He's on a leash as long as her arm. And he's tugging at
the lead, trying to curry favor from the beauty across the
room by flashing his baby blues. He consciously oozes disinterest
with his date, trying to broadcast a state of availability
to his would-be prey.
The girlfriend is oblivious, yammering
away about her roommate. At first, I'm hard-pressed to split
my attention between her story and his flirting. "Melissa
just really pissed me off last week," she mumbled,
practically crying from the rage and frustration. "She
actually threw her used pad into the garbage in the bathroom,
didn't wrap it up, right there on top. There it was, bloody,
when my dad came to visit. I didn't see it before they got
there -- my father's girlfriend whispered in my ear after
she went in to pee. I had to go in and stuff it to the bottom
with my shoe. What a fucking pig."
What a fucking riot. She's maybe 25,
dyed black hair, attractive enough to warrant a second look,
but so typical in her art-jerk garb that you think you can
figure her out with a single glance. Somehow, though, listening
to her tale of woe, she wasn't too annoying, as her brand
of melodrama usually is. Maybe it's because I'm not dating
her -- maybe her boyfriend does find her too melodramatic.
Maybe that's why he's quietly flirting with the chick at
the other table. Could be that she has a feminine hygiene
story seven days a week and they've become commonplace.
Personally, no beauty anywhere in the room would've distracted
me from that story.
Bouche is a small lounge-ish bar on
E. 5th, a stone's throw from Avenue B. Like the story-teller
next to me, the crowd is mostly mid-20s artsy -- perhaps
grad students, perhaps theater types. And they're all talking
about themselves, their friends and their tribulations.
Needless to say, that just isn't my cup of tea, and if it
hadn't for a perfect gin and tonic served to me the first
time I visited Bouche, I never would've found myself back
there. And I never would've heard about the Bloody Pad Incident.
See, the perfect drink at the right
time can offer instant redemption -- and, sometimes, even
a certain fondness -- to a lackluster bar. Or, in the case
of Bouche and me, redemption for the wrong bar. Wrong for
me: the wrong room with the wrong people.
The first time I drank at Bouche,
I thought the verdict was in and the coffin closed. Nailed
shut, ready for the dirt. Wednesday night and the place
was dead. Dead, in a bad way. I wasn't expecting fireworks;
I didn't want a bristling crowd of dynamic, attractive peers.
But dead is dead, and that's the risk of opening a lounge:
without the right amount people, the atmosphere can be stiflingly
dull. For those who haven't given it much thought: the unspoken
conceit of the lounge is that the crowd and the atmosphere
are mutually parasitic, more so than at a typical stool-and-booth
haunt. Which isn't to say that an empty lounge can't necessarily
be attractive -- in that situation, it simply functions
as a Bar without pretense to the lounge trend. But when
the crowd isn't just so, the room will suck the wind right
out of your sails. And when the crowd is right, you won't
even notice it -- you'll just enjoy yourself; the atmosphere
Bouche is small. With the right crowd, expect 25 bodies,
three-quarters of them seated at either of the two wooden
church benches or on the assorted second-hand (read: um,
"eclectic") chairs. That first night, two women
sat in one of the bay window sills, chatting lazily about
their jobs; the bartender was doing time, exchanging platitudes
with his single barside customer; the CD player was exhaling
some faggotty French crap, the kind of music I wouldn't
even wish on a Jane Siberry fan.
Small place. Small bar. Six or eight
stools, no draft and a so-so spirit selection. The lighting
is pleasant enough, cast by three hanging globes, each tinted
a different pastel. The string of illuminated lips strung
over the bar are cute ("bouche" is French for
"mouth"), and the bathrooms actually smelled fresh
-- cleaner than my own. So why the problem with an empty,
My gripe with lounges, I suppose,
is peculiar to my type: I don't have enough friends to take
advantage of the their function. No regular group of pals
to discuss whatever-the-fuck with; no tangential acquaintances
to meet every once in a while for a drunken catch-up. And
now that I've quit my full-time job, I don't even have co-workers.
None of that -- so maybe the appeal of the lounge is lost
on me. When I'm out alone, without the familiar stool-and-booth
structure, I'm somehow lost. To keep my attention, to entertain
me, as I drift away toward drunkenness, I often need more
activity and less pockets of isolated people, else I might
start to nod off or rock in place like an autistic child.
On that first night in Bouche, I felt doomed. And disappointed
in the fact that I couldn't find a new place to enjoy. With
all the fucking bars in New York, why couldn't I find somewhere
new? Whatever. I had a bottle of something and sat laughing
at myself for being so foolish as to even try a place called
"Bouche." Then, before heading out into the cold
and over to a dependable favorite, I ordered a gin and tonic.
And it was perfect. Perfect the way a steak can be perfect;
the way a morning handjob can be perfect. That drink was
that good. And it got me to return to Bouche.
When I went back on a Thursday night,
it was crowded. A perfect 25 people, all sitting and chatting
with each other. I secured the last barstool, only somewhat
put off by the barkeep's friends clogging the bar, mooching
free shots and discount bottles. Always foolhardy, I even
tried to revisit my perfect gin, but was disappointed with
the average mix. Then, I turned and saw the flirting guy
with his upset girlfriend. "Melissa just really pissed
me off last week," the story began. I sat with my drink,
quiet and content, and passed the time with this roomful
of ad hoc friends.