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Posts from the ‘The Middle Ages’ Category

The Middle Ages: Valentine’s Bushwick Bar Crawl

crawlPlaying The Middle Ages game in Bushwick is a fool’s errand. And yet sometimes you have to drink cans of Genesee and well tequila in 16-degree weather until it feels like Valentine’s Day. Never mind that you will wish you were dead on Presidents’ Day.

Where: Central Station
When: A little after 6pm
Age appropriate? Not really.

Where: The Shop
When: 7:30pm
Age appropriate? For men who like honky tonk, yes. I don’t think there were any ponytails yet I keep picturing that.

Where: Heavy Woods
When: Roughly 9pm
Age appropriate? I want to say no, but I stopped paying attention by this point and started focusing on my fried chicken biscuit sandwich.

Where: Pearl’s Social and Billy Club (previously)
When: 10-ish
Age appropriate? Nope. And despite the name, the vibe always feels vaguely anti-social.

Where: The Cobra Club
When: 11pm or so
Age appropriate? There were a few non-young men. Ladies? No, I don’t think so. Then again, I saw a photo the next day showing a slice of pizza and  I don’t remember that either.



The Middle Ages: Bierocracy

tiersI wasn’t going to mention Bierocracy at all except that I ended up there twice in a week. It’s a different scene after work on a Wednesday (old folks and babies are thrown into the mix) compared to closer to midnight on a Friday (average age 31) but more importantly is that it falls into that “second city” category, or tier-2 as the non-Beijings and Shanghais are called in China, that I’m encountering more and more in NYC.

The staff is nice, the patrons chatty, ‘90s radio grunge rocks at a perceptible but not intrusive volume, sliders and kale salads can be consumed, but if it weren’t for the $14 cocktails and the looming Manhattan view if you cared to step outside, you would have no idea you were in New York.

I wouldn’t say Bierocracy would fit in Wilmington, DE, but I read this awe-inspiring wedding tale while sipping a Bayreuther Zwick’l (and trying not to hate-click “She Went to a College for a Job, and Found a Husband, Too” ) and it seemed appropriate.

Ok, talk may turn Queensy if initiated, as it did with the Long Island City real estate broker sharing our communal table who clearly has never been to Jackson Heights if he thinks I’m sitting on a gold mine (talk to me in five years if I can hold out) and that there are hipsters anywhere near Roosevelt Avenue.  Or his friend whose grandma lives near me, and visits are an excuse to go to Las Margaritas (oh, I know it).

Maybe wholesome is the word I’m looking for.

Was I carded? No. But card-related, the credit card minimum is $30 and that’s kind of strange and not very tier-2 of them.

Age appropriate? It can be. That’s the thing about US tier-2s, no one really judges and who are you trying to impress anyway?



mar's happy hour oysters


Depending on my mood and intent, Mar’s could be read two very different ways.

If I felt like talking about the food, it did what it needed to do and I was pleased. Before the holidays, I was feeling a little down and a lot bougie, soliciting Facebook suggestions for the  nearest place to find cocktails, oysters, charcuterie, the Brooklyn basics (#notallnegronis), which would still require public transportation because that’s how it is. Ultimately, I decided on new-to-me Mar’s in Astoria. (Astoria is like this black hole that’s only two-ish miles away and yet I haven’t heard of half of the contemporary bars and restaurants there.) Yes, that’s what I had in mind. Happy hour oysters and a drink involving pumpkin liqueur that by all rights should’ve been sweet and gross but wasn’t. I even stuck around for a full-priced steak tartare, generously portioned, grass-fed, and a glass of Tempranillo (that turned into two when it got topped off by the woman bartending). People were friendly on both sides of the bar.

But if I wanted to approach it as a Middle Ages subject, which I haven’t done in a while, it was kind of a strange, funny fail. The only human obviously over 40 was a salt-and-peppery man at a table, holding court among extended family. The bar was sparsely occupied by regulars. Two young men in patterned sweaters too muted to be signaling ‘90s childhoods, and which I’m fairly certain weren’t intended to be ironic, were getting ready to head to their families on Long Island. One was talking about his Aunt Stacie who drinks too much and recently got a boob job, and I caught myself internally agreeing with absurdity of an old, drunk woman vain enough to think she needs nice tits. When asked how old she was, he said, “I don’t know…maybe 40? 45?”

I felt relieved when the second-oldest woman, 35 at best, appeared at the bar alone. After one drink, though, she morphed from quiet and sensible into authoritative and sassy and struck up a conversation with the only overtly single guy, a clean-cut, paperback-clutching  beardo of the type that I’ve only started being able to recognize as handsome in the past few months. I kind of wanted this woman whose New Year’s resolution was to “have more fun” to stop talking even though I know that’s not what I’m supposed to say, and I was just jealous that she was starting her fun early. I was also fascinated because a friend just asked today whether anyone asks anyone out in person anymore and I never witness it but maybe in Astoria? Maybe they are married now because they both read books.

