I should point out at the top of this post that as much as I would have liked to, I did not take the above photo. Rather, I brazenly appropriated it from Broke-Ass Stuart's Goddamn Website.
Sometime in the early 1990s, I remember going to the Subway Inn on East 60th Street just off Lexington Avenue (convenient staggering distance from the entrance to the 6 train) with my friends Rob, Tim and Ed and marveling at its endearingly gritty interior and old school New York dive bar sensibility, looking remarkably like a location from a Martin Scorsese opus (which it very well may have been at one point or another). Its regular clientele were career drinkers, not comparatively well-scrubbed and insufferable dilettantes like ourselves. The gents at the bar at the Subway had very possibly been there all day, whereas we were clearly just passing through. Feeling like tourists in our own city, we respected our place in that particular food chain, supped up our many beers and shuffled back out into the night, invariably headed south to louder, younger venues.
In 1998 or so, I stopped into the Subway Inn again, this time with the woman who'd later become my wife. We shared a booth in the back and stared moony-eyed at each other over a couple of drinks while an ancient juke box played doo-wop tunes from a bygone age late into the evening. It seemed once again like a scene out of a film. The Subway Inn was this strange little oasis of endearingly shoddy character in an otherwise bland neighborhood (near the southern border of the Upper East Side), perched diminutively in the shadow of Bloomingdale's palace of posh.
Prior to last night, the last time I'd set foot in the Subway was with my friend John Flowers in 2005. In was a rainy summer afternoon and we were putting away some pints in preparation to witness Devo play in Central Park later in the day. While much of the city had changed rather significantly by this point, the Subway Inn had somehow retained its same shady veneer and un-fussed integrity.
Last night, I was to attend my 25th high school reunion at a restaurant in midtown. Being that it didn't make sense to go all the way home after work, my wife and I made a plan to simply meet back at the Subway Inn around 7pm for a couple of "secret drinks" (as we used to call them) before going to my reunion. So after leaving my office in the arguable hotbed of Satanism in Rockefeller Center, I strolled over to East 60th street in the cooling October evening.
I could hear it a half-a-block away. From within the interior of the Subway Inn came a thunderous, pulsing beat. Stepping inside was an all-sensory assault. Three massive televisions were broadcasting three different sporting events as I narrowly squeezed between the crowd at the bar and the (newly-installed?) massive digital jukebox, playing Rihanna's cloyingly puerile "Rudeboy" at an amplification that would make even Motorhead arch a warty eyebrow. The place was packed, loud and, well, annoying. I quickly downed a Budweiser and decided I couldn't take it. I squeezed back out the door to wait for my wife outside. As I was standing under that iconic neon light, an older gentleman wearingly shuffled by me and into the Subway Inn. Two seconds later, he came back out. "It's insanely loud in there," he muttered as he passed me, "I don't know how you stand it."
"I can't," I said, "That's why I'm out here."
"Well, maybe we're just old," he replied as he walked into the night.