skeeball is.

I'd been once before on some misguided internet date (is there another kind?), so I knew at least the bar part was solid. Five varied taps and a ridiculously large selection of canned beers, a friendly, knowledgeable bartender, and a vibe more relaxed than one expects from an establishment based on throwing balls into holes. I sat down with a Chelsea Brewing Co. Black Hole XXX Stout, a beer as strong and thick as something with so many possible innuendos in the name should be.

Nicole soon joined me and got an Empire Cream Ale, which she insisted on calling a Cremalé. Our friend Conor also dropped by and got another Cream Ale, a smooth Boddingtons-esque brew perfect for this sort of in-between weather. We three went to the back room to play skeeball, whereupon they immediately started just completely destroying me. Remember, I like chance, not skill.

That preference has had a weird, long influence on my life. In Eastern Kentucky, my complete lack of athleticism shaped me to an incredible degree. I tried baseball, basketball, tennis, even golf once, and my sheer amazing incompetence took away any pleasure participating in sports could have given me. I can't run, I'm uncoordinated, I can't throw, and can't catch. Objects that move at me quickly make me flinch. This is embarrassing at my age and nearly crippling during adolescence.

And it didn't exactly do wonders for my dating life. I grew up internalizing the idea that I was unattractive and unsuitable, despite all my conscious knowledge otherwise. When I moved to New York and widened my dating pool by a seemingly-infinite amount, it took me years to process the change. I'd vacillate between dating too capriciously, drunk on my newfound status and dating too desperately, still not believing I was truly worth it. It took the dissolution of my marriage to really force me to get my head into a healthier place.

So, after that, newly alone and single for the first time in six years, I became a regular at the bar Harefield Road. Because of this, I had the chance to make a shit-ton of new friends. When the bar was putting together a softball team, I was asked to be the "coach" and at first I froze. All those old insecurities, that bullshit teenage guilt and paranoia, reared an ugly set of hydra heads.

But, fuck it, right? It's just coaching a group of friends from my bar. It didn't even matter that, in our Harlem league full of giant Dominican men and giant Dominican women, we were a petty gnat the other teams barely noticed. Though, after a while, the time came to strengthen the ranks. Nate, the true manager of the team, and I were sitting brainstorming how we could get better. He chanced to see two guys in the back that seemed athletic. He approached and asked if they'd be interested in joining the team, and so it was that I met Conor and Eric, and soon Nicole, through them.

If Conor and Eric hadn't been sitting in the back yard of that bar that particular day, I may not have ever met them. If Eric and Nicole weren't at the same bar one night, they may never have met each other. Friendships can be this incredible fine web of coincidence and chance. So now, by pure chance, I'm actually active in a sport, even playing when we're short a player, and over almost all my anxiety about it.

So after another couple beers and a bourbon, we alight to a Dominican restaurant that happens to be around the corner from my apartment. We ate like kings (and a queen) and drank muchos Presidentes, and perhaps had the correct amount of pernil and mofongo that makes our rival teams up in Harlem such unstoppable homerun machines. Afterwards, we crossed the street to the bar around the corner from me, Ali's, for more Presidentes and bourbons. It just so happens that Ali is my landlord's brother-in-law, and when I was unsure of taking this apartment I dropped in the bar and we worked it out.

We watched basketball. It may have taken me till now to take part in sports, but I almost immediately began to appreciate the spectator part when I left Kentucky. I couldn't growing up, there was too much bitterness wrapped up in the idea. But I love a good game, and don't mind taking a chance on betting on them, either.

It's hard not to think of myself as lucky; and I don't even mean in the liberal guilt way. A series of events and coincidences unpredictable to most any oracle has led me up to every moment of my life. To a bar where I become a regular and meet friends, one of whom gives me a coupon book for bars. To a skeeball bar with chance-met friends, delicious Dominican dinner, and the warm pleasure of a night spent happily.

Conor and Nicole played pool with the owner, and eventually I gave in and played too. They absolutely outclassed me, but that's OK. They've got their skills, but I'll take my chances.

Photos by Nicole Marie Ball


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

If We Must Drink - Let it Not Be Like Hogs

The ancients, without the benefit of Diving Revelation, came to a completely reasonable conclusion regarding virtue. They invented a test, called "The Golden Mean", a sweet spot of behavior that did not tend toward an extreme, and applied this test to human actions and determined thereby whether or not such actions were virtuous, and the degree of their morality or immorality, by how closely the act adhered to the mean.

