I was heartbroken to read on Joe Bonomo's blog (and have it supported on EV Grieve) yesterday that the Lakeside Lounge on Avenue B is slated to close at the end of the month. Yet another bastion of my misspent quasi-youth gets the keys the street.
I can't remember the first time I set foot in the Lakeside Lounge, but it was probably shortly after I moved to East 12th Street. Walking into the place was a revelation -- dimly lit, divey and cool. I can't possibly count the number of evenings I'd go onto log in the place. From the absolutely mind-blowing jukebox (garage rock, vintage r'n'b, rockabilly, British Invasion, and a healthy dose of late 70's punk rock) to the photo booth (sort of a cliche now, but authentic and old school), to the cheap beers -- the Lakeside Lounge was absolutely perfect.
My favorite place was the front window box. My friend Rob B. and I frequently held court in that space, watching the East Village stroll by whilst we did irreparable damage to our hearing and our livers.
Another favorite aspect of the Lakeside was Leslie the bartender. I have no idea if she's still around, but we used to annoy the crap out of that poor lady, but she was always good natured about it. A tough-as-nails redhead, Leslie tended bar at the Lakeside and moonlighted in her own band, The Prissteens, who completely rocked. That's her at the top of this post circa spring of 1998 (and you can also see her in this frankly bizarre video).
For a while, the Lakeside also played host to a massive print of Roberta Bayley's cover portrait from the sessions that spawned the first Ramones album cover. It hung sprawlingly over the jukebox, right across from the photo booth. I talked about it at great length in this post, but at some point, the Lakeside parted with the print and it transferred over to the short-lived First Avenue record shop, Wowsville. Having logged many an evening at Lakeside coveting the print (i.e. trying to unsuccessfully divine a way to sneak it out of the bar unnoticed), my friend Rob plunged into a strenuously futile bout of haggling over the print (which came complete with a wad of gun affixed to the frame, courtesy of some forgotten Lakeside patron).
Once I got married, had kids and "settled down," as they say, my nights at the Lakeside Lounge became increasingly fewer and further between. I'd go in for periodic pops when certain friends from out of town came back, but I could no longer call myself anything like a regular anymore. As the years shook out and the neighborhood continued to change/gentrify, the Lakeside lost its storied neighbor to the south, the Life Cafe. I never expected the same fate to befall the Lakeside Lounge, though.
The last I heard about Leslie the bartender was that the Prissteens broke up and she formed another band called Purple Wizard, I believe. Wowsville is long gone as well, replaced by a cell phone emporium.
In any case, I'd suggest stopping into the Lakeside Lounge for a beer sometime very soon for a simple, fleeting taste of what the East Village -- let alone New York City as a whole -- used to be like.