The 11 Stages of Grief When Your Favorite NYC Bar Closes
One of my favorite dive bars closed last night. This doesn’t differentiate me much from any other New Yorker; these days, everyone’s favorite dive just closed, or will close soon enough, strangled by velvet ropes and trampled on by fratty dopes who drink only to misplace their sobriety in the least interesting ways. But mine was a very good bar -- a dim sleeve buzzing with stories about fencing, prostitutes, and deflowered cowboy boots -- and I’d stack it up against the best of the city’s tragically departed.
I can’t tell you the name of the bar -- the owner asked me not to, because he wants to “go quietly” -- so I’ll just say the place would’ve been just old enough to drink itself, if Reagan had never been president. The moment I walked out its door for the very last time, leaving behind a cluster of one-time regulars that stretched back to the 1990s, a little army of feelings marched over me; the troops were so inspired, they maintained formation even as they were forced to wade through a swamp of domestic beer and bourbon. Here’s everything that went through my head and heart on my walk home:
... that less deserving neighboring bars would continue to operate the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that, pumping out shitty drinks to shitty patrons to the same-same thump of shitty, shitty music. Their Bieber drowned out my bar’s Buzzcocks; their junior analyst hordes provided infusions of dumb cash that my spot’s motley but dwindling regulars could never match. Screw those bars for being good at business and lousy at life.
... knowing that while those bars might last ‘til a few days past tomorrow, they sure as hell wouldn’t be around two decades from now. Knowing the generically DJ’d newcomers that helped seal this veteran establishment’s doom would be relatively short-lived and quickly forgotten is a small consolation, but small consolations are better than no consolations.
... that it’s not necessarily those bars’ fault. They opened up after the neighborhood had already transitioned into everything my bygone bar was fighting against, and it’s overly judgmental to call their owners malevolent rather than just realistic. My abiding faith in humanity tells me that soundtracking their Fridays with “Love Yourself” makes them hate themselves, but singalongs mean rounds of shots, and rounds of shots make rent.
... that the owner of my bar had found peace with his situation after years of agonizing. When I first met him, he seemed to believe he could push back the tide of gentrification through the sheer power of his surliness. I believed it, too, that the glare he flashed while casually polishing barware could shame an undesirable into packing up his khakis and moving back to the Upper East. Gradually, though, his confidence had eroded; what had once been a soaring, cinematic antagonism became weighted down by pain and frustration. But last night, he wore a hard-earned smile, more irrepressible than wry. My regulars have all moved away. Let the kids have the neighborhood, I’ve got other things to do.
... as I forgot all the previous stuff and started worrying more about where I was going to drink than whether he was going to be successful doing those other things. Barflies sometimes ignore the hard work and heartache owners endure just to provide them a welcoming stool to sit around bitching on. When they throw in the towel, there’s a part of you that wants to scream, “How could you close down!?” Which is silly; it’s not like he’d scream back “Why aren’t you working on a novel!?”
... that I didn’t drink there more. I can tell myself the place was one avenue too far to be an every-night stop, but that’s because I’m the laziest kind of New Yorker, the kind that relegates far too much of his time to a micro-neighborhood instead of a neighborhood. The old school can’t stay in session without students, and I played hookie far too often.
... realizing that if I drank regularly at all the bars I love, I would be dead, and my bar tabs would presumably become fairly negligible.
... because it’s entirely possible that my concern over disappearing dives is a mask that covers up an awareness that I haven’t moved away, and don’t have much else to do.
... as I remembered that not having much else to do isn’t the worst thing in the world; sometimes it’s the best thing in the world.
... as I thought to myself, “How come the less sketchy a neighborhood gets, the more bouncers there are?” It seemed pretty clever at the time.
... knowing that this part of town isn’t dead yet (and neither is my nightlife). There are still great dives around here, staffed by people dedicated to keeping the lights low and the ambience weird. Now that my friend’s finally given up on saving his own bar, he might finally have the time to help save another one.
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David Blend is Thrillist's Director of Content. He's lived in New York for 15 years, which is long enough to see a lot of good bars close, but not long enough to complain about it too loudly. Follow him on Twitter here.