By Jay Fox
Brooklyn, NY, USA
…What these anecdotes share is the occurrence of an insurmountable parallax gap, the confrontation of two closely linked perspectives between which no neutral common ground is possible. — Slavoj Žižek
My girlfriend and I entered the Brooklyn Pub (689 Sixth Avenue, Brooklyn) after a long day of unpacking, cleaning and that inevitable trip to Ikea. As it was almost ten-thirty on Easter Sunday night, this bar was the only place in the neighborhood that was open and serving food.
The setup was typical—televisions dedicated to sports, a few tables and a handful of patrons talking above the jukebox, which I later learned the owner despises as much as I despise Celtic versions of Motown songs—a consequence of working in a Detroit pub. If he had it his way, an iPod that plays nothing but Pearl Jam, the Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule, and, his favorite, the Black Crowes would replace it. If I had it my way, I’d help him move it to the curb.
All in all, it’s a pretty solid place. It has good food, a satisfactory variety of bottle and tap beer and the people we met during that rainy evening were incredibly friendly. We even managed to coax a woman who had been a singer with the Tran-Siberian Orchestra to belt out a few bars of Rihanna’s “S&M.” Just about everyone agreed that she would be a shoe-in for next year’s American Idol. Typical Brooklyn.
What I mean to say is that the Brooklyn Pub celebrates Brooklyn qua Brooklyn, not Brooklyn via one of the neighborhoods. This distinction demands a little clarification.
Brooklyn is not a neighborhood. It is a borough, a county and more importantly, one of the most diverse places in America, if not the world. It’s Goodfellas meets Do the Right Thing meets Bored to Death and so on. Brooklyn, in other words, doesn’t have one identity, much as America doesn’t have one identity. This was what I found so odd about the Brooklyn Pub. It wanted to reify a single sense of “Brooklyn” that doesn’t and never did exist.
You get the feeling that the bar is conscious of itself—not literally, of course—as a bar in Brooklyn and that its existence anywhere else would be an oversimplification of the borough. The problem, however, is that it seems to be something of an oversimplification even though it’s located a stone’s throw away from Greenwood Cemetery. It’s as though the bar wants to ignore Sartre’s famous conclusion that “Existence precedes essence,” and proclaim that it is the Brooklyn bar, not simply a Brooklyn bar.
Brooklyn Pub, Brooklyn
This is not an insult by any means, but it does shine a light on the changing demographics of Brooklyn. For example, no one is certain what to call the neighborhood in which the Brooklyn Pub is located. Some will tell you that it’s Park Slope; some will say it’s Park Slope South; some will call it South Slope; others will call it Greenwood or Greenwood Heights; people who claim to really be in the know when it comes to Brooklyn will tell you that it’s actually in Sunset Park. I don’t know which one is right, but I believe this ambiguity reveals the larger point to be made—there is no greater authority in which to take refuge, thereby leaving the overlapping communities of the area stuck in an impasse that is not antagonistic, but still unbridgeable. You notice this type of thing often in Brooklyn—the bodegas next to the upscale bars, the day-laborers living in the same buildings as the yuppies, the grocery stores having packages of chicken feet in one aisle and assortments of organic French cheeses in another. It’s as though two universes are sharing the same space.
Like Williamsburg’s Peter’s Since 1969 (yes, this is the name of the restaurant; it was opened in 2007), the Brooklyn Pub wants to be an authentic establishment, one that helped define the neighborhood. Unlike Peter’s Since 1969, it does not try to hide the fact that it is a new place, but it attempts to be the local bar for a group of locals who live in Brooklyn. The problem is that locals don’t live “in Brooklyn.” They live in neighborhoods, on blocks, in buildings. People in Bay Ridge do not refer to friends who live in Midwood as neighbors, just as people living on Chicago’s South Side do not refer to friends living in Lincoln Park as neighbors. Brooklyn is a vast place and every block has its own idiosyncrasies. To eliminate them is to eliminate the very essence of Brooklyn.
I don’t want to mock the Brooklyn Pub. I liked the owner, I liked the bartenders, I liked the food, I liked the Sixpoint that they had on tap. I especially liked the fact that I later got to watch Max Scherzer strike out every Yankee except for Curtis Granderson without having to deal with drunken Yankee fans yelling at the television. In fact, there’s a lot to like about the bar. My point is simply that one cannot grant one perspective of Brooklyn any greater veracity than another. There is no one, all-encompassing “Brooklyn,” just as there is no one, all-encompassing “New York.” Because the communities within Brooklyn are so incredibly diverse, my hope is that the Brooklyn Pub realizes that it can be a great neighborhood bar, as well as a great asset to the neighborhood, even if no one has any idea what neighborhood it happens to be in.
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.