“We’re poor little lambs who have lost our way…”

A catastrophe recently took place in New York that left a lot of people homeless… adults who are all dressed up with no place to go. The event in this case was the closing of Elaine’s, the revered gold standard in saloon life, which locked up its doors for good almost a month ago. And if it all hadn’t been so sad, this event, this sinking of the Barland Titanic, your friendly bartender would find the whole thing ridiculous. Or even funny, and here’s why…

It seems that everywhere I go these days I run into one of these “orphans”, and it’s never “How ya’ doin’?” it’s “Where we gonna’ go now?” Before anything! And it’s said with such emotion and loss the appropriate color and dress should be black with a veil. Or put another way, they’re like people who’ve just been evicted and need a spare couch.

“I hear there’s a place on 81st,” one will say, hoping for a learned response from your friendly bartender, or another might add, “What about that joint on Lex?” And on it goes. Bar after bar gets thrown in the mix, none of which comes even close, which simple evaluation will tell you just why. Elaine’s was an actual Rembrandt as New York establishments go, so the rest are in most cases prints you can buy at Pier 1. And who wants to buy a print when you’ve owned the original? End of story. So in a way I can feel their pain and their plight, these people who can’t find a fitting stool for their tookuses, but to suffer like this with such desperation, to sit this seven day Shiva for almost a month now… well, as I said, it can get ridiculous or even funny. So after my shift this past Friday night instead of going to Elaine’s which I obviously can’t do anymore, I decided to scout the area to see if I could solve this thing. To rescue some orphans.

Scouring that very same neighborhood which is conveniently my neighborhood (I didn’t want to crawl too far after my recon mission), I checked out a couple of joints on the upper eastside. Hopeful replacements. And the very first place that I spotted which looked from the outside not too bad inside, only had only three or four people at the bar, none of whom, I surmised, would ever be our orphans. Because first off, the music in the joint was so fucking loud, so piercingly, moronically loud that I could barely hear myself think let alone drink. Which brings me to the second problem I had… getting a drink! The Irish guy behind the stick had to be told by a customer that I was sitting there. For almost three minutes! How bad is that? I could see if he’d had a full bar to handle but only three or four people? C’mon, man. And when he did come over he never said a word, just dropped down a bev nap, folded his arms and waited. Like I was in the wrong. Hey, when I see I’ve kept a customer waiting (inadvertently, stupidly or otherwise), the first thing out of my mouth is, “Sorry to keep you waiting.” It’s the right thing to do. But not this guy.

So I ordered a Ketel and soda, which he mixed and placed in front of me, then walked back down to the customer who’d pointed me out. And still without a word as though I were invisible. Now I didn’t expect him to gleefully ask me, after he’d set down the drink, if I wanted to pick out furniture Saturday morning, but a simple “Hello” or “Fuck you” would’ve been nice. And in a way it’s too bad because I normally enjoy shooting the breeze with bartenders, and so do other bartenders, it’s a way of comparing war stories from a common battlefield. But not here. Which is why I only had one and left two dollars. Normally I’d leave a sawbuck even for a coke.

Running through the raindrops now, both figuratively and actually, I stopped at another joint up the road which seemed to be more of a sports bar than a real meeting place. So it never got my business or “expert” analysis. And I should add in all sincerity, there’s nothing wrong with places like that, I’ve had my share of drinks in them, it’s just not what I had in mind for our wandering orphans.

And the rain kept pouring.

Which I could see was going to sorely shorten my recon mission. For I’m a dedicated man when it comes to a cause but I’m not any martyr by a long shot, there will be other nights for this I figured. But there were three more places not far away I could get to without my scuba gear, so I decided to take one more shot before giving up. But, alas, and again (you guessed it!) the music was playing so loudly in these joints, just like in bar number one, I never got past the doorway to order a drink. I just poked my head in, turned right around and left. That’s how nuts it was. I mean, Holy fucking earplugs, Batman, what’s the hell’s the deal with all this volume? Does the music have to be heard in the next county? When I was a lad and out on the prowl I went to places like these, places that featured music both live or on juke box, but never to my recollection was it played this loudly. Ever! It was important I heard the girl’s name whenever she said it. But I’m getting off track here.

