As 2010 approaches its end, I checked in with Marty Wombacher to see how his quest to visit 365 New York bars in 365 days was wrapping up. With the impending loss of both Mars Bar (#85) and Max Fish (Marty, get there fast!), the timing seems right. I asked Marty some questions, he answered.
Q: You started your quest last January, and 2010 is soon coming to a close. You've probably visited more bars in the city than any other human on earth. As an accidental anthropologist, what have you learned about the city's bar culture as it stands in 2010?
A: The city seems divided in bar culture. When I was growing up a bar was just that, a bar. It was a place to go, knock back a few, socialize, and get to know other people and exchange ideas and points of views. There are still bars like that, but there's also bars that encourage kids and others to get schlocked out of their gourd in five minutes or less and are filled with gimmickry, gadgets, and bullshit. God knows I've had my moments on this bar crawl and throughout my life, but bars used to be more about socializing than getting more out of it than Shane MacGowan on a tear. I applaud bar owners like Shawn and Molly who own the International and just opened the Coal Yard Bar. Those are two good examples of what I think a bar should be.
Marty with Molly & Shawn
Q: What are your Top 5 best bars thus far?
A: A lot of people ask me what's my favorite bar so far and I always say that I've had a good time at so many, it's hard to pick just one. I can't really do a top 5 either, but I can tell you my favorite night so far. It was at the Mars Bar. I've been there before and I knew going in and announcing that I was doing a blog about bars and that I'd like to take pictures would be a tough sell to the regulars in there and I was curious as to how it would go over.
I got permission from the owner to take photos (they're fussy about cameras in there, as I think you know) and decided to go on Easter Sunday afternoon when it would be mainly regulars at the bar. I went in and announced what I was doing and nobody was too thrilled about it. I was pretty much ignored and "no" was the answer when I asked to take someone's picture. I sat down and had a couple beers and took some photos of the walls and drawings in the bar. There was a mannequin in the front window that everybody was drawing on (only at the Mars Bar!) and somebody asked why I wasn't drawing on it, kind of to bust my balls I think. So I went over and drew a self-portrait on it and somebody grabbed my camera and started taking pictures of me.
When I was done a couple of the guys looked at my drawing and told me it wasn't bad. So I asked to take a photo and pretty soon I'm taking pictures and we're all drinking shots and it turned out to be a really good time. Later on in the evening I remembered it was Easter Sunday, so I ordered two large pies from Two Boots and they delivered them to the bar and it turned out to be a real party and a lot of fun. A great Easter Sunday dinner. My favorite night so far, but there's a lot of other stories that have happened along the way.
Marty at Mars Bar
Q: How about your Bottom 5 worst?
A: Again, I don't want to do a list and I've only had a bad experience at a couple places, but the worst of all was at this bar called "The House of Brews." I knew by the corny name it wasn't going to be the greatest bar in the world, but on their website they said they had a 100-ounce bottle of beer for one hundred bucks.
I thought that might be something a little different for my blog, so I got some friends and we went and the waitress acted like I was nuts and said that there was no such beer available. She was really rude and condescending and said she was sure I had looked at the wrong website. I let it go and then went to the bar to take some pictures. The bartender was busy, so I explained to two guys sitting at the bar what I was doing and if I could take their photo and put it up on the blog. They got real excited and said they'd love to do it and then the bartender who had been listening and making faces at me started screaming at me and shouted, "Put that fucking camera down, I don't need any of that website shit in here!" I told him the two guys wanted me to take their picture, but he kept screaming at me and said if I didn't put the camera away he'd throw me out. I asked him why and he said, "Because I said so."
So I went home and wrote an over the top bad review of the place and proved that the pen is mightier than the big mouth. I don't care if a bar doesn't want photos taken, but he could have done it without screaming at me. I mean bartenders should be hospitable, unless you're creating trouble.
House of Brews, photo by Marty Womacher
Q: How's your liver holding up? Seriously, are you having it checked regularly during this process?
A: So far so good, I've had my bloodwork done twice and it's fine. The focus of the blog isn't really about me going out and drinking every night, even though that's what I'm doing. Most nights I just have three or four beers and that's it. For me the blog is more about the bar and more importantly the people that are inside of it.
I've always been somewhat outgoing and interested in people and what makes them tick. I was thinking about this and I figure I average meeting at least four people in every bar. So that's well over 1200 people I've met so far. Some of them are just quick chats and I'll take a picture, but other people I've met I've had hour plus conversations with about everything from rock 'n' roll, to the economy, to politics to books, movies and TV and more. I've met such a variety of intriguing people, it's been an interesting social experience for me. I always feel like if you talk to someone for more than twenty minutes the odds are that you'll learn something new or a different way to look at something and I think that's important to do in life.
Q: What's next for Wombacher when the 365 days are done? Will you continue visiting and blogging about bars, or will this experience be followed by 90 AA meetings in 90 days?
A: Ha ha ha! There hasn't been an intervention yet, so we'll see about those AA meetings, maybe if my liver blows, I'll give it a go. I've got an idea for a new blog which I'm just starting to work on and don't want to talk about it just yet. I'm also going to write a book about the experience. The working title is: "My Year of Beer." Cheers!