Theme bars are interesting animals. Some are all theme. Like Hardrock, they could as easily be a T-shirt store — the theme is primary, and the bar is just what they happened to install. Korova Milk Bar, say, or Mars 2112. Then there’s the “theme” bars that are more like bar archetypes: Irish bars, karaoke bars, sports bars, titty bars. Sometimes you run across bars that seem to have a motif by accident, like there’s a collection of crap behind the bar that relates to the place’s, but it’s unclear whether it was put there on purpose or just brought in by regulars over the years. For my money, the most interesting are the ones whose theme is completely unnecessary. Bars that would be just as successful without the strange décor, yet have boldly chosen a theme anyway.
Take 1849 Right in the heart of NYU territory, you’d think “$2.50 drinks and 20¢ wings” would be selling point enough. I assumed the numbers were the address or something, but as I sat there, it dawned on me: the bar was attempting to represent the year 1849. There was a buffalo head on the wall, tumbleweeds hanging from the ceiling, and a saddle, just like how people had saddles in 1849. It had all the “random crap stuck to the walls” of a Friday’s with the dusty diorama feel of a Natural History Museum exhibit. I kind of liked the slow burn subtlety of it all, too. It’s timed so that you realize that the Indian statue and the name go together midway through your second drink, giving you that nice “Am I drunk or is this bar really weird” vertigo.
Crocodile Lounge an offshoot of Williamsburg’s Alligator Lounge, is much more upfront but no less weird. Again, you’d think free pizza would be all the draw needed, but the fine folks behind the crocodilian drinkeries chose to go that extra mile. The thin green awning over the entrance evokes a croc’s snout. The inside is green, narrow, and low ceilinged, with walls painted like alligator (or I guess crocodile) skin. Drinks inside a crocodile’s tummy! Oddly compelling, I gotta say.
What compels someone to go to all that trouble for a bunch of boozehounds that won’t notice anyway? I can’t say. But it makes me happy to know that there are people who do.
1849, 183 Bleecker St
Crocodile Lounge, 325 E. 14th St