Monday, 30 October 2017

Afterhours Delight

Recently I wrote a column bemoaning the loss of the mighty Blarney Stone chain of bars in New York City.

Ah, but if the Blarney Stone was the legal main course of an evening, what about that other disappearing New York institution, the illegal afterhours?

I’m not talking about saloons the like of the late lamented Durty Nelly’s up on Kingsbridge where the door would be “locked” at 4am, but shenanigans would continue until long after the first fighting cock had crowed.

No, I have more in mind an establishment that opened for business around 2am and hit its stride from 4am to noon or thereabouts. These “holes in the wall” tended to be located below Manhattan’s 14th Street, although “Rose’s” - up around 145th and Lennox Avenue - was a particular favorite of mine. 

Rose herself, a rail-thin African-American lady of indeterminate age, was one of the most gracious hostesses in America, but a formidable woman if crossed. Enough said!

The Anglo-Irish in New York knew a thing or two about such places. Dave Heenan, once lead singer with Dublin’s The Arrows Showband, ran the UK Club on 13th Street with great flair; while his friend, Blackpool Jimmy, ran a similar institution nearby.

My favorite was the Kiwi on 9th Street off Avenue A – though somewhat on the sketchy side it boasted a clique of extremely vivid characters. The only time I saw it empty was during the blackout of 1977 when the patrons were otherwise occupied in the fine art of looting. 

I gained membership of the Kiwi through my landlord who sponsored me when I complained about the lack of heat in our building. The temperature did not improve that bitter winter but my social life was immeasurably enhanced.

‘Twas in the Kiwi I fell in love with a beautiful Latina dancer who never gave me the time of day – or night. But she was the inspiration for a good Black 47 song – Blood Wedding – that’s popular to this day. 

I had to change my heroine’s name as two of my fellow carousers were also smitten, one of whom did not suffer rivals easily – much to the other’s misfortune.

The bartender was a stunning six feet tall cross-dresser by name of Carlita who towered above all in her heels. She lit up every social occasion and turned heads, literally and figuratively, wherever she went. 

One rambunctious evening a heavyset biker offered a churlish remark about her gender, whereupon in one fell swoop she removed her stiletto and struck him between the eyes with the business end of her heel.

The blood spurted forth and Mr. Harley-Davidson let out a scream akin to a stuck pig. He then began to sob and demanded of all and sundry what he was supposed to tell his mother when he got home.

Lest these early morning oases seem too much like the Wild West, I have to say that I had some of the most scintillating conversation therein – although for the life of me I can recall few of them. 

Occasionally, however, a sentence or two will spring to mind and I’ll feel momentarily uplifted.

A rare democracy and code of manners reigned. Should you be allowed inside one of these hallowed places, it was de rigueur that you speak to - but not bore – your neighbors. On one occasion, I merrily clinked glasses with Debby Harry in a 2nd floor joint on University Avenue as a crimson dawn broke over The Village.

I also had an amazing conversation with Lou Reed at a mob-controlled hideaway on Mercer St. This poet of the city said something startling to me then that, alas, I can never repeat. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

Lou was often to be seen in these shadowy establishments in his drinking days. I guess looking back, afterhours were places for people who just did not want the night to end.

There was camaraderie to be had; you entered alone and effortlessly melted into a crowd of people who like yourself had no desire to go home.

And when you eventually departed the day was well underway, and there was always the next night to look forward to.

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