“It's Hip To Be Square”
"Everything’s so cool", my sister shouted mockingly into the phone. She had just finished a photography job in a ping-pong bar in Chelsea. She went on to explain the scenario of her latest NYC location: "Ok—so there’s an antique bathtub in the middle of the room—filled with ping pong balls—and people sit in it and take selfies. The whole bar is encased in glass and it looks out onto the subway platform. All the employees are wearing shirts that say, “balls are my business” ... It’s SO hip!", she exclaimed again in disgust. I hopped right on her judgmental bandwagon and told her about my jaunt down Milwaukee Avenue that evening. It goes a little something like: ramen shop, brewery, ramen shop, brewery, ramen shop—and the occasional dilapidated holdover from pre-gentrification Polish deli. “The concept” is now part of our life. but it's turned the landscape into a hipster Disneyland.
My first job was at a restaurant called Café Absinthe. It was at Milwaukee and Damen—right in the heart of all things hip. But, back then it was the ONLY restaurant. When you left that spot—there was literally nowhere else to go. Maybe a few dive bars, but that was about it.
Café Absinthe didn’t have a sign, and it didn’t have a front door entrance, let alone a concept. People had to work to find it (because the entrance was through the alley.)
As a hostess, I had the humorous job of answering the phone and verbally walking Northshore clientele to the door. They were livid by the time they got in to an over packed, loud, tiny bistro. To use the bathroom, you had to go to the dive bar next door, where derelicts sat and drank all day. Red Dog—a house club—was above and around 9pm the bass would start vibrating the restaurant.
As customer’s we've gotten used to the conceptual bells and whistles—and I'm not sure if it's for better or worse. I once had a chef say to me that "Bread & Wine doesn’t have a strong enough identity"—further explaining that "it doesn’t know who it is." I thought about that statement for a while and realized that Bread & Wine knows exactly who it is. It's a neighborhood restaurant, serving thoughtful New American food, in an underserved area. No, it may not be New Nordic cuisine with plates that are formed from rocks out of the Arctic Ocean, but that’s ok some people don’t want to go out and swim in a sea of pink ping pong balls as they eat pine smoked kale and take selfies. Some people may just want to walk across the street, have a burger and a glass of wine, talk to their wife and go home
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