Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mono-Lagering: The Narrows

Given a gift of free beer coupons from 30 different bars from Brokelyn.com, 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.

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