Welcome to Ladies’ Night, the first in a series of interviews I’m doing with women about aging, drinking in public, and generally being awesome in spite of having crossed over into so-called middle age.
First up is Karen Hudes, a 42-year-old editor who just took over the Front & Center blog for Rockefeller Center, in addition to freelancing for Zagat and Refinery29. She’s also the creator of the cooking game Menu Mash-Up, as well as an occasional jewelry designer (see her handiwork on my wrist).
We met near Williamsburg’s phantom White Castle at Harefield Road where both The Vaselines and Suicidal Tendencies, bands that would’ve put you into slightly different high school cliques three decades ago, were being played.
What made you choose this bar?
This bar’s been around for what feels like a long time now–at least ten years. The atmosphere is more like a neighborhood place. I don’t really go enough to be a regular but friends of mine are, and it’s a meet-up place. A couple of my friends got married at City Hall and we got a table here afterwards. It just feels comfortable.
How long have you lived in the neighborhood?
Since ’96. I feel like I’m lucky I got here when I did. I had just been out of college for a year and I grew up in Queens. Back then, there were only three places to go out in the neighborhood. Where I live between the Graham and Lorimer stops, just a few blocks from here, felt a little farther away at the time. Now I’m glad I have some distance from Bedford because this still feels like a real neighborhood. It still has its Italian roots, some of the Italian shops, and old neighborhood and the newer people have integrated pretty well. I just really feel connected to it, and if I tried to move here now I could never afford it.
Not to make this about me, but when I first moved to NYC at 25 I briefly lived in Williamsburg above what’s now The Richardson, then didn’t move back to until I was 40 and everything was different. I was like wow, I still like going out and doing things but everyone in this neighborhood is under 30. Do you feel like an old-timer?
Well, through my 30s I felt pretty young and I just didn’t notice it so much. It wasn’t like I was running in circles with the new people or I’d go to a bar and feel like oh, I’m so old. I could pass a little bit, though I definitely had friends who felt very conscious of it. I was on a kickball team which felt unique to the neighborhood at the time and seemed like a good way to meet people. Even then, I was a bit on the older side, in my early-to-mid 30s. That whole culture was strange because it’s almost like you’re revisiting junior high and it kind of lends itself to not growing up, which is the reputation the neighborhood has in general. But this area feels a little more mature–like the clientele at this bar is more 30s, 40s.
When I first moved here Teddy’s was one of the only bars. It’s really old and it has a really good burger and one time I was hanging out with Jessica [a mutual friend who’s lived on the same block as Teddy’s for 15 years] and I said maybe we could stop in and she said, “Oh, I’m afraid of that. I think that’s where you go when you’re really old.”
I think it’s been sold. Same with the dog bar. What’s left? Turkey’s Nest? Greenpoint Tavern?
There’s an old-school bar on Metropolitan but it feels very much closed off.
Joe Jr or whatever it’s called? [Editor’s note: Jr & Son]
Yes! I’ve lived here so long I should go. It would’ve been funny if I’d met you there. There are always guys out front that don’t make it feel like they want you there. Then again, it might like Moe’s and they’d be happy to see us.
Going back to what you said about “passing.” That’s kind of true for a lot of women I know, especially in Williamsburg, and maybe it’s a self-selecting group. A lot of my friends seem young for their age, but it might be because they don’t have kids and they’re not married. Is there something to this?
Because I’m petite I’ve always looked younger even when I didn’t want to, so I feel like that stayed with me. I think not having kids is the key. You take on a huge responsibility and you take on a different kind of stress. It’s joyful too, obviously, but there’s something about not having kids where you feel less like you’re transitioning to this other state.
Ok, I want to talk about Menu Mash-Up. Could you explain a little how the game works?
All the players have a hand of ingredient cards and prep cards (like “fried” or “roasted” or “sandwich”). The judge for each round is called the “diner” and picks a dish card like “midnight snack” or “romantic dinner,” and the other players use their cards to create menus to fill the order. Whichever menu the diner picks as the best one wins that round. So the dishes people come up with can go from totally delicious-sounding to really silly and funny.
When people think of food and media, board games probably aren’t the first thing they think of. How did you come to the idea?
Personally, I don’t feel like a natural with social media, and you know that since we’re friends on Facebook and I barely post. I want to be a part of the world, but it’s not a natural extension of my personality. I felt very aware of it being a growing force and in my profession as an editor. I’ve always written very precise things and headlines and I’m writing social media posts and and enjoy the craft of it, but it’s not what I gravitate towards, so I was seeking out another avenue.
When I was younger my family played a lot of board games. I really enjoyed having this structure where you have a challenge and you are participating with other people and relating in a different way. I had read something about this idea that in the past decade was the rise of social media and in the coming decade games would be on the rise. I thought oh, that feels natural to me. I was working at Zagat and ready to make a change, and if I left I wanted to have a project that I was working on.
Here’s the big question that I have a hard time even saying without feeling creepy–do you consider yourself to be middle-aged?
I never think in those terms. Well, my image of it definitely doesn’t match up with me. But it’s funny, I guess technically it makes sense. Everyone just seems younger now. If you look at old movies everyone seemed really old when they were in their 20s. They already seemed sort of middle-aged. Culturally, I think things have shifted so people are more youthful at our age.
Right. When my mom was 40, I was already in college.
My mom got married at 25 and that was considered on the later side. The expectations were so different. Maybe it feels like an old-fashioned term because I have an image of it from when I’m younger that seemed so far away. There’s also something about the term that seems dowdy, not lively–ugh, lively even sounds like an old lady term. Middle-aged just feels like an inert phrase.
I’ve been starting with food and drink women because that’s sort of relevant to my blog’s original mission (whatever that was) but not everyone wants to talk about aging–or even say their age–in a public forum. They’ll talk about it, just not here.
Food is an area where people can age really well. It’s been one of the great things for Williamsburg, since so much of the music scene moved here, but that can be tougher as you get older. Food goes across all ages–cooks and writers are respected. It’s an area that allows a big range. And your palate matures as you try different things.