For instance, bravery stood in the middle between cowardice and foolhardiness, love between lust and frigidity, and moderation in consumption between abstention and gluttony.

It is upon this third point, moderation, that I wish to expound in my maiden post, as a way of introducing my philosophy of booze.

We who drink, and who care about drinking, should strive for moderation. This is not to say that we must shun the pleasant effects of alcohol or be ashamed when drinking on account of the act itself is pleasurable. Rather, moderation is best defined as a capacity to enjoy something, really enjoy it, without guilt because we are aware of our limitations. In this context, one may drink regularly, and even heavily, while remaining moderate.

Furthermore, one must understand moderation not only as attention to one’s capacity while drinking, but the integration of one’s behavior while drinking with the behavior of drinking itself. This is to say that as one consumes and is conscious of that consumption one must also balance the consumption with the realities, activities, and persons attendant to the consumption, i.e., one’s companions, bartender, wife and children, banker, family and reputation, prevailing customs and standards, liquor store owners, landlord, the highway patrol, school children in the vicinity, the boss one must answer to in the morning, etc.. The virtue in this exercise is self-proving in that those who do exercise thusly will be spared many, many physical, financial, and moral consequences.

I would also add that, for a serious drinker, the manner of one’s drinking should reflect such seriousness. Just as one would be unwise to exercise extreme fastidiousness in any endeavor, one ought not to be conspicuously picky or fay when it comes to his choice of drink. While it is legitimate to hold a preference or particularity, there is nothing so amateurish or unmanly as a booze snob of any variety. Take a wine snob, for example. Wine is the simplest of all alcoholic beverages. Fundamentally, you simply squeeze grapes, set the juice in a cool, dry place for a period of time, and you are ready to go. The complex chemical reactions that turn Welch’s into wine, while able to be manipulated to some degree, are automatic, a gift of nature and the loving God Who is its author. Everything ancillary to the wine itself, including debates about containers, shady sides of hills in particular French provinces, vintage, etc., are inside baseball nonsense of the order of debates over the superiority of Dungeons and Dragons in the pre- and post-Gygax eras.

And this general principle stands for those who will drink labels rather liquor. One cannot be moderate if one binges $350 bar tabs once a week drinking himself silly on overpriced rotgut for the sake of his social standing. The opposite is also true: The hipster who will not touch a beer that costs more than $2 or less than $8 likewise suffers from the moral disease. This behavior is, I hasten to add, the surest course to making drinking a misery over the course of a lifetime. The serious drinker knows that he can satisfy his thirst with a far greater degree of satisfaction, while spending a fraction of what his conspicuous counterpart does, by concentrating on drinking what he likes over a longer period of time.

We cannot mention the urban trend of yuppie/hipster joyless drinking without also mentioning their opposite on the axis of virtue, the howling winos who suffer from alcoholic dependency. Since you are reading this on the internet, you are probably not a wino, nor do you seek to join their ranks, and I don’t think I need to give a full treatment of why being a wino is a bad thing. But to illustrate the Golden Mean, we should note that the wino has more in common with the yuppie/hipsters than with the serious, manly drinker who practices moderation. Therefore, if I were to make a classification, I would say that the extremes of the axis and those who occupy them (bums, hobos, frat boys, investment bankers, etc.) are closer to "alcoholics" than a conscientious man who puts away a fifth-and-a-half a week while watching TV in the evenings.

Thus I conclude that the heart of moderation is a dedication to enjoyment of consumption, rather than a dedication to consumption itself. As I write this, on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, I find that many otherwise responsible adult people of my acquaintance are putting a lot of work into consumption. They are making a real effort to abuse their livers, getting up early and steadily drinking through to the next. They remind me of those kids, those infant booze hounds I knew in school who mistook liberty for license and ability for duty. I’ll repeat that, if one does not practice moderation, and concentrate his efforts on enjoyment rather than abuse, then his bender is without purpose, empty, shallow, and, I’ll guarantee, painful to live with.

I’ll end with a quote from Victor "Trader Vic" Bergeron from his Bartender’s Guide which encapsulates my drinking philosophy better than anything I could write:

"Dedicated to those merry souls who make drinking a pleasure; who achieve contentedness long before capacity; and who, whenever they drink, prove able to carry it, enjoy it, and remain ladies and gentlemen."


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mono-Lagering: Mission Dolores

Given a gift of free beer coupons from 30 different bars from, Mr. Rice has decided to visit each one, and record his thoughts.

