There’s a modest little bar on 82d and Amsterdam called The Dead Poet.
Even before I moved to the Upper West Side in 2004 and began to consider it my neighborhood hang, I was a fan of the place. I found it online some years ago searching for a location to celebrate my brother Christofer’s 30th birthday. I liked the name, and that it was described as “nothing fancy.”
New York City is full of bars that just try too hard. They’re either too thematic, to chotchkied, too hip, too exclusive, or too corporate. The Dead Poet is none of the above.
It’s nothing fancy, really, which is what makes it special. It’s just a long, narrow room. The Irish immigrants might have called a “railroad flat.”
There’s barely room for the bar itself, let alone the pool table in the back. The walls are simple red bricks, but adorned shelves of dusty books and framed phrases like “An alcoholic is anyone you don’t like who drinks more than you” and “Beer before liquor never quicker.”
Over the years, The Dead Poet has become our default. When I lived on 80th Street, it was dead center between Chris and my apartment. And now, it’s well worth the 25 block trip. I meet up with the guys there. I grab a post-race burger there. And I introduce people there: my father and his wife first met Abbi over a well-poured pint of Guiness.
Christofer called unexpectadly yesterday afternoon, asking if I wanted to meet for a beer around nine o’clock. I had a meeting on the Upper East, I said, but would be only too happy to walk across the park and share a pint with him and our buddies Jason Thompson and John Rosenblatt. When I called a few hours later, though, the plans had changed. The DP was out. Jason’s apartment — complete with his four-day-old son with wife Audrey Puente — was in.
I was bummed, though I’m still not entirely sure why. I’m not sure whether it’s that plans changed, or plans changed to include wives and babies. I’m not sure whether it’s because I really wanted one of the Dead Poet’s famed greasy burgers, or whether I wanted to be called “sweety” pejoratively by the red-headed bartender. I’m not sure it’s whether I sought the refuge of a loud jukebox, or my own small fraternal order.
Either way, I opted out.
I considered my disappointment as I walked through Central Park. The air was thick with humidity. The trees were heavy with the afternoon’s thunderstosm. The light was beginning to fade over The Reservoir, leaving the sky a deep purple streaked with pink whisps of clouds.
I called Chris as I stepped across West Park Drive.
“Have you left yet?”
We agreed to meet at 82d & Broadway, then share a cab to Jason’s.
“Gimme five minutes,” I said.
Crossing Amsterdam, I decided to stop into a corner store for a couple of beers and a bag of chips. Surely, I thought, Jay would be thirsty. I grabbed a six of Harp (from the brewers of Guiness!) and a bag of Smartfood Popcorn (Frito Lay, who knew?), and walked towards the checkout — where I ran smack-dab into my brother.
He was holding his cell phone to his ear, and looking at me quizzically.
“Let’s go next door and have a beer,” he said. “I’ll go to Jay’s later.”
I returned the beer to the freezer, the chips to the shelf, and waved at the clerk who smiled as I passed.
“We’ll be back.”
The bar was crowded, but we found a table in the back and ordered a few pints. And then — as we’ve done so many times before — we eased our way into conversations. We began safely on the subject of work (a subject rife with developments for both of us these days), then moved on to our parents, in-laws, and spouses.
There’s little time for intimacy these days. Life conspires against us. Work demands our time and attention. New families need tending to grow. And everything moves so fast. That’s why, as we split a cab home just a few hours later, I felt happy inside in a small, subtle way.
By the time my head hit the pillow, I’d be wrapped up in anxieties over the new media paradigm shift, the need to be sure my new CDs are on iTunes and rehearse for my upcoming shows, and the fact that our honeymoon remains unpolanned.
But for the moment, waving off each other’s money there on the corner of 67th and Eleventh, we were the only men in the world who know each other like we do, and know well enough to make enough time.