By Jay Fox
Brooklyn, NY, USA
Jay Fox (credit: Josephine Paz)
To be called a good companion and a fellow-boozer is to me pure honor and glory.
- François Rabelais
Midday found me up in Midtown having lunch with my girlfriend. My plan was pretty simple: I was going to see her, find a cheap bar nearby after she had gone back to work, crash and burn on the Friday crossword, and then return home to see what I could salvage out of the day. Once you’re out of the apartment on a warm, sunny day with nothing to do, wanderlust can become overwhelming. This may seem obvious to the tourist or to someone new to the city, but to a veteran New Yorker, the feeling is kind of weird, rare, alienating. I had had a reason (lunch), but now the next step in my plan (finding a cheap bar nearby) seemed uninspired and boring. Why stay in Midtown? I hate Midtown - it’s a toxic amalgam of docile tourists and petulant corporate types, the former being a nuisance, the latter a plague who spend their time destroying environments and economies. With that in my mind, I decided it was best to head off to somewhere else, somewhere I had never been.
I had been meaning to pay a visit to Veronica’s (34-06 36th Avenue, Long Island City) since I saw a post about it somewhere on the web. I remembered it was a few blocks away from the 36th Avenue stop on the N or the Q, and that I could probably get there from Grand Central in a little over half an hour. What the hell? If this place was half the dive bar the post said it was, it was probably going to have a great hair of the dog deal going on. After all, it was the day after St. Pat’s.
Though I don’t like to reiterate things I’ve said in previous columns, I feel an obligation in order to lend perspective: A dive is not simply a cheap bar without a sophisticated ambiance. To be a real dive, there needs to be some degree of derision for cleanliness and hospitality. Those sitting around the bar need to be lacking in both integrity and hygiene. There needs to be contempt for those who order anything more complicated than a beer or a shot or, if you’re young, a two component concoction (vodka/cranberry, vodka/orange juice, rum/coke, etc.).
Veronica’s is not a dive bar. Veronica’s is more of a neighborhood bar, perhaps what would be called a townie bar if it were in some resort town on Cape Cod. The bartender knows pretty much everyone who comes in, the owner knows pretty much everyone who comes in, and all of the patrons have known each other for decades. It’s almost like a group of work friends - they don’t go to one another’s weddings, but they come to share inside jokes, a few idioms, and the same space for at least a few hours a day.
While I won’t say that I felt unwelcome when I entered, no one bothered to roll out the red carpet for me either. This was just a bar. There were no gimmicks and there were no frills. The only decoration came in the form of a few derelict St. Patrick’s Day banners and an array of union stickers on the mirror behind the bar. As it was still early in the day, the only two people present and accounted for were the bartender, who narrowly missed taking out the shot glasses lining the bar with her…well, endowments, and a man with a brace on his ankle, who had probably been there since the place opened. It was quiet; the radio tuned to the soft rock station, the broadcast of the Memphis/Arizona game a blanched murmur.
Veronica's Bar (credit: Jay Fox)
Before I could finish my first beer, a blur of red hair and profanity stormed in with a serious chip on her shoulder on account of the Department of _______ - the name eludes me because of the roughly seven hundred different Departments of whatever in New York. She was accompanied by a man named Eddie, who desperately kept trying to get his two cents in, but she wanted nothing of it. All she wanted was an axe from Tenedos to take out the red tape, though she would have probably settled for a machete. Veronica, I correctly concluded.
The three of us, Veronica, Eddie, and I, ended up having a cigarette a few minutes later. She explained her situation in vague terms that essentially boiled down to her having to deal with several hours of bullshit, a rude clerk, and a dreadful hangover. I welcomed her to my world.
Veronica continued to gripe about her day to anyone within earshot, which soon included a guy who may have been nicknamed Filthy. He came in with a girl he hadn’t seen since they broke up fifteen years previously. Eddie, a man in his fifties, decided to celebrate with a series of jukebox choices that I would have assumed came from a fifteen-year-old girl (Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and, most bizarre, Black Box).
The crowd began to fill out at this point. The people were tame, older, gregarious; no one was there to get annihilated, no one was there looking for a one night stand, no one was there to do anything besides have a beer and a conversation. If you’re one of people who have had that conversation about opening up a quiet bar in which your friends and family can spend their twilight years, this bar would probably be a good model to follow.
As this was Queens, the crowd was more international than the waiting area at Heathrow. In the few hours I was there, I heard at least half a dozen languages, provided you include the two Chinese women who came in to sell bootleg DVDs. A few of the guys had just finished their shifts at the cab company down the block and spoke a trilingual mix of English, Spanish and Portuguese, which the bartender clearly enjoyed since she was from Argentina. A septuagenarian Irish couple at the end of the bar proved to be the artillery of ball-busting Irishisms. Most of their projectiles seemed to fall in Filthy’s vicinity. He took it well, but went home to walk his dogs with his lady friend not long after arriving.
Veronica’s is not a blight on the block, as is usually the case with a dive bar. There were no weirdoes lingering in front of the bar, drinking out of those small, blue coffee cups, nor was there a vindictive or malicious bone in anybody seated at the bar. It was exactly what a neighborhood pub is supposed to be: a place you go to when you feel like getting out of the house without leaving home.
Jay Fox was born in suburban Detroit. He moved to New York City in 2001. When he’s not working his 9-5, he spends his time writing fiction, playing with his band (Pistols, 40 Paces), doing the crossword puzzles featured in The New York Times, and drinking in waterholes around the city. If given the option of a PBR or a Budweiser, he would take the PBR. If given the option of an IPA or a Belgian wheat, he would more than likely take the IPA. Whiskey makes him charming, stupid, and then sleepy. He doesn’t particularly like writing in third-person, but understands that it’s necessary sometimes.
He would probably want to meet anyone who has bothered to read this, especially if it’s over a drink.