When is a bar not a bar? When it is someone's bedroom made up to look exactly like a bar.
If you live on the first floor in some prime East Williamsburg retail acreage, and your bedroom just happens to possess a storefront window on one of most trafficked corners of the neighborhood, Lorimer and Jackson streets, and if you are growing tired of spending your dead presidents on $5 Tecates at the nearby 20something pickup joint, wouldn't it kind of make sense to, using found objects around the arty neighborhood, to refashion said bedroom into a resemblance of a bar, so you can throw open your front door and just see who wanders in?
This is, more or less, what Michael did. I know Michael only because I wandered into his place, like many others, more or less by accident. From across Father Giorgio Triangle I saw a pair of thumbs, one up and one down, stretching across a storefront window. What could it mean, I wondered.
And no answers to this question were readily provided when I actually entered the joint.
Peering through the wide open door one would see what appeared to be half bar, half curio shop, half church to some low rent deity, to be appeased, evidently, merely by balloon crosses hanging from the ceiling. But no price tags hung from the objects on display and though there were about a half dozen empty Tecates scattered about a bar, it didn’t appear to be an actual NYC-licensed drinking establishment.
"This is a rather ambiguous store," I remarked, examining a particularly well-presented liquid soap spout and a mechanical hand holding a tiny Buddha that was lifted up when a red button was pushed.
"There's nothing ambiguous about this place at all," haughtily responded a gracefully graying and still whimsical gent behind the pink duct tape bar. His name was Michael I soon found out, and he described himself as the caretaker of the place.
He offered a shot of tequila, and soon Michael, his BFF Lauren, also sitting at the "bar," and I lifted our glasses and cheered ambiguity.
We're a very purpose driven creatures. We travel to destinations to engage in some pre-defined activity, drinking, eating or shopping. We're very precise in this way. Wandering into a storefront that has no real purpose, and doesn't particularly want your money, is just outside the scope of possibility for many people.
Those who accept readily accept such a thing, however, are interesting people indeed.
There is a certain genius at work here. Michael and his friends don't have to go to a bar to socialize with interesting people. Michael can throw open the doors and people on their way to some other bar may stick their nose in and ask "What is this place?"
That is the question people always ask when they first come in, Michael said. So predictable this question was, Michael once even fashioned a crude sign, reading "What is this place?" that he could hold up just as a new entrant uttered those very words.
Michael offered another shot of tequila. After that, another, which nearly drained the bottle entirely. So I volunteered to tip in to the nearby deli to grab some Tecate. See how this works?
Michael has been periodically redesigning this room and opening the doors to passers-by for some time now, evidently (Lauren advised me that Michael tends to have an active imagination, often set in motion by some random question, so it is best to take what he says as having a liberal fidelity to the actual truth).
Once he set up the place to look like an exact replica of an early 90s dive bar in the Lower East Side. On the day after he took all the artifacts down, a guy came by asking what happened to the bar that was at this exact location the very night before. He remembered it perfectly. He got so blitzed here.
"What are you talking about? There hasn't been a bar here since the 1930s," Michael said deadpan.
"But the guy behind the bar looked exactly like you," the exasperated attendee gasped. Michael shrugged, as if to say life is mysterious sometimes.
He is now pondering a semi-regular Monday prix fixe meal, prepared by his foodie friends. For these nights, the place will be called T.G.I.M (Thank God Its Monday).
We instantly bonded over music. Michael keeps a record player and a modest but well chosen collection of vinyl behind the bar. We both revel in the obscurity of the past. He played some D.R. Hooker, a self-funded Christian musician who recorded this sorta brilliant psychedelic album in the 1960s, as well as some Moondog, a NYC street musician who influenced both Steve Reich AND Phillip Glass.
Also: Jo Ann Kelly, an early 60s English lady blues singer who sounded remarkably like an old acoustic blues man from the 1920s and Eden Ahbez, the prototype LA vegetarian hippie dude who actually recorded strange hippe music in the *1950s* and the United States of America, the great failed experimental band of 1968.
Choice jams all.
Over the course of the evening several interesting people did hap in. Two guys from a Canadian record store on a U.S. record buying jaunt came in. We all lamented the surfeit of "Frampton Comes Alive" that chokes this country's dwindling used record bins. A German artist then came in, with his American host. They wanted to buy a drink, though Michael offered free Tecates instead.
Yeah, that was going down in 1968.
If the red lights are on, Michael advises, then come on in. If they aren't, well then you're passing by just another odd room in a Brooklyn apartment.