Which is where your friendly bartender was last Friday. Off track, unable to find a good station to pull into. And as the rain kept pouring in buckets and sheets dashing not just my hopes but my fine gray blazer, I suddenly found myself uttering this mantra in my head. The “orphan’s” mantra... “Where we gonna’ go? What’re we gonna do? Where are we gonna’ go? What’re we gonna’ do? Where the hell do we go without Elaine’s now???” So yeah, I’m definitely one of those orphans at whom I tossed a few zingers here, and to whom I now would roundly like to apologize. I’m with ya’, man, I’m with ya’, I’m just as lost as you are without Elaine’s! For it is a shame there are very few bars, bars I would call adult bars… places where conversation is king, not the goddam sound system, and places of course “Where everyone knows your name!”

“Baaa, baaaaaaaaa, baaa….”

See ya’ next week-end, my friends, have a good week.

31 Responses to ““We’re poor little lambs who have lost our way…””


  1. 1 Pharm Sci Grad June 12, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    Yep. A Pub (in the true sense of the word, ie: a public house) is a beautiful thing to find – if exceedingly difficult these days. Best of luck with a drier search next week Scrib!

  2. 2 Connie June 12, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    We had a neighborhood place in Fort Worth (I know, far cry from NYC) that closed about 7 years ago. It was 5 blocks from my house, served good food, had a great bar, and “everyone knew our name”. I have been trying to find something similar ever since they closed. No such luck. Sigh.

  3. 3 Ken June 12, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    When you have a great place to go, you do feel a real loss when it closes its doors. We had a great place in our town for over twenty years. It was a hangout for the then young, smart and smartass crowd in the city. It died for totally different reasons than Elaine’s. This place got to be very clubby and very chummy, and really made no effort to bring in new blood. As the clientele aged well into their forties, and had actual jobs, and kids and grownup stuff to attend to, it just kind of withered away. That was about 15 yearsago. I still kind of miss the place. It had the tastiest chilli I ever ate. The Greek place with the big windows overlooking the street is still thriving.

    I’m with you on loud music. I go to a bar for conversation. When the music is so loud it makes the cavity of my chest vibrate, it’s time to leave.

  4. 4 scribbler50 June 12, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    Sci Grad: Thanks, as always, for your comment… and yes may the moon shine down on my next reconnaissance.
    Cheers, friend!

    Connie: Like I said in my post, “I’m with ya'”, I know what it’s like when you lose the perfect clubhouse. (I think you’re new around these parts so if you are, welcome! :) )

    Ken: It’s sad, certain places simply are not replaceable. And it’s funny, Elaine really welcomed new blood in her place but I think the younger set felt intimidated, like they were going to the famous adult place they’d read about in the papers.
    Thanks, Ken.

  5. 5 MikeQ June 13, 2011 at 4:01 am

    Scrib, … I have to hand it to you. First, you have an amazing nack to see this stuff, to see the heart of things, what’s important in the passing incidents. And then you write so well, you bring it to life. A sincere tip of my hat to you, sir.

  6. 6 Anonymoustache June 13, 2011 at 6:54 am

    Well, where some see a void, others see opportunity. I think the time has arrived for you, my good man, to open your own place and rule! I know you’ve got the bar, overall service, ambience etc covered (it’s all out there, in your various posts), so all you need is a chef to take care of the kitchen. If you convince CPP to come on board, I believe you’re set….he seems to cook a lot by the looks of his blog, and I think we can all agree that he can go toe to toe with Gordon Ramsey in the speech department as well. I’d suggest a simple classic 3-word name for the establishment, the last two of which are Cafe Americain. I love it already and can’t wait to be there. The bill for my consultancy services will be in the mail shortly….;-)

  7. 7 Irishirritant June 13, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Never to experience….At least King James (W) gave you a nod for your mission. Good luck, good bars and barmen are tough to find…now that’s irritating.
    Thanks

  8. 8 scribbler50 June 13, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Mike Q: “Tip of the hat” accepted, Sir, and thanks! Coming from a fellow bartender makes it even more special. Cheers and have a good week!

