Not only is Timothy Bracy a singer and songwriter for New York rock ‘n’ roll band the Mendoza Line, he is also a sports columnist for the online version of this magazine, and he studies creative writing at the New School. As such, we felt him to be uniquely qualified for a look at three of our favorite kinds of bars in which to get very, very drunk.
The Sports Bar
Ambling down Seventh Avenue in Park Slope, there is nothing in this heavily gentrified and increasingly wealthy neighborhood to portend the appearance of the Old Carriage Inn, an unpretentious blue-collar watering hole catering to the whims and appetites of hardcore football junkies each Sunday in autumn and throughout the winter.
And yet there it is, distinguished from the high-end coffee shops and pricey French restaurants by an inflatable New York Giant, many feet high and swaying back and forth on a windswept January night. It would seem capricious and shortsighted to pass a balloon of this size and eminence and not at least stop to briefly examine the premises. When a careful examination reveals the further siren call of discount Michelob Ultra and free billiards in the back, the agenda for a once freewheeling evening feels suddenly and irrevocably cast into stone.
But maybe this is a mistake. The inarguable promise of countless amenities are suddenly mitigated by a fear that this place is crawling with off-duty cops. It is not simply the preponderance of burly and mustachioed men which conveys this concern, but also the careful scrutiny with which I am suddenly regarded as I pass through a phalanx of patrons en route to the bar. Brows are furrowed, pejorative glances exchanged. Although I am a deeply law-abiding citizen, an air of minor criminality has always, unaccountably, exuded from me. When in the presence of the authorities, it has typically been their habit to seize upon and incarcerate me. It occurs unspoken, ineffable, but the sentiment being conveyed from patron to patron as I pull up a stool is almost certainly: “Boys, it looks like we got a beatnik on our hands...”
Fortunately the Old Carriage Inn proves not to be the ass-kicking factory it initially appeared to be. The bonding rituals of football fandom being what they are, surface differences are quickly forgotten in the wake of a collective fixation on the large-screen glow of the AFC Championship game. When it becomes clear by dint of small talk that I am not only familiar with the unfolding events, but am seriously invested in them, my scragliness and unfamiliarity is rapidly absolved and I am granted the fullest courtesies of the regular crowd.
A middle-aged New England Patriots booster sits next to me (as it turns out he is an MTA employee, not a cop), and leaning in reveals his anxiety concerning what will transpire in the second half. Though the Pats lead 21-6 and have dominated the first half, the Colts scored last and something just doesn’t feel right. “I gotta feeling they’re gonna spring something on us. Sooner or later…” he informs me, revealing a heavily accented Bostonian pedigree.
“No chance,“ I reassure him, and then proceed to witness his expression grow gradually more crestfallen as his team staggers, wilts, and finally gives away a trip to the Super Bowl. Tonight the bar is filled with Patriots fans trying to make sense of that rarest of developments — the full-scale unraveling of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady during an instance of critical historic consequence. Still, no antipathy is directed towards the few boisterous Colts fans who, in the game’s final moments, are cavorting in an understandably orgiastic dance of catharsis. There is good will, camaraderie and hot wings.
The Student Bar
Do I drink this much because I’m in school, or did I enroll in school accidentally during a bender? I can’t remember, and it hardly matters anymore — the circumstances are immutable, the outcomes pre-ordained. I have a ten-foot high stack of esoterica sitting on my desk, much of which I cannot even read, let alone discuss intelligently in a classroom. It is fairly obvious I am destined to become a professor.
I’m here now at the unfortunately named Scratcher on 5th Street in the East Village, winding my way through a fourth pint, attempting to more fully engage with the nuance and ennui of Chekhov’s “A Boring Story.” My class is at eight, but it’s cocktail hour now, so there’s little choice but to deal with this reading during Happy Hour. And it is apparent I am not the only one splitting the difference between the nurturing of intellectual curiosity and the desire to receive one dollar off all domestic bottles and drafts.
A small, raven-haired woman in a stylish jacket is hunched mournful and contemplative over Heidegger — surely nobody is reading this for laughs. Musing over our connection I catch her eye and beam an inscrutable smile in her direction, one meant to make manifest the implied camaraderie of our meaningless existence; I with my Russian suffering, she with her proto-fascist German, both of us getting hammered in a hipster bar with a name like a Louisiana brothel. Without hesitation she snaps her volume shut and heads expediently towards the door. I presume she must have to get to class, although this does not fully explain why she would elect to direct an uncharitable hand gesture towards me on the way out. Perhaps the piercing significance of my glance carried with it even more gravity than I had intended, bringing forth an unclogged reservoir of unalloyed emotion, as is frequently the case in my interactions with the fairer sex. In any event, I didn’t get maced; considering this a triumph, I return to my reading.