For my third bar in this series, I headed back to Park Slope. Mission Dolores is actually the first bar in the coupon book I've visited that I've already been to, and while I'm not exactly a regular, it's not uncommon to see a familiar face there. An offshoot of sister establishment, Bar Great Harry on Smith Street (about which I will say more some other week), Mission Dolores is kind of a combination of a series of questionable ideas and choices. That might sound like this will be the first negative review in this series, but I'd like to posit there's something to be gained from questionable choices; a true unappreciated beauty in fuck-uppery.

Opened, I believe, this past summer, Mission Dolores used to be a car garage, and parts of the basic structure still exist. It's divided into three main compartments: the first, a long, hall-like passage open to the outside; the second has an open roof and ash trays galore, and only the third is completely encased in man-made materials. That's the part with two pinball machines, a juke, and the bar. And in that first summer, goddam, was that a glorious set-up! Access to smoking and fresh air can be a rarity in this city, and it's appreciated wherever we can find it.

But it's not easy to remember that it is actually pleasant outside in New York about a total of twenty-five days a year, the other three-hundred and forty consisting either of torrential rain, bitter cold, or searing heat; or, some days, a fucked up chimera of all sorts of shit weather. So, walking to this bar before Spring has sprung, I felt ready to see a bar on its last legs, a sort of "OOPS THERE ARE OTHER SEASONS," colossal mistake.

But I'll be damned if I didn't enjoy myself. The beer selection is large and full of fun surprises. The only problem was myself (an oft-repeated theme in my life). My stomach was sending odd signals to the rest of the body (also an oft-repeated theme), vague but unsettling. "Something might happen, and it might be bad, but I don't know what or when!" Drinking beer to settle a stomach is one of those perfectly questionable ideas; wait, what, that's a terrible idea! Fuck logic or health, I say it works. A couple of hearty beers can straighten out a confused stomach almost as easily as a confused heart.

So I began with a Bear Republic Heritage, a nice 7.8% caramel-tinged stout that immediately brought a smile to my face, and the equivalent thereof to my digestive system. As Van Halen and Queen filled the aural landscape, I actually reminisced to a previous trip to this bar. I was to meet up with a girl I had recently dated. We split because I was still feeling summery rambunctious independence and . . .she was not. It was a decidedly questionable idea, but I was high on my own testosterone and serotonin, and I think I had a case for her contacts or something?

We talked and we flirted and I felt intoxicated by the unspoken power struggles going on. She wanted to be OK with flirty independence, but hoped more that I could be convinced to come in from the wide world of pointless dating.

Flash forward to me back at the bar, nodding at the virility I felt then and the stupid irony of the fact that the night before it was I seeing another ex, and in this situation I'd been the clinger and she the sheet of Downy in the dating pool. The imbalance of power, of affection, it's a see-saw, a sine wave of heartbreak and annoyance. To continue to try after untold amounts of fuck-ups and shit-storms, well, that's a goddam questionable idea isn't it?

So I ordered another beer, a Victory Baltic Thunder. Another malty delicious glass of power, this time 8.5% APV. You could taste the strength, but not obnoxiously so. Perhaps ordering two high-APV beers before meeting up with friends for a night of beer and dice isn't the greatest idea either.

But what great idea isn't questionable? Think about the first person that ate a chicken egg. What exactly was his plan? "Hm. The next thing that comes out of that animal, I'm straight up going to eat it." And then he ate it and it was awful! But this did not stop our egg innovator. Do you think he immediately though, "How about if I put it on fire?" Were there other steps before he finally realized, "Ohhhh, yeah, this is good!"

In the middle of the twentieth century, some guys basically thought, "OK, so we have these crazy Nazi scientists who have built giant rockets. What if I were to strap myself to one and go into space, and hopefully come back? BINGO GREAT IDEA LET'S GO!" It's completely insane, but it changed the world, and allowed Tom Hanks to produce hours of boring cinema.

Mission Dolores has a great beer selection and a friendly, open, helpful staff. Sure, it can be crowded at night on the weekend; crowded with folks that sometimes seem like cartoon parodies of how the rest of the city sees the Slope, juggling strollers and neo-liberal solipsisms like an early astronaut with his myriad of dials and scopes. And it's directly neighboring Rock Shop, a similar bar with live music and TVs. It's a block away from the place I signed and finalized my divorce.

But like the exploration of culinary arts, the cosmos, or the minefield of dating in New York, sometimes a questionable idea can be a great time. Come on folks, let's strap in, get a little stupid, and make some mistakes together. Can't make a space omelet without breaking your heart a few times.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mono-Lagering: The Narrows

Given a gift of free beer coupons from 30 different bars from, Mr. Rice has decided to visit each one, and record his thoughts.