    Anonymoustache: The check is in the mail but not for your consulting fee, it’s to keep Comrade Physioprof out of my kitchen. Can he “chef”? Yes. But he’d make Gordon Ramsey seem like Dalai Lama. Which means I couldn’t afford the law suits forthcoming from the kitchen staff. “Mental Cruelty” “Public Embarrassment” Slander” “Verbal Obscenity” ah… well you get the picture. And if I did hire the Comrade, against all relative logic, I’d have to call the place “Fuckin’ Cafe American!”! N’cest pas?

    Thanks though, as always, for your thoughtful comment.

    Irish: Thanks for mentioning Wolcott, his comment made the mission more than worth it. Thanks, Pal.

  9. 9 Chris June 13, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    I was hearing the theme song to Cheers as I read this post. As others have said its almost impossible to find a good bar, they all cater to the young crowd who seems to enjoy music so loud you can’t think. It is annoying as hell. And I was thinking along the same lines as Anon you should open your own place, although I’m sure it costs a fortune in Manhattan. Then I was also thinking why not refer them to where you work now? Have a good week.

  10. 10 scribbler50 June 13, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    Chris: Some have come by where I work but it’s not the same kind of place. And… that doesn’t help as far as where I can go. Also “no thanks” as far as trying to be an owner. Twenty years ago, maybe, but not now.
    Thanks.

  11. 11 brenda cullerton June 13, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    I’m with Anonymoustache…. Time to open your own place, Scrib. But I figure the music’s loud in all those other joints because nobody’s listening… They’re all TEXTING and wondering if they’re missing something somewhere else. In the meantime, Temple Bar is still one of my favs. Unfortunately, it’s not exactly in your neck o the woods!

  12. 12 scribbler50 June 13, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    Brenda: Nah, too late for that stuff, trying to be an owner. I’ve got enough headaches being a pourer! Meanwhile, you, your hubby and me will have to meet up one day at the Temple Bar. Just looked it up and it looks pretty smart. As in adult and elegant. Like you, my friend! :)

  13. 13 Ken June 13, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    Scrib: You are right. I remember when I was an energetic 20 year old, leading an effort to open a campus pub. Strictly beer and wine. Special short term permits for the hard stuff. We wanted it in the student union. Fun fact: the city/town line cut right through the building. We wanted to set it up on the city side, but had to ditch this plan when it became clear that required payoffs that we couldn’t have made, even if we wanted to. After a great deal of effort, we moved our establishment to the other side of the building. With help, we managed to find some friendly pols in the town who were willing to put it through.For no payoffs. With all the other hassles involved in setting up a bar, I couldn’t believe how much work it was.

    Can’t imagine what it’s like in the Bloomberg Nanny State.

  14. 14 ratso8701 June 13, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    I’ve got an idea. Where are the Elaine’s bartenders working now?

  15. 15 scribbler50 June 13, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    Ken: It’s a huge undertaking in the “Nanny State”, and as you can imagine expensive as hell. Meanwhile, love the fact that the city line ran right through the middle of the building. That’s right out of a movie! Thanks for checking in again.

    Ratso: Good thought and that will draw some of the people. Of the two bartenders, one isn’t working yet and the other just got a week-end gig where some people came to see him this past Saturday night. It’s in a place called Neary’s in midtown.

  16. 16 sourkraut June 14, 2011 at 8:07 am

    I feel the same way about Elaine’s. Although it wasn’t my main hangout I did enjoy going there for drinks and conversation either with the bartenders or the regulars. Had the same experience back in 2003 when the Victory Cafe closed. Which wasn’t far from Elaine’s. One of the bartenders from the Vick moved on to Elaines a few years prior to the closing and that is what started my going there more often than I had. But I had that same feeling of a nomad wandering the hood looking for the right place. Let us know when you find the right place. Thanks again for the great stories.

