Thursday 11/9/06. My sinuses have been throbbing like Kodo drums all day, so tonight I am going to take the Beer Cure for my burgeoning cold. The Beer Cure consists of me popping cold pills and drinking so much beer that my entire system gets dehydrated, which usually results in the complete death-by-starvation of whatever cold virus is parasitically giving me a runny nose, making my eyes water, and filling my lungs with greenish slimy crap.
When I walk in the first words I hear are Matt Lambert announcing “Just leave your stool in the middle of the floor!” to some guy who is walking out as I'm walking in. I think to myself, “God, straight lines already?” then take the stool and park it next to Marita, who wants to know whether I’m coming to the closing party and what time I’m going to show up. I tell her probably between 3 and 4, and she says that since she and John are going to be in PA for the holiday weekend, they won’t be back in the city until 5 PM at the earliest. While she talks, I take two Sudafed, have a pint of water, do a shot of Jameson, and drink half a Guinness pint. Beer Cure go! (Say THAT three times fast.)
How Green Was My Valley Girl
The sound system is playing the score of Jonathan Miller’s Gangster Rigoletto, because tonight’s main event is Randi’s one year Verdi anniversary—Verdi being bar code for a green card wedding between a staff member and a citizen of another country who’s actually dumb enough to want to live here. (Why “Verdi anniversary?” Because one of the great jokes of opera is that, when you translate Giuseppe Verdi into English, you get Joe Green.) There have been at least five Verdi weddings at the Naughty Pine that I’ve been privy to since I started coming here, and all of them have been successful. Randi’s is with Nathan (not his real name), an actor from Toronto who’s been getting noticed in the downtown theatre scene. He never worked at the Pine, but he was (and is) a downstairs regular who became fast friends with Randi, and then became her roommate five months before their City Hall nuptials. He’s up in the lounge with some of his theatre friends and the incredibly pretty actress he’s seeing on the side. His present to Randi is the CD set of Sinatra’s V-Discs, the singles that were recorded in the 40’s and then sent to servicemen overseas; hers to him is an autographed copy of World War Z.
RANDI: I got Nate something he wanted, not something I wanted. Aren’t I the best wife?
DAVE: I have an autographed copy of World War Z.
GLYNNIS: Of course you do.
Glynnis and Mauri are up from downstairs because they were flower girls at Randi’s civil nuptials. We catch up for a few minutes; because I’m an upstairs regular and they are almost exclusively downstairs waitresses (has Glynnis EVER worked an upstairs shift, except maybe that one time at gunpoint?), and we rarely see each other to talk, except at the end of the night, when they’re just starting to drink and I’m just starting to pass out from drinking.
The Naughty Pine is not really as single bar with two floors; it is two separate bars, the way Springfield and Shelbyville are two separate cities. The downstairs bar is all about the history—it has that mind-boggling 19th-century bar, it has relics from when only male property owners could vote in this country, it has bloodstains from arguments about the Civil War in 1868, and if you could suck the floor under Table 106 you’d get smashed from all the martinis Scott and Zelda spilled there. It is the scene bar and the Seen bar—when people walk in off the street, this is where they want to be. On a good night the tables are packed, the bar is three deep, and it’s white noise loud, with the kind of energy that could send NASA rockets to the Andromeda Galaxy by the time it takes you to down an Irish Car Bomb. (Which only the really special Irish patrons get to drink here; if you look closely, you’ll see a map of Ireland with certain county names in red behind the bar, next to the cash register—if you’re from one of those, you can be served an ICB; if you’re not, you get a shot of Powers in a Jersey Turnpike.) It’s all dark wood and feels timeless. When you want to hook up with a random, this is where you go to find her or him. When people talk about the Naughty Pine, this is the bar they mean.
If the downstairs bar is a pitcher of beer, the upstairs bar is a glass of scotch—the acquired taste of bars. It’s upper shelf all the way. (They say that Kerouac wanted to call it that, The Upper Shelf, and Ginsberg never let him live it down. “You’re such a snob at heart, Jack,” he’d say, and Kerouac would fume.) Because of the skylight, Time passes up there, which adds a sense of transience to everything—the talk, the drinking, the intentions. Everything has a deadline. Everything has another level to it, as is true of anything that is done under the visible light of the moon and stars (because yes, on a clear night, you can actually see stars through the skylight). The people who drink at the upstairs bar are there because they want the camaraderie you don’t get from a room full of randoms—like movie-goers who see the first show of the day on Saturday, they’re there because they are passionate about what they’re going to see and do. They work the Skylight Shift. And as a writer? I’m up there because I can actually write at the bar without feeling like I'm interrupting somebody else’s bachelor party; because I can pull out my notebook and scribble for an hour or two and the people around me who have become my bar family will respect that.
There are very few celebrity sighting upstairs. Yes, there was the night Sandra Bullock had a dinner date at Table 208, and yes, there was the night Matt Damon sat by the jukebox, and within 45 minutes every woman on both floors of the bar was drinking in the lounge. But the only celebrity I’ve ever seen upstairs more than once is Paul Winfield, who (up until his death a couple of years ago) would show up once every month or so with his family for dinner, and who was one of the nicest guys you would ever want to meet. (It really burns me that people like him are gone while Kissinger still lives.)