So I started looking through the coupon book that is my map for this experience and then noticed that one bar, The Narrows, was a VERY short walk from my own apartment. I was confused at first, as I recognized the cross streets, and have walked by many times. The description said it was a "speak-easy." I recalled then my conversation with the bartender at the Sackett, another Bushwick resident, and he had made mention of the joint. So my next venture seemed obvious.

There was a bit of hesitation for me, though. I wasn't sure why, at first, but I soon figured out it was the "speak-easy" bit. I was reasonably sure I wouldn't need some sort of arcane password or something, but I still felt fairly . . .done with the whole idea. I remember soon after graduating college there was a huge surge in bars that styled themselves as speak-easies and at first they were really intriguing to me, but had soon lost their appeal.

So I walked with some trepidation down Flushing and found the spot . . .I'd walked by, thinking it was either a weird apartment or some private club, the likes of which would never admit me. I stepped in and immediately felt at ease. The majority of the place is the long bar and the stools. A large, lush booth is in the frosted front window, more tables and booths in the back, and behind all that an open area. (During the summer they grow their own mint and other fresh ingredients.)

It was classy and attractive, but not haughty. I was apparently the first customer of the evening (the privileges of the teacher's schedule), and the amiable bartender/co-owner started chatting with me. Keith was very personable and charming, and I had a great time talking to him about all sorts of topics.

I read the cocktail menu and ordered a "Caulfield's Dream." The ingredients (rye, lemon, demerara, spearmint, Angostora bitters, and a cava float) sounded both interesting and daunting. That's a lot of strong flavors coming together, but by God they were mixed perfectly. Sweet but strong, like that girl you never had the guts to ask out.

Keith was the first to bring up the "speak easy" part. He said people often ask him if that's what it is, but in truth, the answer is simpler. See, this stretch of Flushing isn't necessarily a place you want to advertise that you're a bar. Most of the other nearby bars' regulars are the sort of men that drink despite family or duties, the sort of men that get rowdy and regularly kicked out, only to move on down the line. The Narrows is not the sort of bar you get kicked out of, really. Not that anything goes, but if you're drinking there you most likely know how to drink properly.

Secret knowledge again; the insider club of Real Drinkers . . .the original impetus of this blog in its first incarnation. There's no secret handshake, well, that I know of, but there are plenty of knowing looks. Someone orders a Ketel Bloody Mary? You'll see a sign of disapproval from every Real Drinker. At such a time, you show yourself a sap that pays for advertising.

My next drink was my coupon beer, a Smuttynose Old Brown Dog. So far I'm two-for-two on reliable brown ales for my free beers. Brown Dog is sweeter than the Brooklyn, but not cloyingly so. Conversation somehow turned to exes, and we shared the secret knowledge of being particularly burned by Korean ex-girlfriends. On the bright side, I discovered Do Ke Bi in Williamsburg had attained my dream of melding Mexican and Korean cuisines; I shall soon indulge.

Keith began working with a tequila he was infusing with jalepeno. It was the main ingredient for my next cocktail, the "Word." (punctuation included). Other than the spicy tequila, it sported Scotch, Chartreuse, marachino, and lime, with the option of a bit of bitters to bring it all together. Another mix of somewhat disparate strong flavors, but who all came together, Voltron-style, to make something great.

Somehow we got to talk about Star Wars . . .here's some secret knowledge for you: did you know that the word "Ewok" never appears in the script or movie of Return of the Jedi? Not once, but we all know the damn name of those stupid teddy bears. Not all secret knowledge is useful.

Why do we love and hate secret knowledge so much? The reason isn't hard to grasp. There are few things in this world more immediately exciting than the prospect of secret knowledge. Most of humanities' creation stories are harbored almost completely in such knowledge. Prometheus brought us the secret of fire, Eve the secret of right and wrong. But just as we love secret knowledge, we fear it. Neither Prometheus nor Eve go unpunished in their stories, one remembers.

We want to know something that none or few others know. We feel exclusive, above the rabble. Ninety-nine percent of human life is spent finding ways to feel better about ourselves than others, whether we judge by morals, open-mindedness, or knowledge. But none of these things ever really bring us the justification we really desire, that we so crave. The speak-easy becomes déclassé. We, deep-down, know our own hypocrisies.

