Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mono-Lagering: The Sackett

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, 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.


  1. Nicely done, Joe. And welcome back.

  2. Thanks, Bret. Good to be back.

    And thanks, Sarah! For the compliment and the inspiration, heh.

  3. Your blog is gay. Write more lyrics. You gay.