As for staffing between the two bars, Glynnis is pretty much the Prime Minister of Downstairs, if only because Jynah thinks she’s the Queen and is too dumb to see that her power is only ceremonial. Randi is the Queen of Upstairs, and Dominic used to be her Prime Minister, but now he’s mostly the drunken albatross around her neck. Richie will occasionally manage upstairs, as will Sarah, but they’re mostly downstairs. Steve and Joey will never set foot behind the upstairs bar. Dave loves the upstairs bar; Kenny would love it more if he got better shifts. Doug used to do both (oh, I miss Doug), Elijah is pretty much a downstairs bartender now even though he was an upstairs regular, mostly because he prefers to be as far away from Dominic as possible, since nothing he does is ever right as far as Dominic is concerned. Sarah bartends downstairs (she and Sunday are the only female bartenders, though Randi has been known to get behind the stick in a crunch). For a while there, we all thought Little Jenny would become a bartender, but that never panned out, which is why she left. (And yet they gave Sunday a couple of bartending shifts less than two months after Jenny left, so go figure. As Dave is fond of saying, “There is a right way to do things, and a wrong way to do things; and then there is the Naughty Pine way.”)
A now-it-can-be-told secret about the downstairs bar? The guys have a red alert code for pretty women sitting at the bar. There are exactly 20 seats there, all of which have curved backs and swivel, so if you ever hear a bartender say “Water back on five!” you know there’s a stunner sitting at chair five. In the upstairs bar, they don’t need a secret code—you always know where the pretty women are by wherever Dave and Dominic are spending the most time talking instead of pouring drinks.
And upstairs is also the shift drink bar for staff who get off early and aren’t closing. They’ll come up for a drink or two and chat before they head home, or stay until the upstairs closes and then join the downstairs crew from the floor and the kitchen at Table 111, which always has a RESERVED sign on it, and no one but staff, or the people they’re sleeping with, are ever seated there.
That’s a joke, son—flew right by you
Dave is telling a blonde at the bar about Toad Hall. The blonde happens to be a Disneyland fanatic. “Do you know that it’s gone? Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride? Totally gone from Disneyland now. Everything is high tech now. Pirates of the Caribbean now. Everything.” And I remember an odd fact about Disneyland and Disney World. Nobody is allowed to die there. Death certificates for people who have dropped dead of a heart attack after riding Space Mountain always list the place of death as one of the hotels that’s just outside the park. It’ll never (officially) list the park as the place of death. Which makes me think of an idea for a farce, or a mystery, or a movie, or all three. It’s about somebody in a Goofy suit who gets murdered in the middle of the park, and a couple of his co-workers have to get him off the premises before (a) they get killed or (b) somebody realizes he’s dead. Working title: “Nobody Dies in Disneyland.” (Sounds like a Mike Hammer novel, doesn’t it?)
I start to jot down notes while three cute girls walk in, all of whom are young, pretty, and totally unfamiliar. “Three new girls!” Ketel Mike announces to the world at large. One of them leaves after a single drink, but the other two (Ann and Janie) stick around for another hour or so. Until Dave starts telling jokes:
DAVE: How does a woman hold her liquor?
ANN: I don’t know.
DAVE: By the ears.
JANIE: I don’t get it.
DAVE: Liquor. Y’know, like licker?
ANN: (Still not getting it) Yeah . . .
DAVE: Like lick-ing?
JANIE: (I’m not following you at all) Uh huh . . .
It literally takes them ten minutes to get this joke, which means that they are either the only actual virgins in the Village tonight or their boyfriends have a very limited repertoire of sexual techniques. Extremely limited. As in one.
Rachael from New School is in a booth with a couple of friends. She can’t believe that the place is closing. “I’ll be here some night next week for the long haul,” she promises, and it’s all Dave and I can do not to burst out laughing. Rachael is famous for sticking around until about two minutes before Dave finishes his books for the night, at which point she declares “I’m here till you leave” and then bolts downstairs and dives into a cab without even saying goodbye. I tell Dave that she’s a CWG, and explain the term: CWG stands for Chick With Glasses, and represents my observation that the biggest teases of my teenage years were always the girls with glasses. Rachael? Horn rims.
Around 11, as Dave is trying to close the place, Amanda from Knickerbocker comes in. Amanda is tall, dark-haired, and built like Ann Miller, with legs that go down to the subway. Because she doesn’t wear glasses, she sticks around with me and Trish till the upstairs closes, and then the three of us join Dave at Reservoir down the street. I stick around for a beer and a shot and then head home. My sinuses are clear, my mouth is dry, and I’ve been at it so long that I’ve drunk myself sober. Success!!!
Alcohol: Guinness (6—Naughty Pine; 1—Reservoir) Jameson (4—Naughty Pine; 1—Reservoir)
Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells