Sunday, December 22, 2013

Golden Years

I love that David Bowie song from Station To Station.
Golden Years.  Mmmmm gold, wop, wop, wop.
Classic.  But I'm not here to talk about David Bowie.

No, friends.  Before the grizzly business of tomorrow ensues (don't ask), I'm here to say a little something about my favorite bar, the Peter McManus Cafe.  You might think this is Xerxes and The Dog, having finally put their differences behind them and sharing a friendly drink ...

... but you'd be wrong.  It's my old friend Patrick and his dog, Hudson.  Actual people, more or less.  Active participants in The Golden Age of McManus.

Some people say the Golden Age ended when Lisa complained that she should be able to bring her dog into the bar if Patrick could bring Hudson, resulting instead in the banning of all dogs.  Even the good dogs (although it should be noted that this is just rumor and perhaps Lisa had nothing to do with it.  Perhaps bar management simply decided to comply with health department regulations).  None of which matters because I would suggest that it ended when they bulldozed the parking lot across the street from McManus and built a large, fairly attractive I have to admit, apartment building.

My favorite memory of that parking lot was that sometimes I'd park a rental car there overnight and, during a subset of those nights, the attendant would get in the car, turn on the heat and listen to the radio.  All of which was fine with me except for the time when he reprogrammed the selector buttons on the radio (it's that long ago) to all his favorite stations.  That annoyed me.

Anyway, the apartment building -- it might be called the Winchester, or maybe the Westchester -- was only a symptom of the real estate boom in Chelsea.  Which resulted in an influx of what one might call high-net-worth riff-raff that, while bringing the property values up served at the same time to bring the quality of life down.

Which could just be me being selfish, but I liked it better when, on a dreary afternoon I could walk into the PMC at, say, 3:15 and be one of eight or ten people there, two or three of which might have been detectives from the Tenth Precinct, including my buddy Stevie D, drinking at the back end of the bar, kind of in their own little club.  Which was fine because they all had guns and we didn't.

Up near the front, where the light was brighter and a person could look out the window, I was as likely as not to find my friend Patrick.  And Hudson, his almost perfect Huskie, who never bothered anybody and was a good friend of mine.  Howie would be behind the bar and Patrick and I might just while away a bit of the afternoon, me drinking Bud Light and him drinking Heineken and Cuervo Gold.  Just shooting the breeze.

At a certain point, Jimmy Perez might come in and it would be the three of us.  And at some point, Jimmy would buy all of us a shot.  And man, that was fun.  Not the shot, but the whole thing.  Then Jimmy would run out to fix the faucet of some old lady, because he was the super of a big building on 20th Street.  But he'd come back soon enough.  And the odds were also fairly good that African Rich would have been there with me, and it would have been the four of us.  And that was good too.  And, on some days, the afternoon would start to become the evening, and lots more people we knew would come in, people like Mark and Big Pat, just to pick a couple, and the evening felt like it was rife with intriguing possibilities.

Now you walk in there on a quiet afternoon and it's like Grand Central Station.

Anyway, Patrick got divorced and moved uptown and stopped coming.  Jimmy lost his job as Mayor of 20th Street and moved uptown and stopped coming.  African Rich moved first to Troy, then to Africa (hence the name), and stopped coming.  What I don't understand is: how hard is it to jump on the subway and come downtown to have a couple of beers with old friends?  Which is something Patrick does sometimes but Jimmy does never.  African Rich has a geographic dispensation, although even when he's in New York he stays away.

Theory:  The reason they don't come back is that they know it will never be better than it was.  Me?  I obviously never got that particular memo, since I still go there all the time and I live one hundred fifty fucking miles away.

I've always had trouble letting go.

But don't get me wrong.  The Golden Age may be over, but McManus is still the best bar in the world.  Howie is still there.  Ditto The Gravedigger.  New people like Harbour have made their presence felt in a positive way, and if they keep up the good work in five or ten years they might actually be considered regulars.  Lisa's still there (who I still love, despite the whole dog business).  Adam.  Phil.  Sometimes my boy Lance, who moved downtown but does, to his credit, come up.

But it's not quite the same.  And it's never going to be.

Which is both life and sad.

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