Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Death of The Village

Growing up in NYC had its advantages. Instead of being stuck in BF Iowa dreaming about living in the big city, I was there living it up and partying in my 20's.

When I first turned 21 I stumbled upon a basement bar in the West Village called The Scrap Bar. It was covered with pieces of fluorescent colored junk, making it look like a Day-Glo junkyard on acid. And it was set up like an actual basement inside--torn couches, stone walls jutting out, low ceiling.

My friends and I would hang there until 4 a.m. (another great advantage of NYC), then take a train and a bus to Rockaway Beach and pass out by the ocean. Inside the bar was an eclectic and motley crew of patrons--punks, pseudo-hippies, headbangers--all having a good time. Sometimes rockers showed up--Axl Rose, Ian Astbury, Joe Strummer. It was a great place to chill out.

And then one day in the spring of 1995 it was gone...just like that. A rusty, metal gate was pulled over the door. There was no sign or message about what happened. The Village remained my stomping grounds, and I'd always pass The Scrap Bar and wonder. For years it remained shut, just a dark, empty hole on MacDougal Street.

And then last night I was watching a rerun from last season of NYPD Blue on my DVR (what a great invention!). MacKenzie Phillips (another blast from the past) was on, and she mentioned she was out at The Scrap Bar the other night. I thought, "whoa! What the hell? Has it reopened?" I went on-line and Googled it (gotta love the Internet). Well, it hasn't reopened, but I finally found out what happened to my old haunt. The former owner has recently put up a Scrap Bar website, and so I e-mailed him about the bar. He sent me this link with a sad little story(the first half is about the loss of his bar, the Scrapbar):


His story also depicts the end of an era: the end of the East Village and the closing of CBGB's. It's sad that such an icon can close. It's the club that spawned bands such as Blondie, The Ramones, The Police, The B-52's. In other countries locals frequently asked me about CBGB's after learning I was from NYC(can you tell I never stayed at The Hilton?). I never particularly cared for CBGB's--it was a real dive and in a terrible neighborhood--but it was still a legend.

And I did love the East Village. Many years ago my friend Brian and I would hang out at a dive called Downtown Beirut II(there were actually two of these dumps). They literally served beer in a dirty glass. It was full of such lively characters. Brian and I would often get really stoned, or do 'shrooms or coke and then head over. There were people on the street trying to sell all sorts of junk from torn couches to a broken metronome stick. "I don't know what the hell it is," said the stoner trying to sell the stick to us, "but it's cool as shit!"

One time there was a black guy with no legs crawling along the beer splattered floor trying to sell bootlegged Beatles videos. I mean what the hell was that? It was great! We'd drink inside and soak up some atmosphere, then step out and light up a joint and hang with the "merchants" at 1 a.m.

One night we met this Brazilian woman and were chatting away for a while. She excused herself and went to the bathroom. Brian and I were chilling and drinking, both VERY stoned.

"I'll be right back," he said. "I gotta go to the bathroom."
He was too high to realize that the Brazilian woman was still in there. Suddenly I heard a scream.

"Close the fucking door!" she yelled.

I looked over and saw Brian standing in the bathroom doorway, his jaw dropped like he'd seen a dead body.

"Would you close the fucking door!" she yelled again.

Brian finally stammered, "What are you doing in there?"

The rest of us were laughing. Poor Brian being scolded like an insolent child, glowing from the bathroom's yellow light. He was too stoned to say anything comprehensible. We couldn't tell what was going on, but all heads were turned. The screaming continued until Brian slowly turned his heels and meekly walked back to us. But the woman stormed out of the bathroom after him, completely naked.

"You're like little baby!" she shouted. "You stand there like stupid baby! What the fuck's the matter with you!"

Everyone was stunned at the spectacle of a crazy naked woman screaming at stoned Brian in the middle of the bar. Brian had enough brain cells left to say,"You're completely naked. I don't understand."

She screamed a bit longer before finally going back to the bathroom. The bartender leaned over and whispered, "she usually shoots up in there. I keep telling her to stop, but what can I do?"

And then there was the night when Brian and I were talking to a South African guy at the bar. Next to us were these two German girls. The South African was telling us all about his country while the Germans were engaged in their own conversation. The one girl was upset, and tears began gently flowing down her cheeks. Her friend tried to console her by reaching over and wiping away the tears. They stared into each other's eyes, tears still streaming down the one girl's face. The rest of us were frozen--too caught up in what we all hoped would happen next.

And then it happened. They kissed--on the mouth. The South African said, "holy shit! Do you see that?"
Of course we did. It was beautiful, like right out of a movie. The girls began passionately kissing right there at the bar, before heading over towards the center of the room. They were slow dancing to a soft song on the jukebox, hugging and kissing.

And these are just a few of my memories of the East Village. When I left NYC the Village was changing. It was now "cool" for the pampered yuppies to go down there, sort of like "look at me slumming it!" Gone were the colorful people selling junk; gone were the stoners; gone were all the great stories. And then I read that article about the death of CBGB's and the Village. One reader commented that The Gap now had a store in the East Village. Any neighborhood with a Gap has lost all sense of culture and personality. I don't miss living in NYC, but I always miss the Village. Of all the places in the world I've travelled nothing ever compared to Greenwich Village. But if it's truly changing that much then Dylan Thomas has never been more appropriate when he said, "you can't go home again."


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