Despite the name, and its jaunty Parisian sign, there’s nothing particularly French about Rue B. Indeed, the brilliant collection of black-and-white photographs which clutter the walls is a open-hearted celebration of mid-20th century American cultural or sporting greatness. The effect is quite comforting: these photographs attract your gaze, to the extent that each photo becomes so familiar, each time I return Rue B feels more and more like a second home.
The bathroom is devoted solely to Ol’ Blue Eyes himself. But Rue B, one of a string of establishments on Alphabet City’s Avenue B whose name references the address (B-Cup, B-Side, Bee Liquors), is something rare and special, somehow managing to be a bar, restaurant and jazz lounge. When lights are low a tight three-piece combo swings in the corner, under the watchful gaze of an aging Chet Baker. Last Tuesday I had an excellent cocktail, but I also love the brunch: how could anyone resist something called “Eggs Corleone”?
Drop Off Service is a bar on Avenue A, near the corner of 13th Street in the East Village. Having recently moved to the neighbourhood, I have no hesitations in calling it my new “local”. The bar gets its name from a large etched sign in the window — apparently it used to be a laundromat (ironically I usually go here for a pint while I’m waiting for my laundry). Due to its location Drop Off Service is obviously best enjoyed on a week night or weekend afternoon, where during a long happy hour you can sit back and sample some fine local and European beers. Refreshingly, there’s no big screen TV, instantly eliminating the frat boy crowd in search of college football. To top it all the joint boasts a jukebox selection which may or may not have been inspired by my own record collection. Steely Dan’s greatest hits is disc number 01 — what more could anyone ask for?
It snowed today. Despite the conditions I braved the elements — briefly — to take these dramatic photos, before running back inside to make a cup of tea.
My first experience of Veselka was at 5AM the morning after I moved to New York. I can see directly into the place from my bedroom window so it seemed an obvious choice, and ever since I’ve had a sort of affinity for the place. The staff are friendly, chatty and make you feel like a local regular immediately. I’m often charged a single dollar for take-out coffee instead of the usual $1.25. Although the coffee has a strange taste I haven’t found anywhere else. At first I thought it was the jet-lag, but it hasn’t prevented me going back for breakfast, or a late-night snack. One Saturday about a month ago there was a fight in front of Veselka, in which its outdoor chairs and tables were knocked over. This hurt me deeply, but fortunately no permanent damage was done.
A few nights ago I was feeling peckish and so I popped downstairs for Veselka’s signature pierogi. I sat at the counter, where another man began talking to me. He was probably in his early 60s, and reminded me a little bit of the short-lived character Mr. Heckles, Monica’s grouchy neighbour on Friends. The man began asking me questions, hesitantly at first, so as not to pry, but I was quite happy to chat for a while. He’d lived in the East Village for over forty years, had worked as an artist, poet and salesman among other things. He told me about how he dabbled in painting, meticulously describing the difficulties he had trying to reproduce light and perspective. His technical shortcomings still obviously pained him, but he seemed to have been at least halfway accepted into the art community, even adopting an alternative last name with which he signed his canvases. It seemed he’d been taken under the wing of a painter/poet, and older woman who often invited him to eat with her family. But they had a falling out and didn’t speak for years.
It was interesting to hear his tales of a New York gone by. He told me that until the late 1970s, you could have stood on the corner of St. Marks Place and seen one other person walk by. He then began a tirade discussing Iraq and God knows what else, and I began to get tired and lose interest. It was now nearly four in the morning, and realised I had hardly spoken for hours. I’d paid my check long ago, but the man hadn’t ordered anything the whole time we’d been sat there. I got up to leave and he followed me, so I pretended I lived in the opposite direction to him (it’s one thing sitting with an oddball in a well-lit diner, quite another having them follow you home). Before we parted ways he revealed himself as Jeff Shenkman. I don’t know if this is his real name, but apparently a lot of his paintings are still knocking around.
Posted in Art, Bars & Restaurants, East Village, Food & Drink, Late night, Local characters, Nostalgia
Tagged East 9th Street, East Village, Friends, Second Avenue, Veselka
The first time I stopped at Abraço, a tiny espresso bar on East 7th Street, they were re-doing the floor so my individually-dripped coffee was offered to me free of charge as I stood in the doorway. I went back when the work was finished and got chatting to Jamie, the friendly and slightly energetic owner. Putting my experience of romance languages to use, I asked him if “abraço” means “hug” in Portuguese but he quickly cut me off: “Embrace,” he calmly revealed, obviously recognizing an enormous difference. Jamie likes to spin vinyl samba records as he makes your espresso, and was quick to reveal Brazilian musician Caetano Veloso has an apartment in the neighbourhood. Soon after Jamie and I actually ran into each other at the singer-songwriter’s concert outside the Nokia Theater near Times Square. Abraço sells Sanbitter in little bottles, but alas no Campari Soda — for that you need a liquor license. Did I mention the coffee is among the best in town?