Later that same week, a late-night, after-class gathering at a bar on Univeristy Place proves to be something more of a holiday atmosphere. Perhaps that is owing to the fact that we all just got out of Japanese cinema class, and everyone is still giddy with the collective understanding that college credit continues to be issued for watching Samurais. On this quiet Wednesday you can feel a bit like a rarified and important conglomerate, deep in discussion over the sort of things not easily comprehensible to those without a hobbyist’s enthusiasm and a fair amount of time. We unpack subtle differences between relatively obscure masters like Yasujiro Ozu and Mikio Naruse with a pleasing earnestness. The conversation is fevered and cabalistic in its obscurity. Interestingly, I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. I couldn’t tell a tracking shot from a tractor pull, but this knowledge in no way inhibits me from inveighing with jabbering delight about the vital importance of this and other techniques. In keeping with the cheerful spirit of the occasion, no one calls me on it. On the basis of my insipid gibberish, it could be argued that time is being wasted here. So what? Model train enthusiasts have their conventions, philatelists go to auctions. We go to bars in order to ponder the degradation of honor in post-WWII Japan. Surely that is better than being a philatelist (or at least sounds less scandalous).
The Rock Bar
Every other time I was ever at the Mercury Lounge — maybe ten times — I was here to actually play music. But now I’m here to see Frightened Rabbit, a Scottish band which came highly recommended. It turns out that if you aren’t playing, and not friends with the band, you aren’t supposed to go into the dressing room downstairs. Well, that came as news to me. There are a lot of advantages to the dressing room: it is a quiet place to discourse upon the relevant events of the day, the beer is free, and you are kept safe from the rabble. So naturally that is immediately where I went. I arrived on a crowded Tuesday, only to be rebuffed by an Irish band manager dressed in a vintage seersucker suit. “Are you in one of the bands on the bill?” he inquires, betraying deep mistrust. “Well, no,” I said, beset with astonishment. “Does that mean I have to… go upstairs?!”
It’s pretty ugly up there. The drinks are expensive and the heaving crowds and noisome instruments make it nearly impossible to talk football and cinema. Yes, you really have to like music to want to be here. After a few minutes I’m pretty sure I don’t. For one thing, the club scene definitely does not jibe easily with one’s drinking. For instance: I am not there but five minutes before one bearded individual crashes into me, spilling my drink on the woman to my right! As the dark lager splashes from my glass and onto the shoulders of this perfect stranger, she fixes me with an irritable frown. The mortification is incredible. It’s a total frame up! She thinks I’m the culprit! My attempts at explanation are drowned out by the opening act. A second large man in a thick winter jacket brushes against me and my beer splashes again. It cost six dollars for this drink. I’ve seen a little chaos in my day, but the very underpinnings of civilization appear to be collapsing around me. I presume this must be what it’s like in a prison riot.
It’s difficult to overstate how thoroughly the band has the advantage over the audience in these settings. Standing on stage one is largely spared the immeasurable tortures of live music — the claustrophobia, the PA problems, the periodic but inevitable touching which occurs between strangers. Such horrors represent the very teeming marrow of my anxiety. Many times I have stood on stage as a performer and pondered what looking glass I had fallen through. How to explain a circumstance wherein one party is being compensated to occupy the only pleasant place in the entire club, while the other has paid to be squeezed together in a harrowing mash of pulverizing flesh trade? Bafflingly, this does not appear to be the majority view of those assembled to see Frightened Rabbit. Their effusive actions mirror the precise opposite of my own impulses — smiling faces, bobbing heads, shouted requests and other beatific gestures, incredibly, are in evidence.
Well, god bless them — I’m going to save myself. It seems to me that I really only have two choices — run for the exits, or climb on stage and see if I can somehow get in the band. Quick and lucid thinking is a hallmark of human beings in a state of deep peril, and for a second I imagine myself assuming a Glaswegian brogue so persuasive that I cannot help but be mistaken for a lost brother, soul mate, or general asset to the performance. And I still believe this would have worked, had it not been for the sudden, unexplained appearance of my longtime nemesis and former bandmate Peter Hoffman, who I am sure would have immediately ratted me out, name, rank and serial number.
And so I race through my beer and hurry for the front door, pushing past the teeming crush of humanity with fevered dispatch. “No re-entrance!” the surly doorman informs me as I pass in a breathless rush. For Christ’s sake, you’re telling me…