More in my series of Manhattan memories…

Back in 1986 I was living at the 92nd Street Y on the Upper East Side of New York City. I was working on an internship during my first semester junior year of university. If you read about my first go at life in the Big Apple, you’ll understand that I had some pretty powerful misgivings about my choice to move here which hinged more along the lines of sheer terror. However, Life improved steadily after my first day on the job and I soon fell into a fairly predictable pattern with a pseudo-real job that occupied a good part of my time. Laptops and Blackberrys had yet to sap a working girl’s downtime so the evenings and weekends were still relatively mine to explore what this city had to share with me. Though a paycheque was now a regularity, money was as tight as a pair of David Lee Roth’s pants, and the shopping that many associate with New York City was well out of my reach. Nevertheless, I was still a student at heart and so my focus, particularly on weekends, gravitated toward booze and bars.

Free passes to Manhattan dance clubs occasionally landed on my VP’s desk and she generously passed them over to me. Her son was away at university, you see, otherwise he would have been the lucky one. Theses passes to contemporary Manhattan night clubs offered free admission and free alcohol …

the fine print being that the entry pass was only good until 7:00pm and the free alcohol was only until 9:00pm …

What New Yorker would dream of setting foot in a Manhattan club any time before 11pm? Well … um … me! Access to a hot New York night club and not paying for booze seemed like a pretty good to me at the time, and I could always find another “Y” friend to tag along. The only other patrons in these hot New York nightclubs at 7:00 o’clock on a Friday night were employees and other freeloaders like me. So what if only one bartender was on duty tending about 50 other pass holders? I was – and still am – very patient when it came to free booze. My drink of choice on these freebie nights was Stolis and Cranberry. Once the clock ran out on free drinks, we could afford maybe one or two beers (but definitely NOT a Stolis and Cranberry) to last us the rest of the evening. One drink in a Manhattan nightclub probably equated my entire week’s beer budget back on campus! We would often stay really late and dance the night away. If we were really lucky, some unsuspecting male would be the object of our attention for at least another drink. If that unsuspecting male expected some sort of repayment for his generosity, we’d hit the dance floor which was by then so crowded, it was pretty easy to disappear. The volatile success of a New York City nightclub would account for why I can’t, for the life of me, remember many of their names, but I do know we went to the Limelight a few times (as long as the passes were forthcoming). I’d come to enjoy these weekend forays into the night club scene and what late-night New York and its noisy food vendors had to offer in the wee hours.

Bars too have come and gone with the times but late night New York conjures up another boozy Manhattan memory for me: The Back Fence on Bleecker Street. A genuine no-frills character bar in GreenichVillage, I was saddened when I heard it was closing in 2013. I understand it was once featured in the book “1,000 Places to See Before You Die” which is fitting, because I probably went there about 1,000 times in 1986! Arriving early enough meant you could get a table near the postage stamp-sized stage but came with a two-drink minimum. Then again, a glass of bad draught beer was probably under a dollar at the time, so we could manage. There was sawdust all over the floor and during the first set, we munched our way through dinner of the free peanuts in a shell offered by the bar. We carefully piled our empty shells into the ashtray only to have the biker-dude-waiter empty the ashtray onto the floor while asking us, “Two more?” I have no idea if he was a biker dude, but he had a pony tail, tattoos and a leather vest which my biker-dude edification up to this point in life meant he was a biker dude! The lead singer of one band could belt out BTO’s “Let it Ride” and when I saw the movie, The Commitments, I swear I was looking at the same lead singer!  Another guitarist played “Sultans of Swing” even better than Dire Straits.  Best live music ever, and the musicians encouraged the crowd to sing along. I always consented.

Ah, the Limelight, the Back Fence, and yes, even the subway. Start spreading the news, I was getting to like this town.

16 Responses to Boozing on Broadway… I did it MY way

  • When I turned 21, my husband and I would take trips to Reno, and Las Vegas. We would suck down free drinks at the table while we played 21 (badly), but neither of us had any idea we were supposed to “tip” for those “free drinks”. I cringe at my stupid young self. Still, ignorance was bliss. I thought gambling was the height of glamor in those days. Now you can’t pay me to go into a casino. New York bars are still fun though!

