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Boozing on Broadway… I did it MY way

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More in my series of Manhattan memories…

Back in 1986 I was living at the 92nd Street Y on the Upper East Side of New York City. I was working on an internship during my first semester junior year of university. If you read about my first go at life in the Big Apple, you’ll understand that I had some pretty powerful misgivings about my choice to move here which hinged more along the lines of sheer terror. However, Life improved steadily after my first day on the job and I soon fell into a fairly predictable pattern with a pseudo-real job that occupied a good part of my time. Laptops and Blackberrys had yet to sap a working girl’s downtime so the evenings and weekends were still relatively mine to explore what this city had to share with me. Though a paycheque was now a regularity, money was as tight as a pair of David Lee Roth’s pants, and the shopping that many associate with New York City was well out of my reach. Nevertheless, I was still a student at heart and so my focus, particularly on weekends, gravitated toward booze and bars.

Free passes to Manhattan dance clubs occasionally landed on my VP’s desk and she generously passed them over to me. Her son was away at university, you see, otherwise he would have been the lucky one. Theses passes to contemporary Manhattan night clubs offered free admission and free alcohol …

the fine print being that the entry pass was only good until 7:00pm and the free alcohol was only until 9:00pm …

What New Yorker would dream of setting foot in a Manhattan club any time before 11pm? Well … um … me! Access to a hot New York night club and not paying for booze seemed like a pretty good to me at the time, and I could always find another “Y” friend to tag along. The only other patrons in these hot New York nightclubs at 7:00 o’clock on a Friday night were employees and other freeloaders like me. So what if only one bartender was on duty tending about 50 other pass holders? I was – and still am – very patient when it came to free booze. My drink of choice on these freebie nights was Stolis and Cranberry. Once the clock ran out on free drinks, we could afford maybe one or two beers (but definitely NOT a Stolis and Cranberry) to last us the rest of the evening. One drink in a Manhattan nightclub probably equated my entire week’s beer budget back on campus! We would often stay really late and dance the night away. If we were really lucky, some unsuspecting male would be the object of our attention for at least another drink. If that unsuspecting male expected some sort of repayment for his generosity, we’d hit the dance floor which was by then so crowded, it was pretty easy to disappear. The volatile success of a New York City nightclub would account for why I can’t, for the life of me, remember many of their names, but I do know we went to the Limelight a few times (as long as the passes were forthcoming). I’d come to enjoy these weekend forays into the night club scene and what late-night New York and its noisy food vendors had to offer in the wee hours.

Bars too have come and gone with the times but late night New York conjures up another boozy Manhattan memory for me: The Back Fence on Bleecker Street. A genuine no-frills character bar in GreenichVillage, I was saddened when I heard it was closing in 2013. I understand it was once featured in the book “1,000 Places to See Before You Die” which is fitting, because I probably went there about 1,000 times in 1986! Arriving early enough meant you could get a table near the postage stamp-sized stage but came with a two-drink minimum. Then again, a glass of bad draught beer was probably under a dollar at the time, so we could manage. There was sawdust all over the floor and during the first set, we munched our way through dinner of the free peanuts in a shell offered by the bar. We carefully piled our empty shells into the ashtray only to have the biker-dude-waiter empty the ashtray onto the floor while asking us, “Two more?” I have no idea if he was a biker dude, but he had a pony tail, tattoos and a leather vest which my biker-dude edification up to this point in life meant he was a biker dude! The lead singer of one band could belt out BTO’s “Let it Ride” and when I saw the movie, The Commitments, I swear I was looking at the same lead singer!  Another guitarist played “Sultans of Swing” even better than Dire Straits.  Best live music ever, and the musicians encouraged the crowd to sing along. I always consented.

Ah, the Limelight, the Back Fence, and yes, even the subway. Start spreading the news, I was getting to like this town.

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