  17. 17 scribbler50 June 14, 2011 at 8:36 am

    sourkraut: If I find the right place I’ll let you know, and ditto goes for you. Drop me a comment if you hit on a good spot.
    Thanks!

  18. 18 Patsy June 14, 2011 at 10:47 am

    Got to hand it to you Scrib you created empathy in me for the orphans; as your UES neighbor I was getting a bit tired of the “where oh where are we going to go…” chorus but you took the whine out of their mantra.
    As a, shall we say guest star at Elaine’s, due to infrequent appearances not actual fame, my sense of loss over Elaine’s closing centers more around a bit of old New York dying off. As you aptly state once you’ve had the original the print copy from Pier 1 isn’t very successful in filling that void. Of course now that Pier 1 is being replaced by Duane Reede we can’t even buy the copy!
    With regards to the music levels in bars, sigh – I may have to start my own blog on that topic… particularly ironic as Nanny Bloomie enforces “quiet zones” in Central park, banning talented/struggling musicians from playing outdoors meanwhile I can’t enjoy a drink with friends without my ribcage rattling!
    Neary’s looks like it could be good – tried to go in last summer, my friend was wearing shorts – the sincere offer of loaner pants had us out the door laughing our arses off on the sidewalk in a heartbeat – happy hunting orphans!

  19. 19 Chris June 14, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    Ken & Scrib I saw something on the Travel channel not so long ago about a bar in Tennessee where the front half is in Tennessee and the back half is in Georgia. The county of Georgia that the back end of the place sits is a dry county, so you can’t go to the bathroom with your beer it has to be left as the table. Funny stuff.

  20. 20 scribbler50 June 14, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    Patsy: Thanks for that thoughtful comment and I’m with you on every count. Especially the part about old new York dying out. Very sad. I’ll have to give Neary’s a shot some night just to say high to our friend, and, as always, I WILL be wearing long pants!

    Chris: Hilarious! And only in America…
    Thanks, bud.

  21. 21 d-a-p June 14, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    i just read your latest story….
    then i read mr. wolcott’s blog…
    congratulations…
    d-a-p

  22. 22 scribbler50 June 15, 2011 at 12:30 am

    d-a-p: Thanks for mentioning that, always a thrill when Mr. W. weighs in. In fact it’s huge!
    Later, old friend.

  23. 23 physiobabe June 15, 2011 at 9:20 am

    Well, ragazzo perso, you can always come to my house ;-)

  24. 24 scribbler50 June 15, 2011 at 10:50 am

    physiobabe: Not sure about the “ragazzo” part but you’re on. Pour me a Woodford on the rocks and put a light in the window.
    (Now about your waitress outfit…) :)

  25. 25 Comrade PhysioProf June 15, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    Very well put, my friend. I felt exactly the same way when a wonderful place in my neighborhood that had been around for over one hundred years closed. And, sadly, I only ever found the place just a couple years before they closed. It’s a fucken shame.

  26. 26 scribbler50 June 16, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Thanks, Prof, and I feel your pain. These places are not just businesses, they’re gathering places with organic lives of their own. Relationships are formed, friendships are made, it’s a sharing of the human experience in a home away from home.

    (Oh, and they serve Jameson!) :)

  27. 27 Chris June 19, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    We’re the poor little lambs running to the Scribs blog only to find last weeks story still here and nothing new. :(

  28. 28 scribbler50 June 19, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    Chris: Thanks, I had stuff going on, hopefully tomorrow.

  29. 29 Chris June 19, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    Heh just busting balls Mr. Scribbler, take your time you know we aren’t going anywhere.

  30. 30 physiobabe June 20, 2011 at 9:22 am

    So anyway, I came here for a real thirst-quencher and to my surprise, what do I find? Well, not that cute bartender I always flirt with, that’s for sure. What gives, Scrib?

  31. 31 scribbler50 June 20, 2011 at 11:19 am

    physiobabe: I just posted, albeit two days late.


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