Louie CK, one of New York City’s most entertaining humans, surprise dropped the first episode of his new web series Horace & Pete over the weekend. It’s essentially a filmed version of a one-take play, line-flubs, intermission and all, about two brothers who own a dive bar in Brooklyn called Horace and Pete’s, which has been in the family for 100 years. The play/show is great, full of timely references that make it feel like it was filmed that very morning (there’s a discussion about Donald Trump and the caucuses for example). It’s clever, unique entertainment, with a stellar cast and an egg of Louie’s dark humor cracked over Death of a Salesman that matches his move toward more drama.
The crux of the show is the 100-year old-dive bar, its patrons and its place in the modern world. There are two main antagonist elements: a sister (Edie Falco) and her lawyer, who seek common law property rights to sell the bar; and some bearded and banged hipsters, who come into the bar looking for “authenticity.” Yes, using hipsters in your show as villains is almost as common as putting them in your commercials as heroes. But Louis, ever smart, is tackling a real issue here: why do we get so offended by the people who search for “authenticity” in an increasingly homogenous city?
The set of the show, which Louis wrote and directed and sold on his own website, is a dingy dive bar, the kind that pockmark every neighborhood form Greenpoint to Bay Ridge, and are notoriously resistant to change. You’ve got some bars that embrace the neighborhood around you (Turkey’s Nest, Rosemary’s, Hank’s), you’ve got some that ditch the dive completely and fancy themselves up into sports bars, and you’ve got some that look like they haven’t even dusted the shelves since the Koch administration. These are, for lack of a better word, Old Man Bars. Old man bars are the ones you go into that have the same group of barflies drinking there all day every day, with a beer selection that considers Sam Adams a premium import.
I’m a huge fan of Old Man Bars, mostly because I’ve already spend a lot of my 30s drinking whiskey in the corner of bars while reading the New York Post and yelling at the TV about the Mets. They’re also just bars: no fussy cocktails that take an hour to make, no small plate micro-tubed oyster-blasted crostini appetizers to order. Usually there’s old guys who will teach you something about the neighborhood. Maybe I’ll be one of those guys some day, maybe I’ll be dead by then, who knows.
They’re also sometimes not very friendly to new crowds, and this is on display in Horace and Pete when two youngish guys walk in, one with beard and the other with a knit hat, eyes agog at their surroundings, saying “oh my god, this is like a total dive bar!”
Beardo then goes to the bar to order two vodka martinis, a major dive bar faux pas, as bartender Pete (Alda) brusquely informs him: “No mixed drinks.”
Later in the show, two more hipster simulacrums walk in, one decked out in kooky mismatched clothing and the other with dyed hair (played by Brokelyn-fave comedian Julio Torres).
“Oh my god,” the girl says as they walk in, “this bar is so old, it’s amazing!” She orders two Coronas. At this point, the bartender has had enough, and tries to kick out all the newcomers.
“There hasn’t been this many people since the bar opened a hundred years ago!”
If you’re a smart, thinking New Yorker, you sympathize with both sides of this interaction. The newcomers, Beardo and his ilk, assumed to be transplants from Someplace Else, seek the place out for some sense of longevity and authenticity, looking for something that feels like the “real” Brooklyn without giving in to the temptation of the latest overly precious gastropub a Brooklyn-boosting magazine recommended. They could be seen as at least trying.
Then there’s the bartender and the regulars, who are wary that somehow new faces mean a wave of change is knocking at their door that will force them to host storytelling nights and drag bingo just to stay relevant. Would it be more offensive if Beardo and his posse decided instead to patronize the new craft cocktail bar down the street that was threatening to put them out of business? Or the chain restaurant that’s changing the neighborhood?
You see this a lot in New York, and I think the bigger issue is not the search for authenticity itself (why anyone would care if my friends and I do a dive bar bike crawl on the way back from Ft. Tilden and spend money in an excellent place like Tamaqua, I can’t fathom). It’s the way people go about this search, and this includes both locals and transplants, that causes consternation. Sure, if you walk in to a 100-year-old bar and start snapping Instagrams of the outdated beer signs, people will look at you askance. But if you just sit down, order a beer and act like you belong, the bartender will be pouring you extra tall shots thinking you’re on his side when he bitches about “these hipsters” before long.
Friday’s NYT story about the 124-year old Russian and Turkish Baths in the East Village contained an element of this real-world tension.
On that Monday, the patrons were still mainly male, but rather than bellies the size of airbags, many of them had washboard abs, and the discussion turned not to aches and pains but to Tinder dates. “The hipsters come in with their Groupons, sporting their tattoos and their man buns,” Rich Trince, 50, a longtime regular, said later.
It’s not clear from the story if that’s a lament or a simple statement of fact, though surely someone there has issued a similar statement as a complaint. But what are these Groupon holders with tattoos supposed to do? Not use the Groupon offered by the owner of the business to bring in new customers? A New York City business in 2016 can only sustain itself on achy old men for so long.
The plot of Horace and Pete contains much bigger concerns than newcomers to the bar, but our hero of the bargoers would be this customer who enters in the first act, who we’ll call Bangs (played by Liza Treyger of Cakeshop Comedy). Bangs gets yelled at by bartender Pete when she walks in talking on her cell phone. She immediately puts it away, orders a double Jack, and settles in for a long, contemplative day at the bar.
It’s not that she gives totally over the bar’s anachronistic culture: When Pete says something racist, she complains, and a regular (Nick DiPaolo) tells her “don’t come in here then.” She responds, “How about I come in here and he stops being a gross racist. Why is that not an option?”
But the most important thing: She stays. She talks to the regulars. She makes friends with DiPaolo’s (Republican, assistant DA) character. She has the makings of a future regular, even though she’s not an old man. That’s key to the future of Old Man Bars in the city, and we could all learn a lot by sticking around the bar a little bit longer than the time it takes to order a martini and snap an Instagram.
The first episode of Horace and Pete is available for $5 through Louis CK’s website.
Follow Tim, aka Old Man Brokelyn, on Twitter: @timdonnelly.
[NOTE: We tried to identify all the actors in this show but it doesn’t have an IMDB page yet! If you can ID anyone, let us know at tim[at]brokelyn.com and we’ll update.]