Tried to seek out the worst bar in New York and realized nothing
A good bar is easy to find. Just do a quick Google search or grab the free weekly newspaper that is distributed in your area and you will find a number of options. Chic, aggressive twee speakeasies with bow-tied mixologists, sports bars with way too many taps, faux dives that pay for the atmosphere, nondescript joints that are there forever and just places to sit and drink. Regardless of your sensitivity, you will find the right stool.
That is, unless your definition of good is “objectively bad”. For people like me, the ultimate test of any drinking place is that it causes discomfort to everyone who enters it. The bars I like scare me. The best bar I’ve ever been to was in New Orleans, in a neighborhood our cab driver wouldn’t take us to. It was in a trailer, you had to light a match to see two feet from your face, and it was inhabited by cockroaches big enough to solve algebra equations.
This kind of bar doesn’t exist in New York, at least not in the sanitary, gentrified New York I live in today. But maybe I missed some great – that is, terrible – bars because I didn’t know about them. So I went looking for the worst bar in New York.
Here’s my methodology: I would go to a bar (with my photographer Julian in tow), ask people where the worst bar in New York was, and then go to that bar. I would repeat this until I objectively found the worst bar or until I couldn’t stand, whichever came first. So I started with:
The Continental is at the end of a strip of dollar pizza shops, tattoo parlors, and vaguely seedy guys selling rings from booths. Right next door there are crust punks in front of the McDonald’s. Since the most notable feature is a banner outside that says “5 shots from $ 10 all day / all night (yeah, we’re serious)” I always keep it in my head as “Shots Bar” designated. Meanwhile, his website vigorously defends the authenticity of this special and includes a 1,200-word statement on how its owner Trigger is decidedly non-racist despite the NYC Human Rights Commission investigating him three times over his policy against baggy pants. It’s only cash, but the ATMs outside are both broken. The decor comes straight from Spencer’s gifts – basically black light posters of Jimi Hendrix and Tigers.
In other words, it was as good as any other place to start.
After I had a beer and a shot, I made my way to the bar, which was wearing baseball caps. Nick and Jonathan, who were both instructed by the doorman to turn their hats back to front before entering, agreed that the Continental is very, very bad. It was quiet when we spoke – it was 4pm and the bar was only open for a few minutes – but it does seem extremely noisy at night.
It didn’t take me long to guess what that might look like. There was a sign above the bar with a long explanation of why bars are not required by law to serve tap water, even though there are restaurants. “So stop breaking my BARTENDERS BALLS !!!” it required.
As young men wearing University of Central Florida soccer jerseys gathered behind me in a backpack and gestured wildly at a small television, I began to imagine what they would look like after taking ten shots each without drinking water .
“This is the only place I’ve ever been where someone can throw up at the bar and only get a warning,” Jonathan told me.
Like me, these friendly brothers loved bars that sucked. But one place they never went was Wicked Willy’s, a nearby “pirate-themed” bar where Nick’s ex-girlfriend once worked. It was frequented by college kids, and it happened to be International Talk Like a Pirate Day. That sounded like hell. So I went to:
Half the people at Wicked Willy’s were New York University kids who looked like kids, and the other half were people who likely took Pirates of the Caribbean fan quizzes online. As I was sipping my supposedly alcoholic frozen peach “Bellini” I started a conversation with a middle-aged couple from Long Island named Joan and Terry who said this was their favorite place – the drinks were relatively cheap for the neighborhood, and that was it it too “wild.”
By “wild” they either meant that there was a group of 22 year old men who thought they were Johnny Depp or that Wicked Willy’s is a place with a stripper bar and a water pong table. Bars like this are loved by 20 year olds who have just moved to New York. But 20-year-olds who have lived here for more than a year loathe it with a passion that is actually kind of weird.
For Joan and Terry, the definition of a “bad bar” was a place that didn’t really exist at my age. Although they didn’t have the vocabulary to describe it, they were basically referring to so-called speakeasies, or places designed to mimic secret bars during the prohibition era. If you drink any of these places in 2016, you’ll have to wait in a long line to enter through a phone booth at a hot dog shop, then pay $ 16 for a cocktail that contains peanut butter.
As much as we differed from Wicked Willy in our assessment, I thought the two had a point. The bar is supposed to be a democratic institution, and any place where drinks cost more than a meal is an abomination for the concept.
