February 12, 2008

This Week's Line

This Week's Beefcake
As anyone who knows me knows, i've pretty much sworn off the menfolk. This is due to a lifetime of being treated like nothing but shit--sure, we all get it sometimes, but i cannot think of a man who didn't treat me like something he found in a burning paper bag outside his door late at night. I could go on, but we're trying to be amusing here and some of that shit even I can't make funny. Although people still do laugh....
Regardless, it's taken time--about two years since the departure of the legendary Evil Ex--to even appreciate masculine pulchritude once more. Just to look at, like paintings in the Met but, like paintings in the Met, the simple viewing itself brings me joy. First award goes to one of the contestants on the otherwise utterly worthless Bravo trainwreck Make Me a Supermodel. I speak of Ben, the unbelievably foxy prison guard. I cannot watch the show all the way through: it's just that vapid and the rest of the contestants are just that tedious. But i switch channels back and forth whenever it's on--Thursdays, conveniently simultaneous to TNT's NBA doubleheader--simply so i can stop whenever he appears and gaze in slackjawed adoration, punctuated by the occasional "Hubba Hubba! "Goddamn!" or "Jesus Fuckin' Christ, he's hot!" Those eyes, those cheekbones, the whole storyline with the California twink all after Ben's fine, not only straight but married self. All i can say is: Yes, please, may i have another?
Second prize goes to the alluring cowboy i watched playing speed roulette at the Imperial Palace last weekend. He was like a hot cowboy cliche, down to the high cheekbones, blue eyes, battered straw cowboy hat and the pack of smokes rolled up into the sleeve of his Hanes T-shirt. It was like the time Keela and i (well, mostly her, but i was totally into the idea and that is more than half of it, after all) were at the first Vegoose and became all enchanted with the ferris wheel operator because he looked kinda like Chuck Connors and we imagined him being all hot carny guy and roaming the west with his amusement park ride, last of the free men. Until we found out that he actually worked for Sam Boyd Stadium.... But, anyway this guy was actually much more fetching than that, sort of a Montgomery Clift/James Dean cowboy, except he actually looked big and macho enough to actually, you know, cowboy. And there he was, drinking his Budweiser and watching the big shiny wheel spin around. I was half-tempted to ask him for a smoke, but i figured he'd rather devote his attention to the Gwen Stefani looalike that was manning said wheel. No, literally, lookalike: It was the "dealertainers" celebrity impersonator poker pit and that was her schtick.
I wish i hadn't wasted my money getting a Master's, but had gone to dealer school instead. I could be shuffling cards dressed as Marilyn Monroe right now. Or Jean Harlow. Or Debbie Harry. Or Anna Nicole Smith. Or early Madonna. Or Rita Hayworth if they gave me a wig. Actually, given how shitty most of their impersonators are, they'd let me do pretty much anything. I mean, i have trouble telling who some of those people are. And then i'd have a reason to talk to the hot cowboy. Or the foxy prison guard. Or any of the other Village People, i guess. They may as well be, for all the good it'd do me.

This Week's Mighty Cosmetic Product
Also, as anyone who knows me knows, I am a serious devotee of Sephora and its racks and racks and racks of high-end cosmetics. I may be wearing a dress I bought for $5 at Savers, but i'll be wearing $20 lipgloss and $18 mascara. I'm telling you" It's worth the money. My big worth the money right now is the Diorshow Blackout Kohl Mascara. This stuff will give you lashes for days with one coat--we're talking big, awesome, Liz Taylor lashes, Bambi lashes, Gillian Girl lashes,