I didn’t stick around to find out. And I was “ma’am’ed” by a man when I asked for my check, which became divisive when I complained about it on social media, going as far as saying I’ll leave a lower tip if addressed as such even though I realize the intent is politeness.

Earlier, I asked Aunt Stacie’s nephew if there was a female equivalent to a mensch. It was decided there is not.

Mar’s * 34-21 34th Ave., Astoria, NY 

The Middle Ages: Spritzenhaus

terri nunnWhen: Saturday, 11:18pm

Like a mini-Murray Hill, the corner that Spritzenhaus inhabits can be off-putting with its overflow of khaki cargo shorts and shouty clumps (80/20 male to female ratio) occupying picnic tables (there is a rule that under-30s can’t leave the house with fewer than five friends). No one has lived apart from a mid-sized town for more than three years, 718 tattoos aside.

And yet there is some deeply weird shit going on within the brick walls and just beyond them. I can’t recall the last time–maybe never–I encountered such a concentration of middle-aged revelers in North Brooklyn. My first assumption was that the cropped pants crew of short-haired ladies, the red-and-black Talbot’s blazer woman with a balding dad jeans, and the suburban bikers all attending the same party, as if all old people must like other old people (similar to how Tinder considers 49+ to be one vast category–if you’re open to dating 50 year olds, you may as well bang a dude who’s 75) but each was its own distinct social group.

Outside the picture windows, a group in their 50s, men in fedoras and a two women, one with a sharp black-and-white bob à  la Terri Nunn were strutting toward a parked car. This scene ruined my theory about millennials traveling in packs; perhaps an aversion  is uniquely Gen X. Swingers, I swear.

One theory that still holds true is that Williamsburg, and to a lesser degree Greenpoint, are mayhem on weekends but it’s a relatively short, concentrated burst. On my way back to the G around 2am, I passed by Spritzenhaus and it and the cavernous space was mostly empty.

Age Appropriate? Yes, counter-intuitively. One of the women in the biker crew, who resembled a younger Kim Gordon in cords, had to put on reading glasses to look at the beer list and I could admire that.

Was I carded? Yes, and I imagine everyone walking up the steps to the entrance is asked for I.D.

Ladies’ Night: Karen Hudes

Back CameraWelcome 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.

The Middle Ages: Bierleichen and Onderdonk & Sons

When: Sunday, 6:51pm and 9:04pm

My notes from the new (at the time I actually went–I’ve been busy the past few months) Ridgewood heavy metal beerhall, Bierleichen, read “Awesomely mixed. Is metal the great equalizer?” by which I meant tribally diverse, not age-wise. On an early Sunday there were Latino dudes, a mixed gender rockabilly crew, man bun hipsters, generic young white people like you see in Astoria and could either be Midwest transplants or children of immigrants who haven’t moved to the suburbs yet, and an errant older gentleman I assumed to be Eastern European because all Ridgewood bars, even the upstarts, are required by law to accommodate at least one hold out.

Bierleichen, to its credit, is going for something different than a lot of new drinking establishments. Beer corpse, the name’s translation, is funny, for one. It’s not super polished. It looks like it set up in an old garage (and I think it may have been) with a lot of rough wood ceiling beams, raw cement floors and walls, glossy black subway tile for a little class, softened by skylights and hanging plants. There’s a random upright piano, picnic tables and those glass beer stein boots. And yes, Judas Priest, Scorpions and Danzig all got play on my visit. This might also be the only place in the  neighborhood–a pretty good sausage neighborhood–where vegans can participate in sausage-eating.

* * *

Onderdonk & Sons, on the other hand, is sticking with the established tin ceiling, exposed brick and rich, dark woods aesthetic. I mean, it looks good and the booths are comfy. There is also no hard liquor despite screaming cocktail den. The fries are way better than average, by the way.

This crowd was younger, more male, more foreign (Brazilian? Russian?) and more neck-tattooed. I arbitrarily decided it was for overpaying airbnb guests. And probably Okcupid (not Tinder) dates.

* * *

Third stop was the previously blogged Queens Tavern where we encountered a number of the same people who had been at the aforementioned two bars as if there were only three neighborhood bars to choose from and this was the logical order in which to visit them.

There are no shortage of Ridgewood bars for newcomers and they just keep coming. I recently met a young man who is somehow involved with a bar being Kickstarted called The Bad Old Days…which I can’t even. Like the ’70s when white folks were lobbying for Ridgewood to get its own zip code to split from Bushwick? The late ’90s when I thought I lived an hour from civilization and area bars were patronized by neo-nazis not neu-metalheads? The dark ages before cafes served single-origin coffee and Vietnamese food could be found at all, let alone using grass-fed beef?

