By Jay Fox
Brooklyn, NY, USA
Cold enough for ya'? — Traditional Midwestern Greeting
I didn't wear a coat more than a handful of times during my first winter in New York City. It wasn't because of some masochistic tendency, but, rather, because it just never got that cold. I was used to the frigid Michigan winters—the snow, the ice, the air temperatures that could freeze hands, feet and even nose hairs. So, too, was I used to enjoying hot beverages, particularly coffee. However, I also had, and continue to have, a weakness for good cider. I am not referring to the types of cider that hang out in six packs between pilsners and lagers. I am referring to spiced apple cider, preferably with a generous pour of booze.
While spiced apple cider is usually considered a beverage for the fall, New York bars have extended this tradition for as long as there's snow on the ground or, this year, the threat of a polar vortex descending into unfamiliar latitudes. The cider comes, typically, with a choice of either bourbon or rye. I prefer bourbon. More importantly, I prefer the cider offered at Quarter (676 5th Avenue), a narrow, tenebrous bar that caters mostly to transplants from around the nation who don't work in finance, as well as to those who have come from the Laundromat next door to kill some time before moving all of their clothes from the washer to the dryer.
However, it's not just the taste and the smell of the cider that I enjoy; it's also the feeling of comfort it provides. I would not say that it serves as a personal madeleine, as the only childhood association I really have with it concerns a cider mill back in suburban Detroit, but it does make me feel at home. And though Quarter may not be my idyll, I have thought of it as one of the most comforting bars in all of Brooklyn. This requires a bit of explanation.
About five years ago a friend of mine named Aankit was laid off. I don't remember what industry he was working in, but it was not the line of work that one wants to stay in forever, nor was his position something that one wants engraved on their headstone. It was something far less evil than vulture capitalism, but not something as worthwhile as, say, rescuing orphans from a life of poverty.
We ran into each other at a party at a friend's apartment not long after he got canned, and he overheard me telling a story about two of my friends from Michigan who had recently moved to Ghana to build orphanages. One of them, Mike, had even purchased a monkey, and was worried about said monkey, as some of the people in the village had started harassing him (the monkey), as well as his dog, Carl, by heaving stones in their general directions. Aankit was intrigued. I thought he was intrigued about the harassing of the monkey and Carl, but, no, he was interested in how these friends of mine had gotten into the orphanage building business, if they needed any help and if I could get him their contact information. He wanted to do something to help the less fortunate.
I didn't take him seriously. We were both drunk by the time discussion of orphans and Ghana got under way in earnest, and I've learned that drunk plans and aspirations are mostly wasted breath—the number of virtuous things that any drunk person wants to eventually get around to doing is exponentially greater than the number of ethically neutral things they do when sober. Regardless, I gave him the email addresses and figured that he'd eventually ask me, perhaps a few months or a year down the line, "Remember when I was seriously considering moving to Ghana?" We'd laugh. Wouldn't that have been ridiculous? He'd ask me about Mike's monkey. I'd inform him that he had set the second one free, and that a snake had killed the first one.
About a year later, perhaps April, I was in a car heading east on I-80. Mike was driving, as he had been back in the States since Super Bowl Sunday. The drive from Detroit to New York is not particularly bad, especially if it's warm. A good time is twelve hours. An excellent time is ten. We managed to get out of eastern Pennsylvania in less than eight, to cross into Queens from the Bronx in just over nine. I was coming back to New York after a weekend visit with my family. Mike was coming out here to pick up Carl from JFK. Carl's escort—as dogs are not allowed to go solo on transatlantic flights—was, of course, Aankit.
I didn't recognize him when he came out of the terminal. He'd lost around sixty pounds. It was not the normal five-month, sixty-pound loss, as (so far as I know) there is no such thing as a five-month, sixty-pound loss. It was as though he had been hosting a party of tapeworms. It turns out this is what a diet of fufu (mashed cassava and plantains) and Ghanaian moonshine can do, evidently.
As he settled in and we began up Conduit, Aankit stared out the window in a state that contained elements of elation and culture shock. He and Mike talked shop about the orphanage building trade. Eventually the subject of what he wanted to eat came up. Without blinking, he responded: "I want to go to Quarter. I need a (Sixpoint) Bengali Tiger and a meatpie."
I had been to Quarter before. I knew they had a fine beer selection and the best cocktails in the neighborhood, but I had no idea about the meat pies. We took the long way around. Aankit had to swing by the old Freddy's on Dean and 6th Avenue to quickly peak his head in, say hi to a room full of utter strangers and then run down the street like a frolicsome two-year-old. This was a man who was in love with 6th Avenue, with Brooklyn, with Carl, with life.
Before either of us could order a beer once we got to Quarter Aankit had already killed his first pint. The second remained in the glass for around a minute. The third one lasted as long as the first meat pie.
This is what home looked like. It wasn't the gorging on food, but simply the familiarity of the space, of the tastes and smells. Friends began showing up; each one performed a double take, some took triple takes. Embraces were heartfelt, longer than they had to be.
It's this kind of homecoming, this warm, comforting experience I think back to every time I order a mug of cider at Quarter, especially when a polar vortex has descended on the city.