THE LIFE, WORK AND CHRONICLES OF JEFF KOYEN: REFORMED ITINERANT, OCCASIONAL WRITER AND FRIEND TO ALMOST ALL DOGS

Bouche Bar
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 becomes transparent.
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, comfortable bar?
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.