17 January 2016

Hello Brooklyn (Part I)

Radegast Hall was heard long before it was seen, the music was pouring from it’s walls and windows as Rita and I walked down 3rd Street, where we lucked out getting a parking space a short block away. We crossed over Berry Street, dodging the busy traffic and weaving through the young couples and groups of friends all bustling about on this unseasonably temperate day. Entering the Hall, we were both carded, the doorman giving me the usual extra long look of surprise when he glanced at the date on my ID. I smile at him, knowingly, and follow Rita into the bar, and was immediately overwhelmed by the crush of people everywhere. Waitresses and busboys dashed by with determination and skill, darting in and out of the crowds with practiced ease. Rita and I took a moment to orient ourselves and try to make sense of the ordered chaos going on around us. I grabbed a waitress and asked her if we had to be seated but I barely heard her answer through the noise although I did catch the ‘sit in any open spot’ part before she ran off to take care of her customers. Anxious to find Matt, the reason we were there, I began to follow the source of the music into the next room and saw him with his band, The Sunnyside Social Club. smack in the middle of a rather cavernous hall, lined on either side with large, rough-hewn picnic benches, each full of boisterous twenty-something frat boy types, and young families with infants and toddlers, gay couples, and the occasional hipster. Beer steins and pitchers were in abundance, cluttering the tables, and the smell of food was intoxicating, more so than the promise of alcohol. I couldn’t get Matt’s attention from where we were and our way was blocked by the crowds milling about trying to find a seat so Rita and I made our way back through the bar area to try our luck at the other doorway towards the back of the room, closer to the band. My years of working in the casinos and the Studio Six gave me an edge, as I easily made my way around the bar with Rita in tow. As soon as I got to the entryway, Matt and I caught each other’s eye and he waved, I loved seeing the smile on his face. Since he was still in the middle of his set, I figured our priority was to get seated, get to the bathroom, and get some of whatever they were cooking, we were close to the open kitchen and the pans full of sausages and bratwursts were creating a rumble in my empty stomach. An adorable waitress with a red Mohawk saw the confusion on our faces and, through a half-screamed conversation, was able to find a seat for us at one of the picnic tables in the back, next to three pretty young girls to the one side, and two guys on the other who were intensely engaged in a conversation. We ordered drinks, me an unpronounceable dark beer and Rita a voddy and Sprite, and we looked over the food menu to see what they had. I settled on one of the brunch menu fares, and Rita decided to get her own from the little open kitchen behind us and we were both very satisfied with our selections, delicious and fresh. The sauerkraut was really excellent and it took a lot of willpower for me to not dive into Rita’s plate to eat all of it myself. Whilst we were eating we both had a chance to absorb our surroundings, watching all the people around us and listening to the band. Rita and I agreed that it was nice to get out of South Jersey and do something different, I know that personally needed another getaway to recharge my batteries, so to speak. It’s always good to go and see other faces, look at different buildings, be in different spaces, changing your perspective every once in a while gives you a new look on your life at home. Soon, Matt finished his set and came over with a pretty friend with her long dyed green locks piled on top of her head, and we hugged and said hello and introductions were made all around. I teased him that it took so long, and his going away party, for me to finally hear him play the accordion. He used to have it with him occasionally on set when we filmed Boardwalk Empire but wouldn’t play it for us, no matter how much we begged. We chatted about his upcoming gig on the cruise ship, what he was looking forward to and when he would be leaving, and for how long. He’s rarely been out of NYC and this is an exciting adventure for him. Rita and I complimented him and his band, they are very accomplished and you can tell they have spent some time together, they are tight and raucous, a good combination and they seem to be having fun even with the smattering of attention that this particular crowd was giving them. He and his friend ran off to talk to more people and Rita changed her mind and decided to have a beer, a proverbial when-in-Rome moment since we were in an urban biergarten. She tried to decipher the menu and chose one of the beers and I ordered another round and we cheered to our little New York adventure. Eventually, a couple was seated opposite us, he had a vaguely German accent (or Germanic in origin) and he asked what we were drinking and eating. We told them and they ended up getting the same beers as us but slightly different food, they both opted for the open-kitchen fare. Of course, the smell of their sauerkraut made me crave it again. We made small talk with them and the band started their next set, another bluesy-swing band-New Orleans tinged collection of songs and they sounded great. I noticed that the guy sitting next to Rita bore a resemblance to Steve Buscemi, he was short and wiry like Buscemi, and had on all black. I jokingly declared that he was Buck Buscemi, Steve’s son, which had Rita and I laughing. At one point, some of the toddlers began to dance in the aisle, delighting not only the crowd but the band as well, and they nearly stole the show. Rita and I were amazed by how many young kids and small babies were around us, her doctor instincts taking over and she fretted about such young ears being exposed to this loud music. But many of them were blissfully sleeping and didn’t seem to care one way or the other. Conversations and beer flowed continuously over the next hour or so, the Sunnyside Social Club started their third set with Matt back on the accordion and Rita and I watched the people around us, although my gaze became a little more hazy with each glass stein. Compounding my hazy vision was a little bit of what I call ‘contact drama’, my right contact lens began to bother me relentlessly. I must have gotten something in it and the irritation would not stop. I managed to pull out the lens and use Rita’s drops to clean it a bit, reinserting it with care since I would definitely lose it on the floor of the room, especially with all these people milling around us. I had thought to use the men’s room for my little emergency cleansing, but after my last visit there, the open trough for the gentlemen to pee in (reminded me of the Brass Rail a bit) made me think that the beer hall was an ever-so-slightly more hygienic option. It worked... for a few minutes. I ended up pulling it out and storing it in my pill case until we could hit the Duane Read and get some proper cleaning solution. Now I was truly hobbled, losing my depth perception, comically trying to reach for things and slightly missing them on the first try. It also took me a few minutes to focus on our check, sixes and eights are not easy to tell apart,and it took some skill to fight through the beer haze and the missing lens to sort it all out. I managed, somehow. With the end of their last set, Matt was done for the evening and Rita and I were feeling very nice. We decided to change our venue (and get to the drug store) and said our goodbyes to Matt, and wish him a bon voyage on his upcoming trip, and off we went through the never ending crowded bar to the street to see where the evening would take us.

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