Next, I had to have some of that jalepeno tequila on its own, so I got a glass with a Sol-with-lime-juice chaser. Definitely the simplest drink of the night, but perhaps even more satisfying. We are often all struck with the idea that perhaps simpler would be better, or at least easier. I don't think I'm out of line when I say most of us have looked at someone we consider more stupid than ourselves, perhaps laughing on the train with their buddies, or canoodling with a romantic partner we'd never consider, and thought, "If only I were that simple."

We throw that thought far away, knowing how awful, how demeaning it is. More, we know it isn't true. Every man and every woman suffers in this world, no matter their intelligence or education. Even when we are the holders of secret knowledge, we constantly think there's something else, something more secret, the cheat code to happiness.

I've been reading the Parker novels by Richard Stark. Fantastic crime fiction, compelling, sharp, and they move at an amazing pace. The main character is cold, smart, and ultra-competent. It's an easy world to visit when the emotions of the day become overwhelming. In the book I'm currently reading, a corrupt policeman, another thief, and some other characters are searching for a dead safe-man's secret stash. But Parker knows the real secret knowledge: it doesn't exist.

And sometimes that's the most secret of all knowledges: nothingness, there's nothing to know. There is no secret handshake to happiness or success or the life we desire. There is the yearly, daily, hourly journey, one filled with disappointments, but with pleasures as well. Fine cocktails, good conversation, stories, friends, and food. We don't need to be chained to a mountain whilst birds eat away at our soft bits, least of all chained by our own desperate minds. We modern Prometheuses (Promethei?) are alive, alive, ALIVE, monsters stumbling around with the brains of murderers but hearts that can feel on their own. Sometimes the secret is to forget about our knowledges and enjoy the experiences.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Actual Footage of Me Drinking

Over at, World of Awesome, the other blog for which I write, my partner Alex has written up a piece about the first bar in which either of us were regulars, Shades of Green. He even took some video of me pounding delicious Smithwickses. Please to enjoy the enjoyment. Tonight I'm going to my next Mono-Lagering bar, so I hope to have something up in the next day or two. Read more...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mono-Lagering: The Sackett

Given a gift of free beer coupons from 30 different bars from, Mr. Rice has decided to visit each one, and record his thoughts.

So, the first bar I tried was The Sackett (661 Sackett St. between 4th Ave & 5th Ave). Mere blocks away from my buddy Alex's place, I had apparently walked by it for over a year without knowing it was there. The Bushwick-to-Park-Slope commute is not one that engenders anything other than "I WANT TO GET TO WHERE I AM GOING," by the time you're out of the train, I suppose. That and I am not a particularly observant person by nature.

So I was on my way to Alex's for our weekly Dungeons and Dragons game (yes, actually) and I had plenty of time in between my teacher-out-of-work schedule and the normal-people-out-of-work schedule to indulge in some beers, and I popped in. I was made comfortable pretty much immediately. Not a huge joint, but pleasantly basement-y. Now, I've seen a lot of bars that try very hard to be basement-y and it just comes off as pretentious. What was that bar in the Village? Apartment or something like that? Shag carpet, bric-a-brac . . .it got the look pretty much dead on; the only problem was that it was awful.

It's fun to think about old times, downing cheap beer in brown basements, hiding from the adult world looming just upstairs (in the form of whichever parents were lax enough not to be a problem) and just a few years away (in the form of leaving high school and realizing the reason those parents were so lax is that no one has a fucking clue what they're doing). And, yes, we have nostalgia for those times and those friends, the friends of stupid pranks, the friends of inside-jokes nearly, but never quite forgotten.

But we weren't really any more happy then. It seems so much simpler, but the minor pains of teenage life, at the time, seemed to hurt just as much as the drudgery and unbelievable depths adult life contains. A prom date refusal, by way of the unfortunate law of emotional relativity, seemed just as painful then as a true, adult love cut short by the random capriciousness of disjointed human interaction.

But the Sackett wasn't trying too hard. It was sort of an expressionistic set of a basement. A couch, something slightly rough-hewn about the walls. Some board games, some books. It was just enough to be Not Every Other Bar, but hardly some Epcot of Misguided Post-Boomer Idiocy.

I sat down and ordered a Brooklyn Brown bottle. I really like a good brown ale, but what a goddam razor's line that is. The slightest chemical miscalculation and it can taste like someone found rotten Quik, that awful rabbit hobbling behind with a gangrenously unlucky foot. But the one from Brooklyn is good. It was happy hour and all drinks were two dollars off, which is a pretty great deal when the average beer is already only five or six. I felt my mind relax from the stress of the first day back to work after a break. I began to talk to the bartender, but another customer came in.

