A sure sign of a neighborhoods freefall into irreversible suck is when bloggers unleash derisive nicknames. Take the Lower East Side, which the online set evocatively, and rightfully, dubbed both Hell Square and the Lower Eastpacking District. Its a nod to the weekend cattle-car crunch, morphing bars and sidewalks into Mardis Gras north, minus the beads and bare breasts. Sometimes.
Instead of adding to the nickname parade, I prefer to shed hot, heavy tears. My once-favorite carousing spots are disappearing like my pride after a tequila binge. Eclectic performance space Collective Unconscious was forced to Tribeca. El Sombrero stopped serving to-go margaritas. Even avant-garde music depot, Tonic, recently died, complementing the previous passings of Luna Lounge and Rothko (which, truthfully, was a mercy killing).
In their gaping absence, we find gleaming, glassy condo towers and these signs of the bar-pocalypse:
1. Money for My Friendship To create a cool-kids clubhouse, you need cool kids. So when bar maven Serge Becker wanted to hip-ify 205, his vision of Warholian excess, he hired boutique owner Aaron Bondaroff as creative director, aka, invite your skuzzy-chic pals. Skinny-jeans, Japanese hipsters and skateboarders flocked, attracting gelled-hair sheep who buy $10 drinks just to mingle with Air Dunks trendoids. Bondaroffs deal has since reportedly soured, but the unfortunate herds still stream in.
2. Yes, Id Like Whine with My Cheese Two words are a deathblow for Downtown bars edginess: cheese plate. A primary offender is Rivington Streets Marshall Stack, which complements its rock n roll décor by serving $14 cheese plates to ad execs cradling blonde arm candy. The narrow saloon tries to save face by serving $2 Schaefer and Carling Black Label cans, but thats like my dad opting for pierced nipples and a nose ring.
3. Dont Open the Box Limos have been a constant fixture on dark, dreary Chrystie Street since Simon Hammerstein (grandson of Oscar, builder of the Midtown music palace) reconceived a sign factory as a beat-off fantasy to the vaudevillian era. Velvet-curtained balconies and wagon-wheeled chandeliers are sweet touches, sure, but the real turnoff is Page Six reports of oil heir, Brandon Davis, berating DJs. Greasy Bear sightings mean a hot spot has jumped the shark.
4. They Call Me
THOR! Look up in the sky! Its a bird, its a plane, its an out-of-context, skyscraping boutique hotel housing a transparently stylish bar-lounge. From behind the Hotel on Rivingtons thick glass, European fat cats mingle and tipple $12 cocktails, safely insulated from the riff-raff outside. Im not much for vandalism, but if an errant rock perchance cracked a window (or 10), I would suddenly plead amnesia for 911.
5. Held Captive By Free Men Excuse me, befuddled foreigners often ask me, but please, can you tell me where
Freemans Alley is? Theyre searching for Freemans, the taxidermy-laden eatery hidden down an alley no one knew existeduntil, of course, everyone did. Except for foreigners with Euros to burn, wandering the Lower East Side like clueless zombies desperate for brains, if they just knew where to find some.
But wait! Dont beeline to Bushwick yet. Theres still hope for the Lower East Side:
1. Market-Fresh Foods: The venerable produce-and-meat Essex Street Market is undergoing a foodie renaissance with the arrival of Saxelby Cheesemongers, crepe-purveyor Paradou Marché and a forthcoming outpost of shuttered West Village legend Shopsins.
2. Welcome to the Johnsons Toilets: As long as this two-buck–Pabst dive refuses to spiffy its filthy bathrooms, which the government uses as a breeding ground for biological agents, all is aces.
3. Free Food: Who needs $70 dinner at Stanton Social when, most nights, Streit Matzos sets Dumpsters full of cracked matzo on Rivington Street. Its hard to pass over this unleavened bounty.
4. Waving the Cultural Flag: Bless the Slipper Room for refusing to kowtow to twats in heels and instead curating burlesque and trivia nights. Similarly, the Cake Shop and Annex rock venues book Pitchfork-approved bands, like Cold War Kids and the Hold Steady, and punk-flavored community center ABC No Rio is still kicking.
5. Max Fishs Enduring Skuzzines: While bars open and shut like subway doors, this institution has survivedand thriveddespite fickle hipsters. Suck a stiff gin and tonic, play pinball and thank your drunken stars its not another overpriced, over-designed bistro. Yet.