Was I carded? At both places, no.

Age appropriate? At both places, no, not literally, but it’s still Queens so who cares really.

The Middle Ages: Sophie’s

When: Saturday, 10:07pm

Even with Saturday night kicking into gear in the East Village, the crowd at Sophie’s, perpetually post-college, was shockingly civilized. As if by magic a four-seater opened up as soon as my party of three entered the once-familiar threshold.

Maybe it was the work of the older gent (one of two) with a cane, not a staff, but who came to be called Dust Bowl Gandalf nonetheless for his crumple-peaked Depression-era hat and white whiskers.

One thing I don’t understand is how the jukebox–The Smiths, Stone Roses–remains in the ’80s yet the bar’s average age always hovers around 26, now just with more beards and man buns. If it were up to me, the Violent Femmes song playing would be updated to “Gone Dadbod Gone.” As if on cue, a young, mildly schlubby dude in a flannel appeared as the tune came on, looked around for something or someone, and left. Bye. Gone.

Sophie’s is where in 1998, five months into being a New Yorker, I told Henry Thomas, Elliott from E.T., to meet me. And he did. Later, he would stop returning my calls and invited others to Sophie’s casually and familiarly as if it was his regular haunt and hadn’t just been introduced to it by me. Such is the way of grown child stars.

If I weren’t with my friend Jane on this particular night, the same friend who happened to be with me at Sophie’s that fated evening 16-and-a-half years ago (along with her boyfriend at the time who now co-owns Abraço three blocks away) I might not believe any of it transpired.

Was I carded? Yes, at the door. Before I arrived, the third member of my party was waiting outside and chatting with the doorman who told her people were always embarrassed about their age but were never older than he was. He didn’t look that old.

Age appropriate? Not for women on a weekend night, no. The last time I stopped into Sophie’s was nearly four years ago when I was feeling sorry for myself on my 39th birthday because a last-minute call for company at HiFi only turned up two friends. (Actually that still doesn’t sit right with me and is inducing the annual anxiety that makes me leave town if possible when the date arrives.) On the earlier side, sun still out, it was locals scene, including a few middle-aged couples.

The Middle Ages: Bar URBO

When: Tuesday, 6:48pm

Lately I’ve noticed that if you tweet about a Times Square establishment, a nearby business you’ve never heard of will attempt to engage you in conversation. Something called The Three Monkeys wanted to know why I’d called URBO “the weirdo bar.”

Well…because it is weird.

“Weird,” “crazy,” and “fancy” are all uncreative catchalls I frequently lean on. I can’t help it. In this instance URBO is weird because it’s in my office building where the Señor Frog’s is threatening to open any day. Up a massive spiral staircase that opens into an empty event space and catering kitchen, the second-floor bar is also large, more after-work than touristy, never mobbed, reasonably priced at happy hour, but more than anything the whole URBO complex is weird, enormousness aside, because the lofty, rough hewn-industrial aesthetic paired with Blue Bottle coffee, pork belly, and poached eggs as garnish is still out of place on the corner of 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue facing Chevy’s and Dallas BBQ. I believe that within ten years this Brooklyn shorthand will be the norm and that the entire swath of Times Square will be lit by Edison bulbs and filled with communal tables crafted from reclaimed wood.

Recently URBO has added stand-up comedy and “curated open mic” nights. Weird or crazy?

On the substantial walk from the bar to the very nice individual stall, floor-t0-ceiling door, bathrooms (one might say fancy) on the far side of the unused private dining area, “Sausalito” by Ohio Express was tinkling quietly over the speakers. On the subway ride home “Sausalito” by Ohio Express started playing in my earbuds. Definitely weird.

Was I carded? No one underage would even bother.

Age appropriate? Of course. Anything geared toward midtown drones will be to some degree. On this particular evening the bar appeared to be hosting an office party including a very non-young pregnant woman in a maxi dress.

The Middle Ages: Billymark’s West

touch of gray

When: Wednesday (St. Patrick’s Day), 9:26pm.

“Why did you come here?” asked a drunk man who wasn’t possibly yet born when “Touch of Grey,” the only Grateful Dead song I know despite being raised in Oregon, was on MTV rotation. Now it was someone’s jukebox pick at Billymark’s.”We were looking for shittiest bar in NYC,” I was told before I could reply.

One man’s shithole is another’s salve. I’d just escaped Porchlight with a friend. Wrong color for St. Patrick’s Day, but I wanted to experience that much-Instagrammed $14 blue drink for myself. Porchlight could be summed up by the long wooden table seating eight women ranging in age from 28 to 29, all with Patti Stanger-approved lady manes, one particularly platinum. Their server asked our bartender for a check. “The one in the blonde wants it,” she said. So blonde that she ceased being blonde and became consumed by blondeness.

