There're Some Really Good Redneck Bars Here in the City
Circus nostalgia is an incurable chronic disorder likely to inflict damage on the liver and gastroenteric system as a whole, not to mention the spirit. I tried joining a gym. Last year I plunked down around $500 for a membership at the 92nd St. Y. They have a great reputation when it comes to their trainers, and my experience certainly reinforced it. Unfortunately I only availed myself of the facilities maybe five times in the last year, and I probably could've gotten more of a workout from a pro dominatrix at that rate. The reality is that I only hump heavy shit around when I'm being paid to do it, however paltry the pay may be; furthermore, I find meaning in a circus tent. I like it when I'm outdoors with a bunch of criminal psychopaths and social deviants setting up a circus tent in the middle of some godforsaken Jersey mudpit in a driving monsoon. I have it on good authority that it's more fun than war. It's certainly more fun than dope.
Summer fires my jets for roadwork, for dead-of-night jumps covered in mud and worse, for truck stops and missed exits, for dream deprivation, burning muscles and endorphins. I knew I had it bad one recent Friday when the night moved seamlessly into a Saturday morning fueled by repeated viewings of Apocalypse Now and a potentially lethal combination of psychostimulants and alcohol. The dawn begged for an afternoon bender, something with a little menace embedded, something slippery. Something in earth tones.
I took a brief nap, rolled a couple of joints and headed down to Red Rock West. I hadn't had a beer yet, and my tongue felt like a Snickers bar melted in the sun on the dashboard of wretched baby-boomer excess as I crashed through the door, only to be confronted with the maggoty paleness of my former bandmate, MC Huge. Luckily Rachel, the barkeep, kept us restricted to bottles of Bud as we reminisced about our days with the abortive White Courtesy Telephone, a band of the 90s, gone but not forgotten. I mentioned to Huge that I had a very bad case of road fever going on, a fierce need to push a circus tent around and get drunk in weird redneck dives.
Red Rock West is as close as you'll get to the Real Thing, a decent redneck bar in Manhattan. Saturday afternoon, close to 2, shooting pool in an empty bar with Johnny Cash blasting out of the juke box, I can almost smell the elephant shit.
From there we headed on down to the Village Idiot, which Huge had assured me would be on par with Red Rock when it came to sating my lust for white trash kicks. We smoked a joint on the way, and when we walked in my olfactory senses were assaulted by a fragrance somewhere just this side of that hideous wasteland over in Jersey, right around Exit 13 on the turnpike, where everything turns to dead skunk crossed with stale sauerkraut.
I quit the Big Apple Circus more than two years ago. I'd gone to a party celebrating the opening of their new headquarters on 8th Ave., and my kind gifts of firecrackers, Mexican tarot cards and plastic farm animals were spurned by the tightassed fruitbats that swarm around nonprofit organizations. Executive Director Gary Dunning, perhaps a tad too far into the red wine, spilled the beans to me about their latest project, a blatant attempt to marginalize the tent show, called "Oops!" This was a little piece of some kind of performance-in-a-box, moved on five trucks by highly paid union guys. Gary was waxing rhapsodic about the show "removing the economic burden of transporting the little village and the family enterprise" at me when he suddenly seemed to realize who he was talking to. I quit a couple of days later, after informing one and all on the lot of this despicable, doomed plot issuing forth from the overcompensated office dweebs. Hell, they can't even sell tickets to a perfectly good circus. I knew that stage show was doomed from the start. It closed for good a few months after it got going.
Huge and I headed down to the Hog Pit. I miss the road, and the Hog Pit is precisely the sort of place we used to find and attach ourselves to back in the glory days of Big Apple. We punched up some bluegrass on the jukebox and sat down to enjoy two perfect pulled-pork sandwiches with coleslaw and collard greens.
The Hog Pit is it: no attitude, just cold beer and fine white-trash cuisine served up in a cozy roadhouse environment. I ranted at Huge about the decline of the Big Apple Circus. Two bottles of Bud each and two pulled-pork sandwiches with all the trimmings for under $25. You can't beat that anywhere in this town, and the jukebox has a bluegrass tribute to AC/DC on it. You sure as hell ain't gonna find that anywhere else in New York.
We stepped out for a dessert joint and headed over to Hogs & Heifers. The last time I'd set foot in this place was two years ago, with a posse of pals from the show. The staff at that time was so rude that I swore I'd never return, but on this particular Saturday I was feeling a little ornery and a rude bartender could only enhance the flavor of my circus jeremiad.
I was pleasantly surprised. Perhaps it's the influence of the steady flow of tourists the place gets, or maybe they just got wise, but the service at Hogs & Heifers has somehow evolved into something resembling polite. I actually started to mellow out a little bit in there, and after a couple of rounds I managed to get off my circus jag. I need to tour, I'm getting soft and I feel like Capt. Willard in Saigon. The roadhouse is alive and well in New York City, but the road is out there across the water and the clash of steel and the ringing of sledgehammers seems far away now, like the memory of a distant war.
Cirque du Soleil is out in Chicago. They run a tight, ethical operation. Maybe I'll hook up with them in Boston. I know a couple of good dives in Southie, but Boston doesn't have anything like the great redneck bars of New York.
Red Rock West, 457 W. 17th St. (betw. 9th & 10th Aves.), 366-5359.
The Village Idiot, 355 W. 14th St. (betw. 8th & 9th Aves.), 989-7334.
Hog Pit, 22 9th Ave. (13th St.), 604-0092.
Hogs & Heifers, 859 Washington St. (betw. 13th & 14th Sts.), 929-0655.
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