Friday, November 30, 2007

International Bar

Since at least the 1980s, the International Bar on 1st Ave. and 7th St. was a haven for neighborhood drunks and punks. It closed in 2005 under mysterious circumstances and the space has been for rent since. I happened by one day when the realtors were showing the place to a group of entrepreneurs armed with measuring tape and plans to turn the International into a more upscale-sounding bar -- I heard them muttering something about "wall sconces." But that was a while ago and the FOR RENT sign is still there.

In its lifetime, there was nothing upscale about the International. I spoke recently with Rebecca, a long-time habitué and graduate of the old Stuyvesant High School (when it used to be on 15th and 1st), who recalls going to the bar after school with friends and being served alcohol as a teen.

“It was my entrĂ©e into the adult world, where I first met the people I wanted to become. But when you took a step back, you saw they were fucked up people. I mean, what kind of 40-year-old really wants to hang out with a teenager? It took me awhile to figure out that these were perhaps not my best role models.”

She recalls a dark room strung year-round with Christmas tree lights, a long bar with rickety tables in the back, and patrons who brought in their scruffy dogs. “It was one of those friendly not-friendly places—the bartenders were bristly but ultimately welcoming.”

After graduating high school, she had rare occasion to visit the International, but found herself there the night of the 2003 blackout. “It was exciting. People were on the streets, sitting on stoops, drinking beer and actually talking to each other. The International was open. They had candles burning. They were serving beer and letting people smoke at the bar, although smoking was already illegal. It felt like the 80s."

When the bar shut down, its fans were left without a sense of closure. Said Rebecca, “It was unceremonious. There was no warning. I would have liked to go in for a last drink. But it was just over. No nothing. It was just goodbye. But that was totally in character. At the International, it was always no frills.”

View more remains of the International on my flickr

1 comment:

maxschactman said...

The Internatoinal is being restored as a neighborhood bar.It will not be quite as gritty as it was.But it will be very similar to what it always was.There will also be some differences in the layout.The bar has been moved to the other side of the room and there is more room at the front of the bar.The proximity of the old bar so close to the front door was always a problem.Unfortunately the old bar was torn out when the new owners came in.However and at great pain,the owners purchased the 30 yeard old old mahogany wood bar from the original Racoon Lodge on first avenue and have installed it in the International.
One of the new owners was a customer at the International.Another of the three owners has been a resident of the lower east side since 1956.So rest assured,the International is in good hands.
And yes,the name will remain the same,the gold leaf lettering in the window will be restored and Leonard Cohen will still be on the juke.Old fans of the bar will feel at home.
The community board was unusually helpful in their quick approval of the new owners liquor license application.That's because the new owners are committed to restoring the International Bar as a neighborhood landmark.The east village has been over run by "trendy" bars and the community board has stopped issuing new license approvals.So give credit to the community board for recognizing that this particular application was an exception that deserved approval.
If all goes well with construction,permits,and licenses the International Bar should re-open sometime in March.