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01.08.2014

*This story is a little taste of BPB’s larger project in New York, which launches soon. Stay tuned!

Ophira Eisenberg: Hope At the Corner of Prince and Mercer

It was 8 pm on November 4th, 2008, and my husband and I were rushing around SoHo, trying to find a decent place to watch the election results, which is no easy task in a neighbourhood where eyebrow bars have replaced drinking joints. But we remembered Fanelli’s – a watering hole that somehow survived the luxurization South of Houston, still standing on the prime corner of Prince and Mercer. It’s an old-fashioned place with a red neon sign that seems like it’s from the 1920s. Inside you’re greeted with a long wood bar and a couple dozen tables with classic red-and-white checkered tablecloths. It dares you not to feel welcome, but is too nondescript for rich asshole tourists. On that particular night, the place was full but not packed, and all of the televisions were blasting election coverage. 

We took two seats at the bar next to a guy who introduced himself as Dennis. He worked as a sludge boat captain on the East River. As he ordered another pint with a side of Jameson, he told us he’d had been going to this bar since he was a “tot”. It had been a while since I’d met anyone in the city who didn’t work in advertising or entertainment, and I peppered him with questions like an anthropologist interviewing the last remaining member of an ancient culture.

The election results continued to pour in but the race was still too close for comfort. A pack of young Wall Street guys piled in. I let one of them hang his suit jacket on the back of my chair. Underneath, he had suspenders clipped over his blue shirt, harkening back to a different time and a different market. There were also college kids, travellers and a smattering of neighbourhood relics who were hanging onto their rent-controlled apartments with their fingernails. Or maybe they were millionaires. The atmosphere was uniformly tense - we all wanted Obama to win, but they were taking their time counting those votes, and as it turns out, suspense makes people very thirsty. The bartenders rushed around and passed out free shots to apologize for the wait. It was that kind of place.

As the final states were announced, the bar got very quiet. Finally, Obama was declared the winner. The place went nuts. People shook their tables, banged on the bar, clinked glasses and hollered into the tin ceiling. We all ordered doubles. The kitchen got hit with 40 orders of “just fries”.  It was like New Year’s Eve, but with meaning. The sludge boat captain kissed me and then my husband. I hugged the anachronistic Wall Street guys. Obama’s face hit the TV and he gave that speech - his first Presidential speech. Through my tears, I could see streaks on every last person’s cheeks, including the bartenders and dishwashers. That’s one of the things I love about the right bars in New York: give a room full of strangers a reason to connect, and we’ll do it better than anyone else. 

Later I read that the land Fanelli’s sits on was marsh and forest until the Dutch began establishing farms in the area in the 1640s. In 1663, it was a farm owned by Domingo Angelo, a freed slave. 

Fanelli’s Café is located at 94 Prince Street between Greene Street and Mercer Street, 212-226-9412. 

Comedian and author Ophira Eisenberg is the host of Ask Me Another on NPR and performs stand-up and storytelling regularly in New York City.

I recently tried resting on az computerized parking meters that have replaced the mechanical ones, and there was no place for my head or my woes. It was just a cold hard machine that wanted my money.

Liz Barrett: Nice to Meter

Old-school steel parking meters used to be all over New York, and oh, how I miss them.  Those parking meters saved me after a full day and night of partying. I was exhausted from going to MOMA and following Robert Redford up the escalator to verify it was he. I was exhausted from drinking all by myself a giant blue alcoholic drink served in a pitcher with giant straws, a drink meant for 8 people. I was exhausted from having accosted Al Franken at a bar about politics. I was exhausted from going at 4:00 am from one bar to another that needed a secret knock and proceeding to play air guitar with NYC cops. I needed a toilet, that porcelain god for the drunk and the sick, but none was to be found.  So I did the next best thing; I rested my head on a parking meter and the steel felt so good against my face. 

I recently tried resting on one of the computerized parking meters that have replaced mechanical ones, and there was no place for my head or my woes. It was just a cold hard machine that wanted my money.

Old school parking meters can be found at the New York Transit Museum at Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street in Brooklyn.

Liz Barret is a comedian and lawyer living in New York City.

Karen Bergreen: Winning Streak 

It was 1980 and I was in desperate need of a watch. I was 15 years old, and my parents were out of town. It was okay back then to leave a kid unsupervised for a day or two. I was about to go to France myself, to live with my family on a cultural exchange program. Two nights before I left, I realized I didn’t own a watch.

“They said I need a watch,” I wailed to my friends at Mona’s slumber party. “It was on the instructions.”

They ignored me. There were twelve of us. Twelve screaming girls, some less dorky than I, but we were all innocent, despite our proximity to Studio 54 and any number of cocaine merchants. We spent the night making prank phone calls and eating Wise potato chips dipped in Stouffer’s Turkey Tetrazini.

Around 5:30 am, there was no more food and we had discussed the false rumours of our classmate Erin Connelly’s pregnancy (rumours that Erin Connelly herself had started) from every angle. We were bored.

Beth suggested we go to Central Park. It was three blocks away, and the sun was almost fully up. It was a banner idea. We left Mona’s house in our sneakers and nightclothes. I wore a Lanz nightgown that I thought was really pretty.

We found ourselves in the East 72nd Street Playground. We all knew it well, but after a night of fascinating conversation and gastronomical challenges, a tire swing and a slide didn’t seem all that fun.

“We should streak.” Beth said.

“Yessssss.” I screamed. Others agreed.

Alas, no one made a move. 

“I’m nervous,” Mona admitted.

“Me too.” From Sarah.

I didn’t say anything. I was torn.

“Look, Karen, if you streak from one side of the park to the other, we will each give you a dollar and you can buy your watch.”

The turkey and the chips started to rumble in my belly.

“The cheapest Timex is $15,” I said, breathless.

“I’ll give you two dollars,” a few girls offered, the richer ones.

And so I removed my nightgown and ran from the bench on the eastern side of the playground to the bench on the western side, wearing only sneakers and Bloomies underwear—arms stretched above my head holding my Lanz, running as fast as I could, laughing hysterically. 

I cashed out before we left Mona’s and immediately went to a watch store. Two nights later, I was on a TWA flight to France, armed with my analog Timex. I don’t remember exactly what it looked like and I probably didn’t even need it that badly - but the memory of how I got it is awesome.

The East 72nd Street Playground is closed for construction until August 2015. In the meantime, visit the Billy Johnson Playground, located on the east side at 67th Street.

Karen Bergreen is a comedian, author and stressed-out mom living in New York City.

Frank Liotti is a comedian and working actor living in Manhattan. 

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