My dream has always been to become a “local” at a bar. I want to walk in after a long day at work, loosen my tie, roll up my sleeves and ask Jimmy to pour me a stiff one.
I found my refuge at a corner restaurant across the street from our apartment. It’s situated on a A-frame corner jutting out between an insurance office and a eyeglasses store. It’s called Jackson’s – after the street it’s on – Jackson Ave and 50th St – not because the owner’s last name is Jackson. Lauren and I were disappointed to hear this news since the owner’s name is Andrew, and we still jokingly call him Andrew Jackson, as if the owner of Gramercy Tavern is named Danny Gramercy. It’s a local neighborhood bar/restaurant that serves brunch, lunch and dinner and is only closed on Mondays. The owner is Sam Eliot look-alike, who sports a long twirly white mustache and wears glasses with croakies around his neck. The Vernon Blvd 7-train stop sits directly outside the entrance to the bar. In the 1988 film, Cocktail Tom Cruise is seen emerging from this subway to walk into the bar that is now Jackson’s.
From our apartment window we watch Manhattanites walk up the subway stairs, pirouetting to orient the compass of their iPhone maps. Inevitably, their destination ends up being Jackon’s – usually around 11am on a Saturday or Sunday when celebrations for baby showers, engagement parties, or someone’s 60th take place.
Lauren and I don’t go there as much as we did when we first moved to Long Island City. After we signed the lease for our first apartment together, we celebrated with a drink and a burger at Jackson’s. A few weeks later we spent our first night all moved in, we had our first celebratory dinner again at Jackson’s. When we got home from France after I proposed to Lauren in front of the Eiffel Tower, we had our engagement party there with friends and family. When we hired our wedding photographer, we brought him to Jackson’s to take some candid photos at our favorite neighborhood spot. It’s not only our favorite place, but it’s a special place we associate with our most important life memories.
I get nervous when I become a regular anywhere. I prefer to be “friendly but anonymous.” You could say that’s my mantra for life. My parents have ALWAYS been the regulars at a handful of restaurants. They know the wait-staff, the owners, the maitre dee, the chef, the cooks and the cleans. They know their spouses names, where their kids go to school, what kind of car they drive and how much they paid in taxes last year.
When I booked our engagement party at Jackson’s, I sat down for a pint with Andrew, the owner. As he took his crokied spectacles off, he walked me through the options. He took out a pad and pencil and wrote down some rough estimates based off the number of people I was expecting. He offered me some marriage advice and said to have fun planning the wedding.
We’re not too familiar with the waiters since they tend to rotate too frequently for us to know who works on what nights. But the regular bartenders, Jose and Miguel, know me and Lauren by name. They each give us a big smile and a wave whenever we come by. They’ll usually ask how we’re doing and send us a few complimentary tequlia shots or lemon drops before we head out.
I must remind you that this restaurant is directly across the street from our front door, meaning we have to pass it just about every day, whether we’re going to the bank or just grocery shoping. It gets awkward around dinner time when Lauren and I walk by Jackon’s wearing nice outfits, clearly intending for a nice night out at another restaurant we haven’t been to 40 times.
Lauren recently learned that she and the owner grew up several blocks away from each other on Long Island. She even went to the same high school as his kids. We’re finally starting to feel like we’re regulars at a bar. My dream has somewhat come true, only it’s not as cool as I would have hoped. The pandemic has made it impossible to just “walk in” to a bar anymore. I also feel guilt when I go to another restaurant, knowing that I have to walk right in front of Jackson’s – it’s like your dog seeing you pet another dog… betrayal.
We ordered takeout a few times, but there’s really no excuse to use delivery. I hope they look at us as regulars, but you never really know. Maybe I prefer the anonymity of walking into a new restaurant and experiencing it for this first time. But there’s something comfortable about knowing what you’re getting. Like putting on a sweater you know fits you perfectly. There are other sweaters, but this one is the best in your wardrobe, and it just happens to be across the street.