Scary Bar Project: Imperial Bikers MC

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Imperial Bikers MC
652 Franklin Ave. (at St. Marks Ave.), Crown Heights, B’klyn

I’m a little Jewish chameleon skilled at blending into unsavory bars—say, a Bay Ridge morning-drunk dive or a Tribeca lap-dance joint hidden behind a pizza parlor. My secret’s keeping my fat lips zipped and ordering whatever hooch the locals are downing. Before an inquisitive chap can question my presence, my drink’s drained and I’ve decamped to the next juice joint.

However, I highly doubted my pipsqueak-on-the-wall act would fly at Imperial Bikers MC, the Crown Heights headquarters of an African-American motorcycle club. Come weekends leather-clad bikers arrive in droves, creating a mini Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. So I selected a random weekday (when bikers are absent), crept up to Imperial’s paint-peeling door and pressed a schmutz-covered buzzer. It rang shrilly, like a school bell announcing class. A heavyset bartender encased in leather canvassed me curiously.

I waved.

She waved.

I increased my friendliness with a floppy-wristed flutter and my braces-aid-ed grin.

Shaking her head, she hit a button beneath the bar and unlocked the door. I shuffled inside—my courage stemming from two recently guzzled Coors silos—and nabbed a seat at the pockmarked wooden bar as unobtrusively as a hippo leaping into a kiddie pool. A handful of grizzled, AARP-age barhounds assessed my presence with squints, shrugs and murmurs, before resuming watching a Knicks game on a fuzzy, wall-mounted TV.

The low-ceiling room offered dusty dilapidation and decades of accumulation. Tarnished motorcycles trophies lined shelves, while fliers publicized upcoming rallies. Stools creaked. The pool table’s felt was thinner than John McCain’s hair. Walls were black and cracking. It felt not unlike a post-apocalyptic bunker after civilization’s untimely end. And I was right at home.

The bosomy bartender smiled wide and bright. “What can I get you, sweetie?” she asked.

Sweetie? Oh, boy, them’s the secret words to my sooty heart.

Guinness bottles ran $3, so I ordered one. Its bitter blackness soon disappeared into my bottomless belly.

“Another?” the bartender asked.

No, no, I replied. Guinness is only good in small doses. I needed a drunkenator. What milky fluids were the barflies sipping from plastic cups?

“Milk and rum,” she replied.

“That sounds horrible,” I said.

“You need it,” said a man sidling up behind me. He wore a white-collared shirt and a bristly mustache. “That’s not any rum—it’s overproof rum from the islands.”

The bartender retrieved a bottle of liquor clear as New York City tap water. Its alcohol content was a wound-cleansing 150 proof. Now that’s a drunkenator.

“You drink it with milk,” the bartender said, “to coat your stomach. It’s $3. Want one?”

In other words, did I possess a pair of cojones—or was I content to nurse puny Guinness? “Give it to me,” I said.

A plastic cup was filled with ice, three fingers of rum and 2 percent milk. The fumes made rubbing alcohol seem like ambrosia. The first sip cauterized my throat. The second ate my stomach lining like battery acid. The third made my eyes water worse than onions. Still, I drank deeply, searching for approval inside my plastic cup of liquid hell.

It worked. Soon, the crowd was warmer than my burning belly. I received tips on flaky beef patties. I learned Caribbean beer is the bee’s knees. I discovered Imperial Bikers was a coed club founded in the late seventies, with a focus on community service. Hell’s Angels? Hardly. Scary? Only my aching skull after another 150-proof bad idea.

Perceived Scariness (on a scale of 1 to 10): 9
Actual Scariness: 4 during weekdays; 8 during weekends
Summary: Not a biker? No problem—as long as you have a tolerance for sobriety-obliterating, high-proof booze.

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