Not for Duval Culpepper the bright lights of Broadway or the hipster retreat of Greenwich village! He is on a mission to explore the grittier nightlife of Williamsburg. He starts by striking out… but can he end by striking it lucky?
My best friend I’ve known since kindergarten is having his 28th birthday at a bowling alley in Williamsburg called The Gutter. I’m not really a bowling person (or an anything person for that matter) so I’m skeptical about going. The other reason I’m reluctant to attend is because my high school girlfriend, with whom I got into a very heated argument with five years ago, will be there. We haven’t spoken since and the notion of her hurling bowling balls while being drunk and angry at me raises a few self-preservation alarms.
Still, Urban Travel Blog had asked me what goes on during a big night out in New York, and this seemed as good an opportunity as any…
I arrive at the venue on North 14th and enter the main room. The entire theme of The Gutter is “Urban Rustic” which is coincidentally the name of a furniture store down the street. The walls are mostly adorned with vintage signs of defunct breweries and other taxidermy pieces which supersede irony on a quantum level. It’s very Minnesota in here. Ironically, Minnesota.
I give my usual ocular pat down of the patrons. Overall, it has the typical vibe of a Williamsburg haunt filled with twenty-somethings. To my left is a guy wearing a beanie texting in a corner next to a mini-hockey game. Directly in front is a somewhat out of place family gathered around a pitcher of craft beer with their aging patriarch slumped in his chair wearing a fading brown bomber jacket. I say out of place only because they seem like the only people who actually fit the decor of The Gutter. To my right, sitting in a booth, are two familiar faces. It’s a friend from college named Brittany and her boyfriend.
“The Birthday Boy should be here soon,” says Brittany with a smile.
We discuss the holidays briefly before I excuse myself to head to the bar to drink rum and pineapples until the rest of the crew arrives. When they do, I give a celebratory cheer that’s a bit too loud for the time day. It’s 4:45pm, and we have a long night ahead of us. Slow down, Duval.
We hit the lanes, or rather, they hit the lanes. I’m flush against the back wall of the alley drinking my third rum and pineapple with the old high school girlfriend a few feet away from me. We haven’t acknowledged each other in this small group although we’ve been here for about an hour now. I sigh internally and decide to simply say, “Hi, Taylor.”
She purses her lips and gives the most thinly veiled contemptuous “go f@ck yourself” smile I’ve ever seen in my entire life. God damn it, we. were. on. a. break.
I turn away from Taylor and glance at the other patrons. It seems like everyones getting strikes. Loud raucous Macho Man “Oh, YEAH!”‘s fill the air on a systematic basis… almost as if the venue plays these sound effects over the PA system to make people feel better about themselves.
When I turn my gaze back to Taylor she immediately hugs me and I don’t say or do anything other than hug her back. Over her shoulder, I see Brittany get a strike. No one notices and I furrow my brows.
We conclude our game and the girls begin to split off to different parts of the city like the Rebel Fleet at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Taylor and I give each other one last hug and she takes off. It’s just the guys now.
Bratwurst With The Boys
We shuffle to Spritzenhaus, a beer and sausage spot down the block from The Gutter. This place is slightly more upscale with marble counters and copper finishing on anything your in hands reach of. It looks nice but the staff is notably disconnected. The bouncer looks like comedian Patrice O’Neal yet seems to be unfamiliar with the Human notion of sarcasm. We mount the empty bar and take note of the apathetic bartenders. They stand like cardboard cut outs and wait several distinctive beats before acknowledging us. When they grace us with their attention, the birthday boy orders a round of bratwurst topped with jalapeno-jicama coleslaw and 4.8% Gaffel Kölsch’s for the guys. This vital combination replenishes the fatigue that my earlier rum pineapple assault caused. I’m back in action.
Once we’ve feasted I set my eyes on a group of lively girls. I drift over to them and introduce myself. They tell me they’re visiting from Ireland and we begin talking about travel and what brings them to the States. Charmed by their cadence and I drift into what (in my mind) sounds like an Irish accent. It’s either so bad they don’t even bother acknowledging it or in my drunken stupor I actually managed to channel James Joyce himself. I’ll let you surmise which is a more probable.