“Bland,” was the friend’s assessment.

“We need to go to a dive,” said me, always seeking counterbalance.

Billymark’s was the closest contender. And it delivered in spades. Blue curacao was suspiciously absent, and most of the liquor brands were deeply bottom shelf with an unusual amount of double consonants: Du Bouchett, Llords.

9:30 seemed early enough to avoid trouble and I assumed that all of the revelers who’d started drinking at 10am would be long passed out by now. Not so. We witnessed two verbal altercations, one which involved a young woman stumbling into me while trying to run out the door without paying. Caught, she attempted to turn it around by screaming about her ID being stolen by the bartender and threatening to call the police. Mark, whose brother Billy was wise to stay home this evening responded unsympathetically. “Retard does not even begin to describe you. You’ve got a terrible problem, miss, because your life sucks. I don’t know what your problem is. Bring a cop because I will press charges and have you arrested.”

While invisible at Porchlight, at BillyMark’s we were the recipients of two rounds of Brooklyn lagers from two different men, just for being unaccompanied women, exchanging names and chitchat. And best of all? Being gifted with bodega crackers even after insisting “I’m good.” Danny Meyer has his hospitality, sure, yet the dive has its own beauty, and there aren’t a lot of strings if you feel like engaging.

Despite three drinks, two more than I’d intended, we never did hear our songs on the jukebox. No complaints about two Duran Durans, “Night Moves,” “Take Me Home Country Roads,” and unexpectedly, Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You,” which will always imprint itself on my psyche and convince me of a bar’s favorability.

Was I carded? Despite ribbing that we couldn’t possibly be old enough to have lived in NYC in the ’90s and a comment on some exposed cleavage–“I’d like your ID”– no one truly asked for IDs. There was a whole lot of carding going on, though. The second dust-up was a result of a fake driver’s license. No amount of arguing could save the guy in a leather jacket and bleached hair from getting the boot. “Put it on Yelp. That’s what you kids do,” Mark cracked.

Age appropriate? Women-wise, the scene was unexpectedly young. Two middle-aged-plus female solo drinkers did eventually appear. “Are you getting off work?” one was asked with familiarity. No, on her way.



The Middle Ages: The Ready Penny

When: Friday, 2:42pm

I imagine that on any given day, a parade of disconnected subjects may form the basis of bar stool stories. On this particular afternoon, hot topics at The Ready Penny involved stuffed cabbage and dental procedures, and these topics persisted the duration of two slowly sipped pints of Stella.

“That Stella is so strong first thing in the day,” was declared at one point in no reference to me. “Knocks your socks off.” Thankfully, I wasn’t wearing socks.

I only interjected myself into conversation once when no one else appeared to be familiar with Jeepers Creepers. Reinforcements were needed, even an introvert could see that.

Elephants also roam the bar

Elephants also roam the bar

One of the only four customers on the late side of lunch brought stuffed cabbage in to share and snack on, as one does at the only remaining dive bar in Jackson Heights. By chance, another regular who apparently had his teeth recently fixed (“It’s going to take some getting used to” was the sentiment expressed while he was in the bathroom) was making stuffed cabbage for dinner.

His recipe? I missed what made up the “meat mixture,” though I’m guessing pork and beef, plus white rice from a Chinese restaurant, fried onion and garlic, tomato sauce using canned crushed tomatoes blended with light brown sugar and apple cider vinegar. Everything gets seasoned with parsley, salt and pepper. Don’t forget the Parmigiano-Reggiano, which must be freshly grated and not shaken from a cellulose-filled container.

The smoke points of grapeseed oil were compared to olive oil. It was decided that seasoned breadcrumbs should never be bought and always made at home.
A good 30 minutes later, the single-minded gentleman with improved chompers announced that he had to run to the store. “I forgot an ingredient for my stuffed cabbage.”

An obsession with stuffed cabbage is not required to fit in. We brought in stuffed parathas and samosa chaat, no biggie.

An obsession with stuffed cabbage is not required to fit in. We brought in stuffed parathas and samosa chaat, no biggie.

Was I carded? No, not even a question. I can’t imagine anyone even approaching underage attempting to sneak in.

Age appropriate? 40 feels downright youthful, which is the hallmark of a good dive bar. And though no women other than the not-old Irish bartender were in evidence–public, weekday drinking is mostly the province of men–I wouldn’t say they are unwelcome as long as they can handle overhearing “a corker” describe how “maiden juice” is good for dental work and pubic hair great for flossing.

The lack of female-friendly bars in the neighborhood is not just my lament, it has become an intermittent topic on neighborhood message board Jackson Heights Life and I’ve recently started chiming in because I’m now a homeowner and be the change and all that. My favorite quote to date: “I’ve been waiting for a place where a woman of a certain age can go to spend time with her neighbors!!”

For now, this is it.