In a lengthy and decadent life of bar-going (I’ve been over 21 for a while now, though the best bouncers know to still ask for ID), I’ve had a string of favorite spots. Like an adored song played repeatedly until it can be tolerated no more, these bars were my go-tos—if I was going out, I was going to them. After all, good, reliable, conveniently located bars can be better than a boyfriend or girlfriend. You know their curves and quirks, and you not only tolerate, you appreciate them. And they, you.
Until. Here’s the great double-edged sword of bar-going: It generally involves drinking. And while drinking is most certainly great, there are times when one’s drinking swerves to the dark side. One is no longer herself, say; one is a monster—in one’s favorite bar. As I pondered my history of bar breakups, a friend relayed how he was thrown out of his beloved Corner Bistro after an (intoxicated) incident involving paying with traveler’s checks. He hasn’t returned for 9 years. Another had to leave Barcade after her (intoxicated) friend unplugged all the game machines and took off running. “I didn’t want to break up with it,” she says. “It was more of a forced divorce.”
My own first major New York City bar breakup occurred in a small East Village establishment that I considered an extension of my own home. I’d had first dates there; I’d logged countless Sundays brunching til nightfall. I’d even celebrated New Year’s Eve there with a group of friends. We clinked our Champagne glasses together at midnight with the bartender before launching into an impromptu dance party as he watched fondly from behind the bar. As far as I understood, this bar and I would be together forever.
Then they opened another bar next door. Both spots were increasingly crowded; you couldn’t even find a seat sometimes. The buybacks ceased. Worse, the bartenders had new customers they seemed to like more! I considered this the equivalent of a husband cheating on me after I’d practically put him through med school. (To tell the truth, I was stepping out, too… I’d found another bar around the corner that was climbing the ranks of my esteem. But what else could I do, given the circumstances?)
In my twenties, before I learned that quiet certitude is the most powerful breakup move of all, I had a habit of ending each relationship with a fight in which I angrily revealed my boyfriend’s many ills and demanded he fix them immediately. (Technique not advised.) It is perhaps with this in mind that one can understand how I broke up with this bar: terribly, clumsily, and loudly, surrounded by sort of a mess. I was speaking with another customer, a man I’d met that night who was clad in a crisp, white button-down. He said something playful but acerbic to me, and I volleyed back, all fun and ribald games, and then, all of a sudden, he went too far. In response, I calmly poured my white wine all over his shirt. He screeched, demanding cleaning fees, but the real surprise was my favorite bartender’s reaction—instead of defending me, as I’d anticipated, he embarked on a tirade against my unacceptable behavior. “Leave and never come back!” he shouted, and my friends pushed me toward the door. Then he had second thoughts, and yelled, “Wait, come back and pay first!”
“Why would I pay if I can never come back?” I retorted, my final words to this bar. It made perfect sense to me at the time. Still does, really. Sometimes it’s just over. Another transaction isn’t going to help matters.
As with the end of any relationship, with a bar breakup, there may be regrets. You may wish you’d done it differently, with a dash more decorum (for my first and only wine-flinging, it went remarkably well, though I do wish I could remember exactly what the white-shirt guy had said). Of course, there are infinite reasons to break up with a bar—they ran your credit card twice, you got vomited on, the bartender had to escort you out, they gave you watered-down beer, your ex got it in the divorce, you just ran out of love for it—which means, as with relationships, there are infinite opportunities to start over again. Luckily, New York City is a big place, and last call is 4am.