Last night at around three in the morning, I couldn't sleep.
I won't call it insomnia because I had slept a solid five hours. I required no more, I sat bolt upright in bed, awake and ready for another day.
However, it was three in the morning; it was too early to go to work.
I decided to visit, with Whiskey my ten-month-old golden retriever, my friend the bartender at the Tempus Fugit, a bar hidden by two industrial steel doors in a warehouse on east 91st Street.
The Tempus Fugit first opened in 1924 when Prohibition was in lawless force. It was hidden from the streets (and the cops) in what was then an old Bell Telephone supply and repair depot and warehouse. Today the building houses much of the same equipment that was used nine decades ago. However now that equipment is branded with the Nazi runes of the Verizon corporation. The bar itself is down a long hallway and hidden from all who don't know it's there.
It's a small liver-colored place, complete with a beaten brass rail with 10 or 12 stools--no two with matching upholstery and two or four rickety tables pushed hard against the back wall. In all the Tempus Fugit is no more than 15 or 20 feet wide and maybe 25 feet deep. About the same size as your typical New York dry cleaning place.
As far as I can tell, nothing at the Tempus Fugit has changed since it secretly opened its doors back almost 90 years ago. Even the bottles behind the bar, and the bartender too, seem like relics of an earlier age.
The Tempus Fugit is also the only place left in the world that sells, on tap mind you, Pike's Ale--"The Ale that Won for Yale!" There is today a micro-brewery out of Seattle called Pike that sells a pale ale, but this is the original Pike's, based in New Haven, Connecticut. They closed in 1963 but the Tempus Fugit has it still on tap.
"We over-bought," said the bartender expertly pulling a draught. "I have keg after keg in the back," he told me solemnly. "I sell maybe four glasses a week."
He pulled me one, flawlessly, and slid it in front of me. Then came a small wooden bowl of salted nuts and a large jar of pickled eggs. I grabbed a handful of goobers and sank into my Pike's.
"The place is empty again."
"It's always empty, except when there are people here." I didn't blink at his Yogi-ism. He appreciated that and continued. "When shifts get over, around seven, around three and around eleven, some people drop in."
"Don't you ever go home?"
He just laughed and walked from around the bar and placed another wooden bowl filled with water near Whiskey.
"This is home."
I took a long drink of my Pike's Ale. "So this is the Ale that Won for Yale!" I said.
He laughed. "That's what the man says."
"It's good beer."
"It's the best. It's not like the nun's piss they sell now. Budweiser is made with rice and owned by a multi-national corporation. I suppose when I run out of Pike's Ale, I'll close the Tempus Fugit."
"You still have Herzmorder, though," I responded. "Herzmorder's good, too."
"It's not Pike's Ale. I figure I have about 20 year's-worth left. That is, unless the place gets busy. Of course we haven't been busy since Prohibition ended in 1933."
He drew me another Pike's Ale and I drank now in silence, until it was time to head home and then leave for the office.