This was one of those faux-business men, the born New Yorker salesman, ten years on the job starting at 19. He's got the shirt and tie, but the social niceties afforded by more comfortable beginnings are nowhere to be seen. He talks loudly to . . .clients? . . .peers? . . .on his cell-phone while sipping a cocktail. I bristled with annoyance, and then again with class guilt. Oh, how hard to be the middle class white asshole who just happens to know how everyone should act all the time! And yet, it was legitimately annoying. Some niceties are there for a reason.

Turns out he was a salesman for a credit card processing company; the sort of company that supplies your local bar with the credit card machine, that takes a bit off the top of every credit card purchase to the dismay of service industry workers nation-wide. He chatted up the bartender about meeting the owner, yet complimented the company currently being used.

He's not really at the bar, he's looking for business. Like that Village bar, he's got the costume down perfectly, but ten years later he's facing the same malaise that MBAs have at some point, that we all have at some point: we have to keep doing this stupid shit until we die. Not that every job is stupid shit, or even that his is, but there is no denying we're knee-deep in the horseshit that is practical living: I really want THIS but I have to do THIS in order to live long enough to be too old to do that first thing we really want.

The salesman leaves and I continue my conversation with the bartender. It turns out that he's practically a neighbor, just a few streets over from my apartment in Bushwick. We shoot the shit about local joints and "how the neighborhood has changed" and so on, both putting on our own costumes. Oh, yes, we're cracker-ass imports to the neighborhood but WE'RE not the ones gentrifying the place where all my students' families have always lived, no, that's those OTHER guys. The hipsters with their cafes and their art spaces. Meanwhile my favorite local place has price points that price out anyone native to Bushwick.

At this point I order my free pint, a Six Point Pilsner. Normally a fan of darker, maltier beers, a good pils is my next choice. The beer selection at the Sackett is small but very diverse; a lot of great mirco-brews, and without the preponderance of the current trend of "LET'S SEE HOW FUCKING HOPPY WE CAN MAKE THIS BEER," that seems to shape beers these days. Christ, if I wanted that, I'd eat a bunch of flowers. I don't begrudge hop-fans their love, but some bars cater to them exclusively. Some of us like malts, guys.

I hadn't had the Six Point pilsner before, but it was quite good. Crisp with an easy finish, just sweet enough to entice, but not so much to ruin any refreshing qualities . Actually, one of my favorite beers is a pilsner, Presidente. I first came across it here in Bushwick, as it's imported for the local Dominicans. I first bought them out of a sort of pretentious loyalty to the neighborhood, the sort shown during my talk with the bartender.

But here's the thing, it's fucking delicious! It's my all-time favorite pilsner and among my top five favorite bottled beers anywhere. It goes with just about anything, and I never get tired of it, even after a long bender. So that pretention, that play-acting, that class-guilt-derived impulse, it actually led to a genuine discovery, to knowledge and pleasure both gained.

David Bowie and Bjork played on the juke, in rapid succession. Two musicians well-aware of the power of pretend, of putting on a mask, a pretention of persona; but they also know sometimes that is how you actually do something worthwhile. Whether calculating or stumbling, we can never be sure what the actual results of anything we do are, even our neurotically- or socially-driven charades.

Later, I move on along to Alex's and we roll our twenty-sided dice. Like in real life, we're role-playing, and, like in real life, sometimes that turns out well. A few touches create a relaxing atmosphere in a bar. An abrasive costume can earn a living for a family. And a guilt-ridden cracker can find a delicious beer. If you don't roll the dice, you never get a critical hit.


Resurrection Time

So, obviously, that fell apart. It turns out that when you put a bunch of heavy drinker/writers on deadlines, it is a poor idea. But a new idea has been rambling through my brain for a bit, and I was going to make a whole new blog for it, but why waste all that internets?

So I'll be posting them here. See, I have this book of coupons. An ex of mine gave it to me as a Christmas present. We were going to make a blog about each of the places and then show it to Brokelyn, the site where she bought them. Well, things didn't work out that way, but it is still a fine idea. The idea has developed from a simple review to using the review as a platform for thoughts and expression. It's difficult to explain, so I'll just post the first one in a bit.

But if anyone still looks at this, welcome back. Or welcome for the first time, I guess. And to any past writers, feel free to post here again . . .no more deadlines, no more assignments. Just, if this seems like a place to put something, if you have an itch to scratch and nowhere else just seems right, welcome back.

The HCAR offices are open again.