After many arguments, the couple told me if I wanted a bad bar I should go to Jake’s Dilemma on the Upper West Side. According to them, it was “boring”. That didn’t sound so terrible to me, but still:
Given Joan and Terry’s screed against cocktail bars, I expect to be there at one. Turns out their suggestion was some sort of non sequitur because they sent us to an office bar that I can’t describe. Two tequila fizzy drinks later, I was no closer to telling you about Jake’s dilemma. Jake’s dilemma is fine. Jake’s dilemma is fine. The guide dog outside was great.
For the next stop on my increasingly lively tour, I reached out to a gay couple, two guys named Diego and Saulo, who wasted no time developing Toolbox, a gay bar they no doubt called full of predators. Since we knew that I would at least be immune to it and that I showed no real concern or empathy for Julian, my young wonder photographer, we immediately got into a taxi and set off:
Fuck her; Toolbox rules. It was where sex and the city’s early seasons took place in New York – frozen in the ’90s, except that there was a lot of Beyoncé playing there. (At this point I had completely switched to alcohol and was starting to feel really good, so my narrative may be a little unreliable from that point on.)
When Kill Bill appeared on TV I was excited because it’s one of my favorite movies, so much so that I had the action figures in high school and even made my own t-shirt when the first part came out. After falling madly in love with the film and starting to take pictures, I vaguely remember Julian telling me something about how every time this couple walked past us at the bar they used it as an excuse to kill their whole bodies caress with their hands. “Shut up, it’s a woman’s world every day,” I supposedly replied, as he later told me.
Eventually we moved after Julian continued pestering me for overt harassment. We spoke to a bunch of older folks who were happy to point out where people used to get fucked back in easier times. “This hallway was considered the right place,” a guy in a hat told me wistfully.
Satisfied with myself for stumbling into a real cave of injustice, I went outside to have a celebratory cigarette. There I met Billy, a former Marine who didn’t seem to understand the clientele who runs the Toolbox. “I’m supposed to meet you here, I think she wants to have sex with me,” he said. “But I think she’s 50 and I just saw her and she’s with her gay friend.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell Billy that he and the woman he’d met on the street recently weren’t on a date, but I did have the opportunity to ask the very drunk soldier what the worst bar he was in the city stopped New York.
“It’s Applebee,” he said over a really long chatter. “It’s for people who are afraid to explore outside of their fucking shit.”
In my memory, the next thing he told me was how he and a buddy went to Applebee and played pranks on tourists, then I moved on. However, the recording I made of our conversation revealed that for 30 seconds we just said, “Applebee’s, baby!” and then I started speaking with a deep southern accent for three or four minutes. Then it was time for Times Square, it was time for good neighborhood food, it was time for:
I’m sure Applebee’s is a good place for some people sometimes, in some states, which are probably square. But if you are me, about ten drinks, right after a Tarantino movie in a gay bar sparked an atypical feminist anger in you, that’s utterly disoriented.
Here’s what happened to me in no particular order because there’s no time at Applebee: I walked up a huge escalator to the bar and ordered a margarita which ended up being a scorpion bowl of raspberry-flavored sugar water ate some sweet potato fries that were in a sauce that tasted like it belonged on a Cinnabon. My waitress thought I was famous because Julian took my picture. I couldn’t handle the iPad-like thing you have to use Pay your bill, the bill turned out to be $ 100, the margarita to be $ 17, I ordered (apparently according to the receipt) two things called “Whiskey 2.0” and “Long Pour”.
I don’t know if Applebee’s is the worst bar in New York. I know that mixing a huge vat of alcoholic sugar and then eating foods that are probably made entirely of sugar and then dipped in a sauce that is also made of sugar doesn’t go well with a day of beer, saddle of cucumber, shots Mixing with tequila has sodas and something called “long pour”.
I went to another bar after Applebee because I’m not making good decisions. It was called Happyfun Hideaway, is in Bushwick and is actually a very good bar. There I met my friend who said something very good to me about getting the bartender’s number. I’m not sure if it has more to do with the Kill Bill floating in my brain or the equivalent of three caffeinated Four Lokos floating in my stomach, but I have a flipbook-like memory of how I got it “blame” for unspecified “microaggression” (I’ve never used that word), I run across the street, get in a cab about halfway to my house, and then wake up in the middle of the night to a Kill Bill Vol Find. 2. Find 2 DVDs that I didn’t even know I owned were stuck at 45 degrees and upside down in my PlayStation.
How to find the worst bar in New York.
Follow Allie Conti on Twitter.