  • Perhaps NYC is not for everyone, but having grown up at its feet, I can’t think of a better place to have spent so much of my wonder years. I’m so glad you liked being there, too. Go back now, and you’ll find it’s better than ever! My favorite place is Bryant Park. So lovely!

    • While in NYC, I often wondered what it would be like to grow up there – your perspective is so interesting to me. I still keep in touch with my old boss’s son who is my age and has never lived anywhere else but the Upper West Side (other than his university years). He always showed me the coolest sights in New York 🙂

  • I remember eating in Little Italy. Big group of people, all of us around one table. Then we heard popping noises coming from the street. The street cleared of all people. All the waiters vanished instantly. Hmmm… Food was great – we lived to eat it.

    These posts have made me think of an addition to . :

    New York, New York, a helluva town.
    The Bronx is up, but the Battery’s down.
    The people ride in a hole in the groun’.
    New York, New York, it’s a helluva town!

    … which will now be running thru my brain…8)

    • I can only imagine that some of the restaurants in New York are fronts for other businesses (though is that any different than anywhere else?)! My favourite way to eat out in New York was Chinatown for dinner and then Little Italy for dessert! I’m glad you weren’t caught in the crossfire!

  • Money was as tight as David Lee Roth’s pants! Snicker. Love this. You would have been an adorable NY clubber, bet the free drinks from male admirers were flowing freely!

    • I was inspired to add that David Lee Roth comment because hubby and I went to see Van Halen a couple of week’s ago. Diamond Dave is getting old but his pants are still pretty tight ;o

  • Travel does wonders for us (she says whilst she is in fear and mortal trembling whilst kid no. 3 ‘does India’ for 9 weeks.) It is an education of a different kind and changes us from the outside in rather than the reverse. Hope to hear more!

    • I agree Elizabeth, travel does wonders for us and humbles us greatly! I wish your child safe travels through India… I would love to go myself someday!

  • LOve it! New York in the late 80’s! We were at the Cat Club, and Tunnel, and a few others. Limelight closed for a while soon after this, due to a scandal, right? Great post, great memories!

    • Hi Lisa, thank you for stopping by! Yes, I think Limelight closed and re-opened a few times! I think I might have to make a trip back, through, to the Back Fence before it closes for good !!

  • I loved the hay days of recklessless and dancing and drinking, just living in the moment. I confess all early trips to New York were on a business expense account (yay) and in some cases I was wined and dine, which made the traveling there all the better. As noted in your last post I was just there with my daughter, and felt the sticker shock (knowing I couldn’t expnese anything).. But still, it’s a great place to visit. Catchy title for the post. Conjured some great memories and maybe a hangover or three.

    • Thanks Brenda. Yes, I think New York is best enjoyed on someone else’s tab! That being said, am glad this post brought back some memories for you…

  • Astra, I read this post and just sighed. You see, this is the reason I wanted to go to NYC when I was of college age. Not for the booze, mind you, since I’ve never been much of a drinker, but for the joie de vivre! Now, more than 20 years later, I still dream of the day I’ll visit New York City. I wonder how much those bars have changed since you last frequented them. Have you visited the big apple since your college days? I love that you have these wonderful memories. They’re just perfect for your memoirs! 🙂

    • I do love New York and yes, I have been back a few times since moving away. The clubs have all changed of course but I know the Back Fence is still there though I hear it too is closing next year. Will have to make a reunion visit for sure! I think these memories have all resurfaced because my 25th university reunion is fast approaching. My time in the Big Apple was a big part of my years at university 🙂
      I hope you get there soon! I can see you standing in Times Square just soaking it all in 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

About Astra
Ottawa mom of 3 poking fun at myself, motherhood, and minor hockey! I am steering through life dodging stinky hockey gear and empty wine bottles.
Socialize With Me

email fb twitter

ig pinterest gplus

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe and receive updates & new posts by email.

Tweet With Me