Montero’s Bar and Grill
73 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn Heights

Do new bars have a smell? Something like that of new cars? I think they do; many of the newer bars in Brooklyn smell like white paint and credit card receipts. They smell like nothing. Like less than nothing. This causes a specifically alarming type of cognitive dissonance because New York is a city that smells. It’s ripe. It stinks in a way that signals to all those who inhabit it, Hey, your world is constantly dying and constantly being reborn. It smells of blood and dirt and shit and flowers and salt and water and chocolate ice cream and semen for those two weeks in the spring when the Callery pear trees are in bloom. It smells like home. But a home can be a hard thing to find.

When I went inside Montero’s on a blustery afternoon, the first thing that hit me was the smell. It was dust; it was sun; it was years of spilled beer; it was old wood; it was empty glasses; it was Monday; it was walls embedded with decades of tobacco use; it was home.

I sat at the bar; my friend sat next to me. Our bags rested on an empty seat, on the floor. She had a Bud and I had a gin and tonic. Alan, the bartender, put two lime wedges in my glass. He excused himself for a minute to take a call from his boss. My friend and I started talking about work and then stopped. This is and it isn’t a place to talk about work. This could be a place to talk about work. We don’t want to make it a place to talk about work. We order a bag of Fritos and another drink each. Time slows down; I look up at the faded, framed photo of the Ronald Reagan up above the bar. I think I can feel his eyes on me and I feel sick for a second.

My boyfriend comes to pick me up; we’re supposed to go to a party at one of the new places in the neighborhood. “I don’t want to go,” I say. “Let’s stay here.” Jeopardy comes on the TV and my friend says, “This isn’t regular Jeopardy.

“Is that Jonathan Franzen?” I ask. It is. There’s a category about birds and one about baseball and one about Shakespeare and I find myself asking question after question out loud: “What is Turner Field?” “What is a jay?” “What is The Winter’s?” “What is Scotland?” Alan looks at me over his shoulder and smiles.

“I could stay here forever,” I whisper.

“What?” my boyfriend asks.

“Let’s go home,” I tell him and take his hand. We’ll come back.

Photo by Jane Bruce

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