By Jay Fox
Brooklyn, NY, USA
There will be snacks there — Andrew Bird
I don't visit 4th Avenue Pub (76 4th Avenue, Boerum Hill) as often as I would like to. On top of having one of Brooklyn's best tap selections, a very cool bar staff and an outdoor area that doesn't allow smoking (wink), most of the people who spend their days at 4th Ave have an amiable disposition, and most of the street urchins who bumble around the nearby Atlantic terminal tend to stay away from the pub. True, you do get the occasional derelict out front, but, because of the backyard, you can stay safely insulated from their solicitations, maledictions and angry rants on subjects both miscellaneous and tinged with the kind of schizophrenia that we've come to expect from a class of street people who live in a society where the abject and mentally unstable are told to allow the free market to let them help themselves. It's a huge public concern, though it's difficult to feel pity as opposed to fear when confronted with the reality of the individual, especially when he's screaming obscenities at passing traffic and waving around a jug of cheap hooch.
In other words, once you're past the door, and provided it's before one in the morning, the crazies won't bother you at 4th Ave. You're free to simply indulge in the world of beer or, if you're me and it's a Sunday in the summertime, a piece of pie. This is not because the bar has pies for sale. In fact, the bar doesn't even have food unless you count the popcorn machine that goes on the fritz every so often. It's because a friend of mine bakes a pie every Sunday, and then brings it to the backyard of 4th Ave. She's very liberal with it, too, and usually ends up giving a slice or two to the bartender and any friends who decide to stop by for a pint. I tend to repay the favor with cigarettes.
4th Avenue Pub
Not too long ago this would have seemed quite bizarre—a twenty-something coming to a bar with a pie that is completely homemade (yes, she even makes her own crusts). It's still something that seems a bit eccentric being the pie lady in the bar, but it points to a trend that was probably captured best with Portlandia's "Spirit of the 1890s", a song about the joys of making your own pickles and brewing your own beer. What's funny about the song, though, is that the phenomenon is not just taking place in hipster Meccas like Brooklyn and Portland, but in cities as disparate as Seattle and Detroit. People from my generation are not only rejecting large corporations, which has been one of the basic tenets of the left for many generations; they're rejecting homogenized products that are, true, cheap and disposable, but flavorless. They are looking for an escape from the simulation of food. Wendy's was quick to catch upon this trend, and they started running ads with a song that ended with the line, "You know when it's real," which, in a way, begs the question, "Why is serving real food something to be proud of? Shouldn't this be the modus operandi of a restaurant?" It may be better than the Coors Light campaign to assure customers that their beer has no redeeming qualities beyond its ability to become very cold, but it is indicative of a culture that places brand above content. It is this brand-based culture that a lot of people in my generation do not wish to endorse any longer, and it is part of the reason why you have people curing their own meats in Detroit, or, like me, attempting to grow their own kale in Brooklyn.
While the libertarian right in this country has become increasingly critical of any form of government involvement in their lives, the libertarian left is more interested in seeking independence from corporations. Both are humanists in the sense that they wish to fight against what Lewis Mumford called the "megamachine," a homogenized social structure with people serving as the cogs that allow it to operate. The focus of the ire may be different, but in either case the goal is very similar: emancipation from the hegemony. Such has been the paradigm for an incredibly long time, but there has been renewed vigor against corporate control in terms of food, even if the profit margins of agribusiness giants are not suffering from it. Such is the case when it comes to beer, too, with InBev essentially playing the part of ConAgra. Budweiser may be cheap and capable of getting you tipsy, but it's a brand as opposed to a beer. It lacks soul and, more importantly, it lacks flavor. In fact, it was probably the inspiration behind the joke about how drinking an American beer is a lot like making love in a canoe—both are fucking close to water.
4th Ave is one of the many places in Brooklyn (and beyond) that have come to specialize in serving beers that are unique, flavorful and, most importantly, not owned by some massive, multinational conglomerate. Drinking one of the beers on tap at the bar, while eating a slice of homemade pie, may not be a revolutionary act, but it's probably one of the most enjoyable ways to spend a Sunday afternoon in the summer.