One more storied bar falls victim to rising rents…

NY Times headline and photo
Last night Wesley phoned me from Saugerties to tell me that the All State Cafe (W.M. Tweed’s when we first hung there) had closed. He wished he’d told me the night before, so that I could have stopped by for the closing. O well, we agreed. Wes and I go back to 1965 and the Annex, the bar on Avenue B with the peanut shells on the floor, the 77 cent chicken dinner and the incredible jazz juke box. We’ve known each other too long to worry about getting things right. Anyhow, here’s what I remember about the ‘State.

From 1967 when I thought I knew everything through 1985 when I let go of most of that belief I was a regular at Tweed’s/All State Cafe. Every week that I was in New York for those 18 years I would appear at the All State.  5–maybe 7–nights a week I’d show up around 7 in the evening and stay until it closed somewhere between 2 and 4 in the morning. I ate there, discovered and drank tequila with a coke back, met friends who wouldn’t or couldn’t recognize me out on the street. It was at Tweed’s that I met the brief loves of occasional evenings, declared myself a photographer, a writer, a hypnotist and seller of things. I grieved there and I celebrated. It was at Tweed’s that I learned to drown both boredom and misery as well as float happiness and what I regarded as wit.

My crowd–the ones who knew my (nick)name–began with the film people who’d introduced me to the place: editors, actors, once in a while a director. Then there were the college periods: the University of Arizona folks, the Wisconsin folks. Always the folks: taxi driver/actors, sleight of hand artists, schoolteacher novelists, sons of the famous, football players, cops, guys from OTB, lawyers, producers, singers, real estate agents, librarians, drug dealers, sales folks, more lawyers, cable tv hosts, daughters of ad execs, jingle writers, photographers, owners of other bars, chess players, florists, tv techies, bartenders-become-lawyers, writers-become-bartenders, drug counselors, just folks.

The urinals were filled with ice cubes–nature’s own deodorant. An abundance of in-jokes. Occasional trips to Yankee Stadium or Riis Park or Riverside Park for volleyball. Off-off-Broadway. There was a softball team. I know. I saw them once after a game somewhere in the middle of my only acid trip. I was with Lynn, veteran, she said, of over 100 trips. She said she didn’t expect me to change, that I was always on an acid trip. I didn’t and don’t know how to take that.

People named Pierre and Suki and Nan and Glen and Glenn and Marco (who called me Vito) and Marcus and the Johns (Young  John who actually worked in the bar, Roumanian John aka Naboom John, Tanzanian John, Spanish John, Black Johnny and Gas additive John) and Wes (whom, as mentioned, I knew from my days as short order cook at The Annex [which wasn’t annexed to a damned thing]. Michael on both sides and atop the bar singing “Short People Got No Reason to Live”. There was Jenny who met and married and is still married to Gary. The woman writing for the local free newspaper who met and married and divorced Jack the actor who once bet somebody $5 that out of 6 gins on the rocks he could pick out the one that was Gordon’s. It was on the guy, of course, to buy the 6 gins. Jack didn’t give a shit who won the bet.

Then there was the guy from OTB who’d always request that the air conditioner be turned up high when a bra-less woman would arrive. The airline stewardess–they were called that back then–who left the photographer. Spencer and Chris and the girl with the great body which wasn’t quite great enough for Playboy. Paul who worked the sidelines of the NY (football) Giants for ABC-TV. And the banker. Idriess. And Rita and Gail who were only there once and Gail who was there alot. Tina who somehow knew just when to be there, Esther who actually lived in my building and Herbie who joined EST to meet women and who delayed his honeymoon to market a Select-A-Sex kit. Don’t ask!

There were Kevin Bacon and Dom DeLuise and Stacey Keach and Harris Yulin and Mel Brooks and Jim Burrows and Jimmy Faulkner who made his fortune installing air conditioners in Saudi Arabia and spent it on $80 bottles of gin in that prohibitionist country. And Blackie and the Dog and all those women whose names appeared in my little wallet-sized phone books above addresses in the west 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, and there was Foyle from Inglewood and Colombia who came to New York to give herself Autumn as a 30th birthday present and there was Goldie.

For those 18 years the All State Cafe (W.M. Tweed’s until it closed for a few months to give the drug dealers reason and time to relocate) was the perfect bar, the bar of my dreams. 4 narrow steps down from the street. Just dark enough. Great juke box and no tv set except for during the World Series. Lots of wood and hanging plants. The food was better than just good. Pollo a la Juan. Pecan pie. Rare burgers and red wine. Even the bread. And the girls all got prettier at closing time.

Tweed’s was the base from which I would leave film editing to become variously a photographer, writer, screenwriter, a traveler. I left Tweed’s to explore Paris and return with the woman who would become my ex-wife. I left Tweed’s to journey to Hollywood, there to push one script and collaborate miserably on another while doing a treatment on a novel no one had the rights to and experiencing two heart attacks.

As it happens those heart attacks saved my life, compelling the changes that eventually led me out of the dark, past the juke box, up the stairs and into the light. But that’s another story.

As recently as this year Bobbie–Mrs. Goldberg to you all–and I would stop off at the All State on the way home from wherever. I’d tell tales and check out our table top to see if my name might still be carved there and drink Cuervo–but never more than one per evening. More likely than not Glenn the now ex-cop would be in the joint. We saw Suki there a while before she passed. We learned that Dog got married and moved to Houston.

It’s been 22 years since I was part of all that. Almost as long since I complimented myself that, whatever happened, I could always make my home in a bar.

Published in: on October 26, 2007 at 11:01 pm  Comments (5)  




Staring at myself
reflected in a subway window.

My thought, smiling:

It took me 65+ years to create this
and it’s not finished yet.

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Published in: on October 18, 2007 at 10:13 pm  Leave a Comment