I make a few lazy attempts at flirtation but their European toughness holds firm against the shameless advances of a Yank. I bid them farewell and return to my friends who are reclining against a fireplace partitioned only by a chain mail veil. When one of the employees aggressively stokes the fire behind us we collectively let out a yelp. The employee doesn’t respond to our cries and simply maintains his glare on the inferno.
Whats with this place?
Whiskey In The Jar
We all agree it’s time to seek debauchery elsewhere. We pay our tabs and hit the streets again for a honky tonk called Skinny Dennis over on Metropolitan Avenue. When we arrive it’s packed and a gentleman visiting from Israeli is the first wasted face I see.
He goes into a drunken monologue recounting some tale he recently experienced. I’m pretty inebriated at this point so I humor him for a while until he taps me on the crotch to illustrate a point of his story. When he does this again I immediately grab his lapel and politely tell him that he’s made a judgement error and should reassess his understanding of respecting peoples personal space. He relents after a few more choice words on my part and I send him to go harass someone else.
It is primordial in here. We’re going to need a strong drink to survive.
I dash for the bar with The Birthday Boy in tow who is a good man, a polite man. Impatient, I cut through the crowd, lock onto a bartender and ask for their special – a mason jar filled with bourbon and sweet tea in equal measures. I order two and we park at the bar watching the band sing “The Williamsburg Honky Tonk” which as a premise disgusts my philosophical sensibilities. Eventually, the band gets to singing about the J.F.K. assassination. Naturally.
More of our friends arrive. I’ve finished my first mason jar of whiskey and notice a frozen coffee drink being concocted behind the bar.
“What is that?” I ask the bartender.
“Our frozen coffee drink,” she replies.
Knew it! I nod in satisfaction and signal that I’d like two. They arrive and I spin around to find a squat girl of indeterminate ethnic origin staring up at me. We talk for a while and she starts asking weird questions of a romantic nature. My friends are laughing at me and offer no assistance.
“I’m going to go to the bathroom,” I announce and scurry away from the bar.
I get to the line on the bathroom which has a few people waiting, but there are two doors. Some people forget you can utilize both, but when I go to ensure their occupancy a sassy blonde in queue barks, “There’s a line.”
“Whoaaaa…I was just making sure!” I exclaim.
We argue for a while until I see the squat girl from the bar gliding towards me like she’s a vampire on a dolly in an 80s horror film. The situation here is deteriorating rapidly.
Riding The L Train Home
About half an hour later I get an unexpected text from Taylor. The girl who hasn’t spoken to me in five years. I doubt my comrades can handle anymore birthday drinking anyhow, so I tell the team I’m heading off. Taylor lives in Manhattan so I make my way to the L train, which is packed full of fellow nightowls either switching venues or making their way home. Being a stand up comic who hasn’t gotten to an open mic in a while I take the opportunity to do my set for passengers of the train. However, in my compromised state I feel it necessary to record them confirming that they do not think I’m homeless. It was 50/50.
I disembark at Union Square and run into Wholefoods for an unappetizing pre-packaged sushi. I’m waiting on a line underneath a display that indicates when we can advance to the cashier. I glance over to the couple beside me and say, “Is this not the most Orwellian consumer experience in the world?” They nod sheepishly and a monotone female voice commands me to approach the register.
I’m back out on the street walking and eating the sushi which is very dry. When I pass a homeless man on the corner of 4th Avenue I offer him what I didn’t finish.
“It’s totally fine, I just didn’t want to finish it. I mean, it’s not great, but it’s totally edible.” I assuage.
His viciously cracked out female companion who’s pale skin is burning red and her eyes are clenched shut screams out, “Is this gonna kill us?!”
I think to myself, no. The sushi won’t.
I get to Taylor’s apartment a few blocks away which is the sort of place a 56-year-old woman of means would live. We go to her roof and reminisce about high school and a friend of ours that was recently featured in the paper for identity theft. I’d hated this town for a while. I’d felt it’d been lost to the gentrification and artisanal fare crowd. Still, as I looked from her rooftop up towards Times Square I realized you can fix anything. If you’re patient enough.
That’s it from Duval, for now. If you’re heading to New York, then check our city guide for more tips and advice on the Big Apple. For more nightlife adventures, check out other Blurry Nights around the world, as experienced by the Urban Travel Bloggers.