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5:33 a.m. - 2023-01-27
Tommy Milano's

I lost my bearings in the city last year, headed to one of my spots. A feat that used to be impossible in lower Manhattan, back when one could simply spot the World Trade Center to the south and count avenues east-or-west accordingly. But the skyline is cluttered now, and the towers are but a fraught memory. Other, lesser known, landmarks have been lost as well: the Honduran fruit market in a graffiti-tagged vacant lot, the 70's lookin' car wash on Houston Street, that pool hall where the Chinese gang-bangers used to hang out... All replaced by shiny steel facades housing boutique shops and day-spas and an REI across from my old local. (Seriously...a camping store in Little Italy. Get the fuck outa here, indeed.) And I'm not an urban planner or an economist, so my opinions on “change” are completely subjective. (Informed, perhaps, by a subconscious fear of aging? Or the bit that follows? The thought has occurred to me...) But I've lived long enough and in enough places to hold an aesthetic opinion, at least. I've watched money chase money, and I've clocked how this city, historically, profits and never looks back. The staggering cost of real estate in NYC demands that much of this new development be funded by publicly-held companies. Ventures that are by their very nature risk-averse. A position reflected in the corporate sterility of the architecture they produce.

My old local is located just off Mulberry. A street where, since 1926, they’ve celebrated the Feast of San Gennaro. I could speak of my own experiences at the festival: of puffing out my stomach in an attempt to “fool the guesser”, of my stomach puffed-out in earnest later, after too many cannoli...of paying a dollar so me and my girl could step inside some beat carnival-trailer to see “world's biggest rat” (spoiler alert: it's a capybera, and she'd already seen the damn thing twice the year before but the chick was crazy about capyberas what can you do?). Or you could just watch the Feast of San Gennaro assassination scene from The Godfather 2; it's the same snacks and prayers and hustles set 50 years earlier. But yeah, if this cookie-cutter corporate-cancer keeps spreading south into SOHO they may as well move the whole shebang down the turnpike. Just celebrate the saint in a New Jersey shopping'll probably have more character.

This frenzied development was actually abetted by the pandemic. As construction was deigned a “vital industry” no tradesmen had to quit working, and given the logistics of building in NYC the shutdown probably made work easier. It certainly did for speculators eager to see long-term lease holders driven out of business... Anyway, I did find my old spot, buried beneath construction scaffolding, but it was a reminder that there's no guarantee the joint will outlive me.

So here's a brief mention of it taken from the shelved NYE travelogue I referenced in my last entry, along with a **hyperlink** to two half-assed snaps taken that afternoon. Posted mostly for posterity's sake, but also for Pidge's benefit. Because that poor woman had to hear me go on about the place every time I ordered a crap pint of Guinness from a stale keg in LA...

~ ~ ~

In the U.S. the term “Irish Pub” typically designates little more than a shit sports-bar w/Kelly-green upholstery and a bit of wood paneling, and NYC is overrun with 'em. Happy hour booze-traps for businessmen who'd rather not go home yet...places for the bridge-and-tunnel set to slam back shots en-route to (equally) generic dance clubs. Milano's, with its Italian name (and nary a shamrock to be seen in the joint) doesn't purport to be “Irish”. But I maintain that it is, because when I started drinking there the place was thick with Irishmen. Rotten with 'em, actually.

It's a true shotgun bar—so if the stools are occupied you’ll have to shimmy sideways w/your back to the wall 'till you find one open. And if you're a big man or a fatty you just might have to stand and drink by the door. Jackie the bartender (an Irish emigre herself) recognized me from previous trips up and we had a quick reunion whiskey while she pulled me a pint. It felt good to be back, and I could have sat there all afternoon, sipping stout with the dusty light from the front window on one elbow and the glow of the juke box on the other, listening to Jackie swear like a Gaelic teamster...trying to catch a glimpse of my own ghost at the little table in the back. That was where me and my girl used to meet after work. Where inevitably, after a few drinks, we'd play “our” song on the jukebox. Swaying on a tiny, battered patch of linoleum dance floor, humming along with the all-too-true lyrics ...

But my boozy reminiscence was interrupted by a text message. I'd posted a pic for the benefit of those who knew the place, and someone unexpected had responded. Two old friends from California were not only in NYC, but staying in the neighborhood. We agreed to meet for a late lunch at a hip new fried-chicken spot in Alphabet City.

There's a giddy feeling to encountering friends unexpectedly and out-of-context, like you're kids on a field trip or something. The last time I'd seen Tanya we were with a now-departed homie at a restaurant in Silverlake when she “Scarfaced” a mound of coke, stood up with her beak 'n cheeks dusted and, grinning wildly, threw some money on the table before backing her pickup into two parked cars and driving off, oblivious. She was sober now, beautiful and refusing to age. Tanya used to date Dino, who was just as self-destructive then...less-so now, maybe? He's a comedy writer and producer and was in New York for the release of his company's first feature film, which had met with critical acclaim. So he was in high spirits. As was his eight-person entourage, which made the prospect of us squeezing into the hip-as-advertised chicken shop unlikely...

There was another restaurant a few doors up the block though, a nice place. Closed in preparation for a limited-seating, reservations-only New Year's Eve fete with the champagne and what not, but Dino banged on the door until someone opened it and somehow (I don't know if he dropped a name or slipped a bill) they let us in. So yeah...eight LA-based writers and comedians, two old friends, and a carpenter from Texas sat around a big table in a closed New York City restaurant, swapping stories and eating fried chicken and collard greens from the joint next-door while someone (a manager? a prep-cook?) brought us drinks from the bar and it felt crazy. I walked Tanya back to her hotel.

It was the “golden hour” and the city was beautifully lit.



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