This Week's Cinematic Exploration
Ah, Big Lots, how I love you. Big Lots has been the source of many unexpectedly inexpensive necessities in my life. However, not since the surfeit of $1 copies of The Filth and the Fury has there been a score like my Cult Classics 20-movie box set. For a whopping $6.00, I got 20 classics of black-and-white cheeseball exploitation cinema. She Shoulda Said No is a classic black-and-white marijuana hysteria flick, with the added frisson of starring Lila Leeds. Yes, the Lila Leeds who got busted for smoking weed with Robert Mitchum back in 1948. Bob's career flourished, but Lila's was over except for the odd exploitation flick such as this. It's pretty heavy-handed, but it moves fast and the "high" scenes are great: Superimposition City like first-year film school, but the sight of showgirls and rainbows fading in and out over the undeniably lovely face of Leeds (who huffs her muggles like a pro) or ballerinas and grand pianos whirling through space as theremins go wild is still pretty gosh darn neat.
The Wild and the Wicked is another Hollywood morality tale, this time set in the 50's. Innocent kid goes to visit her glamorous sister in L.A., becomes an "artist's model" (wink wink) and a hooker about 10 minutes later. This movie didn't teach me much about the pitfalls of the high life, but it did teach me that, the more facial hair a guy has, the more evil he is. Mustache = minor henchman. Goatee = manager. Full beard = criminal mastermind.
Not that they're all gems: Gambling With Souls is a dull, episodic 30's morality tale starring a Z-grade Bette Davis knockoff; Mad Youth is similarly dull, but is at least brightened by periodic non-sequitur nightclub acts. A Mariachi band, a tap dancer, someone doing the limbo and a dancing goat: Now that's entertainment!
I haven't even cracked open Terror of Tiny Town, the all-midget Western, or Chained for Life starring Daisy and Violet Hilton (the only Hilton sisters who matter, y'all), not to mention The Cocaine Fiends, The Marijuana Menace, Sex Madness or Escort Girl. Final weird touch: mixed in with all this bottom-feeder schlock is legendary German auteur G.W.Pabst's silent masterpiece, The Joyless Street, starring a young Greta Garbo.

This Week's Taste Sensation/New Form of Intoxication
So, absinthe is now legal in the United States. I found this out a few months ago when i was sitting in one of my locals and noticed the bottle with German writing on the label and a postie note reading "$10 a shot" on it. I was sitting with one of the waiters (the bar is next to a steakhouse, thus is there's always guys in white shirts and black pants) and he asked what it was. Upon discovering it was absinthe, real deal absinthe, not that fake shit in the pretty bottle. I immediately ordered up one, on ice with a dash of sugar and a lime wedge. It was refreshing and surprisingly tasty. Soon more waiters arrived and they ordered up shots too. Then a few more people did. Then i had another. Then the rest of them killed the bottle. Somewhere in the course of the evening i got hit in the face with a door and then decided i needed to go home. Right away. As i jumped into my car, it occurred to me this might not be a good idea, given the heavy police presence along the road i would be traveling, my busted turn signals, the dents in my bumper. Then i thought: "This is the Millennium Falcon and i am Han Solo! We can make this run through Imperial territory!" and i drove the fortunately only about two miles home humming the Star Wars them, except when i'd pass some poor, pulled-over bastard and intone the "Imperial March" while pumping my fist in the air. Yeah, i know it was a bad idea and a goddamn miracle i got away with it.
Unfortunately, this is not the only nor the worst case of poor judgment i've shown après avoir dansé avec la fée verte. It will make you do some absurd shit you would not normally do, so be careful. If i had a babysitter, i would bring he/she/it with me but, as i have no such companion, ultimately i just have to lift my glass and hope for the best. Although that is easier when i just stay the fuck home. Which i should do more often.

Posted by lissa at 03:01 AM

February 06, 2008


Edited version.

Original version:

or decades, it was the same story every day at Sophie’s. When the scarred wooden doors swung open in the morning, old Slavic men shuffled in and slumped over their cheap beers. Afternoons brought Irish carpenters skipping out of work early for a pint and NYU students cutting class to play pool. As the light faded through the plate-glass windows, it’d gradually fill with musician types, off-duty bartenders, middle-age-verging artists and even more college kids. By midnight, all of the above were mixed and mingled together, talking books and politics, jobs and ex-wives, hitting on each other or hitting each other. Last call swept them all back out on to Fifth Street--and, less than six hours later, the cycle began anew.

