After a month-long hiatus--two weeks in New Zealand and a week on either end preparing for or recovering from the trip--I returned to the hallowed space occupied since 1924 (the fourth year of Prohibition) by the Tempus Fugit.
The Tempus Fugit, for those uninitiated is a small, secret bar hidden in an old warehouse on 91st Street between 1st and York. You can find it, if you're lucky, through two sets of beaten industrial steel doors, down a long narrow hallway, up two flights, down another long hallway and through another set of steel doors and a sliding steel expansion gate, down a flight and through a final set of beaten steel.
After that "Pilgrim's Progress," the Tempus Fugit is there, untouched and unimproved by progress for nine decades. Whiskey, my 13-month-old golden retriever and I took our usual seats. Me on a stool one in from the end with Whiskey laying cozily at the foot of my stool.
The bartender drew me a Pike's Ale--the ALE that won for YALE--and slid over to me a small wooden bowl of salted peanuts. He emerged from behind the bar to bring Whiskey a small bowl of water.
I pushed the peanuts back his way. "There's a pound in every nut," I said mechanically. He laughed and brought over a large glass jar filled with pickled hard-boiled eggs. "Cholesterol waiting to happen," I demurred.
Unable to sate what he supposed was my 3AM appetite, he instead leaned on the bar and began his evening's discourse.
"Through the years, there have been attacks on the Tempus Fugit," he said.
"Revenuers? Drys? The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms? The New York State Liquor Commission?" I asked.
"Naw," he said with the back of his note-book-sized mitt. "Those aren't the attacks I'm talking about. Those attacks are no bother.
"I mean there have been attacks by people trying to modernize the place. Just the other day someone tried to convince me to put two flatscreen TVs in on either side of the bar."
I scanned his 22-feet of mahogany, backed by some feet of tiered bottles and the requisite frosted mirroring. There was one advertising sign present, and old poster for Pike's Ale that featured their slogan (posted above) accompanied by a leather-helmeted football lineman in the classic three-point stance.
"Flatscreens," I said, draining my Pike's.
He pulled me another glass and continued.
"In the 70s a regular kept urging me to put in a quadrophonic sound system with an eight-track. He said it would improve the "ambiance" of the Tempus Fugit."
He clenched his fist when he said "ambiance," showing me his broad-knuckled version of the same.
"Over the years they've suggested jukeboxes, slot machines, foozball, pinball and all manners of televisions--from black and white to color to flatscreens.
"There's always a new new thing someone wants to push on you with the persistence of a creep poisoning pigeons in the park."
I drank down my second Pike's and he filled me again.
"It's the same in my business too," I corroborated.
"Here's what matters--and I'm paraphrasing from Robert Frost now. A bar should be the kind of place when you have to go there, they have to take you in."
"The Death of the Hired Man," I said, getting his reference
"There's no new new thing."
"There's no new new thing. There's doing old things better, that's ok. But there's no new new thing."
"Good beer. Warmth. Conversation."
He laughed in agreement and brought back the small bowl of peanuts.
I grabbed a small handful and muttered, "fuck the pounds."
"That's right," he said.