Wednesday, November 19, 2008

oh, the memories...

When I first moved to New York and before I started playing pool at every opportunity, I liked to write. I wrote in dive bars and cafes. Often writing in a cafe would lead before long to pulling up at a bar and dropping my manuscript on the bartop where I would continue working and beginning drowning the caffeine buzz with pints of Guinness. The best of the dive bars were cheap places where you could go in the daytime and be left alone. Bartenders at these places tended to be generous with buybacks every third or fourth drink. "Cheers," they'd say as they left your money on the bar. The only exception was probably the Holiday Cocktail Lounge on St. Marks. The bartender was never generous and the place was too dark for an aspiring writer trying to slide down the gullet of New York to work in, but the Holiday had its other charms.

The bar that became my muse, however, was Milano's. The old men who came there had known the daytime bartenders since before their wives had passed and when they were still working men. There were regulars who'd grown up around the corner and came back to drink after they moved out to Queens. There was a bartender named Maggie who liked to talk for hours, which was great until the day she kept serving Jameson's with the conversation—never saw a bill for that one and barely remember getting home. There were the happy hours when the owner showed up and bought rounds for everyone in the place, and I swear the bartenders just figured out a fair price sometimes.

The price for the nostalgia, however, was that I stopped being a productive writer. I had to learn my lesson, had to stop going there, had to realize that for all the "character" I thought I was learning about in those times, I was also losing something.

So, yeah, I have a certain nostalgia for dive bars, but I don't have much nostalgia for what dive bars do to people.