Local in Name Only

The Phenomenon: The Bar Name Meme
The Bars:     7B, WCOU Radio, The Boat
The Movies:     The House of Flying Daggers,     Batman Begins

Once upon a time, when I lived in the East Village, I was supposed to meet some friends from out of town for a beer. They had chosen the place by themselves: 7B. “7B,” I said to myself, “I imagine that’s at 7th Street and Avenue B,” because, well, that made sense. But I was troubled because I’d never noticed a bar at 7th and B called 7B, and like all nosy drunks, I like to keep an eye on the bars in my neighborhood. So I wandered around, confused, until I noticed my pals standing around outside of Horseshoe Bar. See where I’m going with this? Turns out Horseshoe Bar is actually officially called 7B. Same deal with Tile Bar at 7th and First. Apparently its real name is WCOU Radio. So, weird, right?

It’s obvious that these unofficial bar names come from physical descriptions of the bars, but how do they spread? And why? At first glance, it seems like maybe people just rename bars that don’t prominently display their legal names. But WCOU Radio has a big, impossible-to-miss clock with the words “WCOU Radio” written in neon on it, hanging right over the juke box, while a bar like the Boat (on Smith Street) doesn’t have its name anywhere, even out front, but nobody calls it Game Bar or Reds or anything. So it seems like these bar naming memes just float mysteriously through the ether into our brains.

And bunches of other stuff is hanging out in that same ether. Have you ever noticed that you can get a sense of what people think about a movie without actually reading anything about it? Like, “How is that House of the Flying Daggers movie, anyway?” “I dunno, people seem to like it.” The internet, and more specifically the blogosphere, facilitate this kind of thing, but it existed way before TCP/IP. Like for example the urban legend of the cheerleader from that other school who gave the whole football team blowjobs before the game and had to have her stomach pumped. How does that kind of stuff get around? Why has everybody heard of it? How come I can sniff the air and know whether people think Batman Begins sucks or not? I dunno. What I do know, though, is how to make my out-of-town guests feel stupid for calling Horseshoe Bar “7B.” I heart New York.


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