But the pub’s old narrative may soon be interrupted. Bill Corton, who has owned Sophie¹s--and its sister bar, Mona’s--since the late 80’s is selling out. “The whole neighborhood has changed,” he explains. “We catered to the neighborhood service people and artists and they’ve moved on.” Combined with health issues and the demands of raising kids, it felt like time to make an exit of his own. Both bars--complete with liquor licenses and ten-year-leases--are on the market, their fate to be determined soon.

A bar dating back to the Koch administration may seem ancient, but its history actually stretches back even further. Sophie’s is named after the wordly-wise babushka Corton bought it from in 1986. “Tough, tough old Ukrainian woman. She buried two husbands in this business,” he recalls with a chuckle. “It started on Second Avenue and 23rd. I lived above her when it was on Avenue A.” When she decided to sell the joint, Corton took it over: “Any young person at one point fantasizes about what they would do if they owned a bar.” He continues, “It was a dream and that opportunity presented itself.”

Long ago, I spent a year or two practically living at Sophie’s. I still have memories of bathing a roommate’s bruised heart in well bourbon shots at the window. Of breaking up a fight between two underfed record store clerks. Of waltzing to Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea” with an seventy-year-old wearing a union-logo windbreaker. Of drinking dollar drafts in a backless satin dress and earrings made of chandelier pendants stolen from the Limelight. Of trying to use the toilet while simultaneously not touching the seat and keeping the broken door closed with my foot. Back then, Sophie’s was just one of many dingy watering holes spotting the East Village: The International, Cherry Tavern, Verkhovyna, the Old Homestead Inn, Lucy’s—all but the last only a bourbon-soaked memory. Dim, grotty places you wouldn’t look twice at in passing, but which were like a fairytale tumbledown cottage in the woods that hid a palace’s worth or treasure: The legend of the night Frank Sinatra drank ‘til closing, anecdotes of the store clerk’s past as a Bollywood star, the guy recounting the courtside view of last night’s Knicks playoff game (yes, children, it was a long time ago)….

Nowadays, virtually every bar in the East Village offers precisely what it advertises--every patron will be of the same age range, income bracket, sexual orientation and aesthetic taste. You’ll see nothing you haven’t seen, hear nothing you haven’t heard and so the neighborhood lapses from a heady mix of cultures and influences to homogeny. Even if the artists could still afford it, why would they remain? What is there to surprise and inspire now?

Corton seconds the emotion: “I miss the camaraderie, the different stories people would have.” Not that Sophie’s seemed to promise the riches of geography and history: No sign outside and no décor inside--just dark, stained walls and wobbly tables ringed by creaky chairs in front, pool table, jukebox and the faint (well, maybe not so faint) whiff of bathroom in the back. The room’s sole feature is an enormous, antique oak bar topped by a wee shingled faux-roof with tiny stained glass dormer windows, as though bottles of schnapps and vodka were happy Eastern European peasants lined up and ready to entertain.

“I’ve been running it as a mom-and-pop for 21 years,” says Corton. It’s not a business model many follow anymore. New York City bars used to be more like bodegas, dry cleaners or drugstores: A family business servicing a steady stream of regular customers. Now it’s all about getting in, packing them in, taking their money, then smacking a padlock on the door and getting the hell out. Given the liquor license and lucrative location, Sophie’s could be an appetizing prospect for tavern renewal. “I spoke to someone who owns a couple of bars on the Upper East Side,” offers Corton. Then he continues, “Actually there are a few people—bartenders--if they were to buy it, they would keep it mostly like it is.” Which would be just fine with me. I rarely visit these days, but am always surprised at how much of its scruffy, egalitarian charm remains. The liquor’s still cheap and the bartenders are still friendly. And, so, the saga of Sophie’s continues. For at least a little while longer.

Posted by lissa at 11:10 PM