August 25, 2013

The Fuckers Win Again


There are bars that deserve our respect, not for their mind-numbing array of wine or single-malt scotch or beer choices, not for their unique atmosphere or fabulous clientele, not for the art they hang on the walls or the number of flat screen TVs they boast, but for what they represent. And to my mind, for nearly fifty years now (especially these last twenty) Jackie’s Fifth Amendment in Park Slope represented a big Fuck You to the self-satisfied assholes and hipsters who clog the neighborhood with their malignant attitude. As upscale Thai restaurants and sushi joints, exclusive Tibetan boutiques, cell phone stores and glittery theme bars elbowed their way into Fifth Avenue, knocking the old butcher shops and mom-and-pop stationary stores into oblivion, Jackie’s remained true, a safe house, a free zone for the hardcore and the lifers. It was a grim, sad corner bar, the windows full of dead plants, where those who no longer belonged in Park Slope could hide and grab a few belts to stave off the shakes without having to wait until four in the afternoon. It was a place that didn’t cotton to the smug bastards, the stroller crowd, or the investment counselors who considered it living dangerously to dare opt for a second appletini before heading off to meet the crowd to check out that fabulous new Persian bistro they’d read about in New York magazine. For the people who hung at Jackie’s, drinking was a way of life, not a social nicety, and they didn’t give a hoot in hell about what your thoughts were on the subject.

            It wasn’t always that way of course, and fifty years ago when the family first opened the bar the neighborhood was very different. They opened, as did a few other bars in the area, at eight a.m. in order to catch those workers on their way home from the night shift who might want to stop off for a beer or two at the end of the work day, same as anyone else. As the area grew more genteel, they kept the same hours not for a night shift that no longer existed, but for the people who needed it.

            Jackie’s had it’s own regulars, and didn’t seem much interested in drumming up new business. Quite the opposite—they made it perfectly clear they didn’t want any strangers just popping in unannounced and uninvited. They weren’t looking to be “discovered” and turned into another dive bar theme park. Fact is, they could be downright ornery when they wanted to be, and over the years I’d seen more than a few people assisted back out onto the sidewalk by a couple of the regulars. That’s exactly why I both admired the hell out of the place and steered clear. I didn’t want to be an interloper. Spend enough time in enough bars, you can sniff out the rules from outside the front door, and you don’t fuck with them. The eight a.m. morning crew at Jackie’s didn’t want to be bothered, so I didn’t bother them.

            For all the thousands of times I passed that front door while living a block away, and for all the times I was tempted (especially while on my way to work at the Guggenheim), I only stopped into Jackie’s once, a couple of years back. Even wrote about it then, as I recall. It was an early spring afternoon and, like everyone else who’d earned himself a stool along the bar, I was desperate. I needed a drink and nothing else was going to be open for another couple of hours. Knowing I was stepping into touchy territory, I moved down to the empty end of the bar by the bathroom, kept my mouth shut and didn’t ask a lot of stupid questions, drank two of Jackie’s patented buckets of beer (a much rarer thing in NYC than anyplace else), then left Jackie’s and the regulars alone and unmolested, hoping they hadn’t even noticed me at all. They certainly didn’t act like they had. My friend Daniel hasn’t been so lucky. I’m not exactly sure what he said or did, but he tells me that during one of his rare stops into Jackie’s a seventy-year old challenged him to a fight, and Daniel was absolutely convinced the old man would beat the crap out of him.

            There are fewer and fewer places like Jackie’s left in New York as the fuckers take over for good. Soon there won’t be any place at all to hide. The mere fact that it’s survived where it has as long as it has is nothing short of miraculous. It was a mean, ugly, and drunken stain on a new Vera Wang creation. The smarmy little fuckers new to the area had killed off Luisi’s and Snooky’s, but when it came to Jackie’s no one seemed capable of doing anything more than shielding their children’s eyes as they passed, and I loved Jackie’s for it.

            Sadly, as inevitable as it has seemed for the past decade, Jackie’s is closing its doors in September. It was only a small comfort to learn they would be replaced by an expansion of the pharmacy next door and not the expected muffin shop or tea room or gourmet noodle house. The fuckers really seem to love their gourmet noodle houses these days.

            The owners and the woman who’s tended bar there forever insist they aren’t being forced out by a coalition of neighborhood do-gooders, that it’s their own decision and they just figured it was time. No one else seems to much believe that, given what’s happened to every other scrap of interest in that area, but there you go. Apart from a deep despair over the loss, I do worry about what’s going to happen to Jackie’s regulars. What in the hell are they going to do? Some might simply up and die, I suppose. At least one possibility is a move to Harry Bolan’s, just a few blocks over on Ninth Street. At least I think it’s still there if the health department hasn’t shut them down for good. The health department always seemed to be shutting the place down for one reason or another, but then Bolan's would just repaint the facade another color and reopen again a week or two later.

            Bolan’s is another surprising Park Slope survivor, a cramped, claustrophobic bar known for it’s ongoing sewer problems and random, vicious gay bashings. It may not be Jackie’s Fifth Amendment, but it’s something.


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