The Trash Bar.
I realize that there are only a couple of dozen or so people to whom the name evokes something more than a mild nostalgia, or else a wrinkled-nose pang of disgust, if it evokes anything at all. Say you’re new to town, a fresh face out in Bushwick or Bed-Stuy, you’ve likely never been. And that’s fine, too. Never hip, always dirty, perpetually falling apart, it’s the place with the name tourists giggle at, sticking out like a sore thumb in 2015 Williamsburg. But if you’ve been around, say, the last decade, and been at all into music here in Brooklyn, or karaoke or free alcohol, then chances are you feel one way or the other about it.
I’m a bit different. Trash is closing at some point this year, sometime before August, and after working and hanging out there for eight years, I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around what this means to me and has meant to my life.
Sure, the place is an unrepentant shithole. Nothing works. The jukebox selection is esoteric at best, and somehow always plays “I Used To Love Her” by Guns N Roses. You’ll find yourself sitting on foam held to your barstool by a haggard strip of leather. Our t-shirts say “Rat Free Since ‘93”; which I would tell you is accurate but it would be a pointless lie. The petri-dish basement is bleak, forbidding, probably flooding as I write this. The truth—both dark and terrible—is that there is enough DNA on the pool table to start an orphanage. The whole place stinks of karaoke sweat, nascent rock dreams and stale rock hopes. In my head, it still smells like tater tot grease. We got an “A” at our last health department inspection, which speaks to the dubious merits of that entire organization. There’s no heat and I’m shocked we have running water. At some point in the past year, we said, “Fuck it” and stopped repairing things, but I can’t honestly say it was ever that much better than it is.
Of course, that’s what I’ve always liked about it.
It was, on occasion, a crazy—even absurd—place to be. Every bartender has stories and we all think they’re unique, but I saw a guy get stabbed in the face. Unfortunately for the stabber, the stabee was a Marine with a license to carry. That was a fun night (and subpoena). It was at Trash that I learned important life lessons for any aspiring drunk, hard-taught rules of thumb like never to try and pinch a fat skinhead’s nipples, and always get under a short ex-con when stopping him from throwing a cue ball at his girlfriend, otherwise his low center of gravity and tight ball of prison muscle will haul you with him, I don’t care how big you are. If it’s 6am and your security is a professional wrestler, wait until he’s finished suplexing your boss before jumping at his head from atop the bar. Electrical tape can be considered clothing, in the right company. Never wear flip-flops in New York, or I’ll tell you about The Toe. Tip or die.
I’m thirty years old and I’ve been working at Trash Bar for eight years. I’ve never regretted it. In fact, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Trash gave me the life I have here in New York. The bar, at any given time, has been filled with punks, sluts, punk-sluts, Poles, pastors, bangers, transexuals, dealers, Hassids on the prowl, metal freaks from Queens, from Long Island, bands from all over the world. My co-workers have been artists, boxers, sound chicks, space pimps, Spuds, Dominicans, drummers, blonde Jewish blues singers, Israelis, half-French hotties, friends of Bill W., and at least one long-haired Mormon from Utah with a hard on for cock rock.
These are the people at my Thanksgiving table. When I had to spend a month away while my mom was dying, they put together money for my rent; the envelope had everyone’s name on it, and I cried when it was handed to me. My boss is a tattooed lawyer, a classically trained pianist who’s good-looking on top of it, the son of a bitch. Patrons have to move out the way when he drives his chopped out Softail Deuce into the bar to park after Jimmy Gestapo or somebody has gotten him too drunk to ride it home. Without him, I wouldn’t have gotten my first play produced: rehearsals were held in the back until everyone got a little too grossed out with the space (actors!). I met my wife at Trash Bar, which is a sentence I never thought I would write. It’s where she first told me that she loved me. The leader of Church @ Trash married us, not in the bar but on the boardwalk at Coney Island, the sun shining down and his wife taking pictures.
It’s been great. What’s more it’s everything I’ve wanted from the city of New York.
A lot of times I wonder if the fact that I’ve loved my job has kept me from pursuing my dreams. If I’d have gotten miserable, Bartleby work when I first moved here instead of drunkenly asking Bebe for a free drink, and then a job, would I have buckled down harder to escape and pursue—I don’t know—that Onion internship or something. Or would I just have washed out, left New York completely.
But I did ask for that drink, and I did ask for that job, and since then I’ve seen crazy things, met the best people, fallen into and out of and into love, and been as happy as I ever would like to be. I owe all that to an unrepentant shithole of a place that is soon to shut its doors forever. I’m alright with that. Cities change, leases expire. I have a home and people who love me.
I’m just glad I had a home there, too.
I’d be remiss not to mention the music. Your band probably played Trash Bar. Your friend’s band definitely played there. Your co-worker maybe dragged you to his first show as a one-man ukulele poet, and the only way you got by was with the help of the hour-long open bar. For me, the bad music all kind of blends together (unless there were assless chaps involved, or dildo mohawks, or songs about orcs), but anyone who works there can tell you about a band or two that loaded in and just smoked the room (like, say, horns up metal kids Unlocking The Truth).
What follows is a playlist composed of some of my favorite bands to play at Trash. Some of the folks are friends, some have a following of twenty years, some bubbled up from hell and melted my face, some I don’t even know if they still exist. This is music that pops up on my iPod, and doesn’t even include any Murphy’s Law (but you should still go check them out tonight for one last anniversary blowout at Trash). Just remember, baby bands: if ever the bartender asks if you have an album available at the end of your set, you’re on the right track.