By Jay Fox
Brooklyn, NY, USA

Nothing good happens after midnight. – American parental warning.

I don’t visit bars like I used to. It’s not simply because I’ve gotten older or because I’ve decided to consciously cut back on drinking. It’s just something that gradually happened over time.

The bar used to be the primary theater of my social life, particularly on the weekends. It was where I met up with my friends and where I met new friends whom I would perhaps never see again. We’d stay late into the early hours of the morning, popping out every round or so for a cigarette, and only leave for good when someone was too drunk to form a coherent sentence or when the bartender told us we didn’t have to go home, but we couldn’t stay there. On more cavalier summer nights, we’d decide to keep the party going, stop at a local bodega for a few sixers, and then end up greeting the dawn from a roof or a courtyard or a patio and only call it quits after we were told to shut up and go to bed by angry neighbors. The following day would be spent nursing a hangover either on the couch or, if it were football season, at yet another bar over a pint of Guinness and a plate of nachos.

Jay Fox

Though these kinds of nights do still take place, they don’t happen all that often. It’s not because of a single or a series of come-to-Jesus moments. It’s not because of kids. It’s not because of New Year’s resolutions or so much as the conscious decision to stop being a degenerate on Fridays and Saturdays. Rather, you just adopt minor lifestyle changes that unwittingly put you on the path to responsibility. By twenty-four, you start avoiding bars that attract college or law school students. By twenty-seven, you decide that you will no longer go anywhere that has a line. At thirty, you stop bothering with places where you can’t sit down. By thirty-three, you think it’s entirely acceptable to not go out both nights of the weekend. These incremental changes don’t happen because you’re trying to clean up your act; you just don’t want to be inconvenienced.

Suddenly, on the nights when you do go out, you realize that you don’t end up talking to strangers as often as you used to. It happens the first time without your processing it, but then you realize that it’s part of larger pattern that runs on replay each time you go out. As you think about it, you recognize at least two reasons for the change. First, you are no longer part of the smoker club who convenes in front of the bar because you quit. (And it is a club, too. When you smoke in front of the bar, you end up meeting people because you either bum someone a cigarette or you end up standing next to someone while you both smoke and eventually someone starts talking because it would be weird to stand there and not say anything.) Secondly, bars that are empty enough to have available seats don’t attract people on cocaine, and people who are not on cocaine tend to not talk to strangers. People on cocaine, conversely, tend to use a dump truck to unload their head on anyone within spitting distance.

By thirty-five, things have become even more reasonable and responsible. By this point, you refuse to walk more than ten blocks out of your way to go to a bar unless it’s for an extremely special event, like a birthday party for one of your friend’s kids—at which point you will travel to Jersey, and then take five forms of public transportation home over the course of two and a half hours, stop only to look unsuccessfully for a bathroom in the West Village, and then arrive home (no longer drunk) with a pocketful of Lifesavers that you received from an amateur boxer with swollen fists whom you met on the PATH train and who (for whatever reason) took a shine to you and decided to talk your ear off instead of robbing and beating you. Again, it’s not that these kinds of nights never happen anymore; it’s just that your accumulated preferences end up eliminating a lot of possibilities that would have allowed you to be a degenerate. Furthermore, the reasons that compel you to go out in the first place, your friends, cease to be available all the time.

The Sackett - Park Slope

Just about everyone I’ve known since moving here more than 18 years ago had kids and moved to the suburbs; had kids and moved even farther away; or failed to find someone with whom to have kids here and consequently moved to a place where they thought they’d have better luck on the dating circuit. The few who are still regularly hanging around places until last call either are the youngest members of my friend group or aren’t out for the sake of a good time—they’re still out at 4am because they don’t have anywhere else to go or, worse, they’re there feeding a problem. More importantly, this latter group tends to keep making the same mistakes that you saw them make in their twenties, only by now there’s a sense that these lapses in judgment will ultimately culminate in more than just a funny story about how they got a particular scar.

Consequently, the bar has become more of a weekday and early evening destination for me. It has become the place for a few drinks, typically in a familiar setting with a familiar cast of characters and a familiar drink list. I’m not looking for a place to meet anyone new or for the opportunity to do something stupid, and I’m certainly not going somewhere where you have to join a throng of drunks vying for the bartender’s attention over the throbbing pulse of a DJ set just to get a drink.

I want a local.

I’ve written about locals in the past, but I don’t believe I ever considered myself a local at a specific bar. The reason is twofold.

First, I’ve never been much of a regular. Yes, I know a lot of the bartenders in my neighborhood. In some cases, it’s because I’ve been to the bar where they work enough over the course of many years to have established a rapport with them over music or books or crosswords or beer or the fact that we know the same person or group of people. In other cases, it’s because I’ve either played music with them or because our bands shared a bill (about half of the bartenders in Brooklyn are musicians). However, it’s rare that I spend a lot of time at one place consistently. The reason for this, again, is twofold. On the financial front, I’ve been far too broke for most of my adult life to spend a lot of money having casual beers during the week, so most weekday drinking has taken place in my apartment. Secondly, I’ve been too busy with deadlines or literary projects or band practice or whatever else to find the time to religiously go anywhere for a night cap or during happy hour.

The second reason why I haven’t sought a local is because I never entirely felt like a local. Even though I’ve now spent half of my life in this city, and over fourteen of those years have been here in Brooklyn, I’ve always acknowledged that I am something of a transient. Yes, Brooklyn is my home, but Brooklyn has never meant a specific neighborhood like Sunset Park, South Slope, Brooklyn Heights, Greenpoint, or Williamsburg. The idea of Brooklyn-as-home was the borough as a whole because I defined home as being within a social group that was spread out over five or six neighborhoods. My connection to a specific block or neighborhood always felt somewhat accidental or superficial, as though my presence in the area lacked the ability to leave any discernible imprint. The most pertinent aspect of my presence to the fabric of the neighborhood was that I precluded another from existing in the space.

Recently, however, I’ve begun to feel more comfortable saying I’m a part of the neighborhood rather than being just a person who happens to live here. After all, I’ve either worked or lived in a four-block radius for more than 13 years. This is home even though I do acknowledge that I have displaced others and that, given my potential socioeconomic position and education and the potential socioeconomic positions and educations of my neighbors who have been here for more than 13 or even 25 years, I play a part in the wider problem of displacement and gentrification.

I’ve also ceased to be too broke to treat myself to a happy hour beer or two once a week.

Consequently, I finally feel as though I have a local, and that local is The Sackett (661 Sackett Street, Park Slope), even if it’s not technically in my neighborhood. Rather, it’s about the halfway point between my friend’s apartment and my rehearsal space, and about twenty blocks north of where I live. We meet there every week before I go to rehearsal, have two drinks (cocktails for her; beer for me), and then go our separate ways. If the band is running late or the weather is particularly bad, we’ll sometimes have a third round.

There are no good stories to relay, as the happy hour environment there is exactly as it’s supposed to be: warm, relaxed, affordable. There are perhaps ten seats at the bar and another twenty chairs set around a few tables. We typically prefer to sit at the bar because it’s illuminated by white string lights, while the space away from the bar is mostly dark.

The people who come in run a pretty wide gamut. You get your yoga wives and their asshole husbands on the c-suite track from up the block sometimes dipping in for a quick glass of wine before heading back to the brownstones. You also get more blue-collar people who work nearby coming in for a bottle of beer after calling it a day. I’ve seen clusters of friends, students, and door-to-door salespeople take over most of the tables. The music jumps from playlists of Yo La Tegno, Pixies, and Galaxie 500 to throwbacks that only go as far back as 2008: MGMT, Silversun Pickups, and Arcade Fire.

The whole experience is not anything special and, in a way, it’s not supposed to be. It’s supposed to be the opposite of special, which is regular, usual, comfortable. And that comfort comes from more than the bar’s smell or look of the place. It’s certainly more than the familiarity of the playlist or the fact that you know a lot of the people who come in even if you’ve never given them more acknowledgment than a polite nod of the head. There’s a certain comfort there that transcends your local, your regular. It’s the comfort of feeling at home in the neighborhood and in your situation in life. I’m very happy I’ve found that.



Jay Fox is the author of The Walls and is a regular contributor to Stay Thirsty Magazine.

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.