Ramblings: RIP Motor City Bar

Sometimes people ask me why I spend so much time in bars. To be honest, I don’t even really think about it that way – I’ve always spent a lot of time in bars, in all of the different countries I have lived in. It’s all about hanging out with my friends in a social setting. Where I come from and where I grew up, going to the pub or the bar was not about how many alcoholic beverages you could throw down your throat in the least amount of time. It was more about meeting your friends, getting a drink and catching up, chatting, being social. Drinking coffee and then moving on to wine or beer early in the evening. A bar was a place to meet up and talk, read, be together. After moving to the States I felt that bar culture here was a little different and that often a bar seemed to be just a place to get wasted and meet someone to hook up with. Luckily for me this initial feeling was dissipated when I found several bars that I could consider my homes away from home.

I have my moments getting very drunk in bars, and hooking up with not-so-random people and all the rest, but first and foremost it’s always been a social spot for me to meet up with my friends. I’ve met many of my closest friends in bars too, and there is nothing wrong with that, it’s not as if we only hang out in bars either. We met in a bar, met up several times aterwards, and then exchanged numbers, had brunch, dinner, went to a show, got to know each other and then became close. That’s how you make friends, or that’s how I make friends in any setting. Just because it’s a bar doesn’t mean that the friendships that start there are less worthy than the ones that may have started at work, or at the gym, or at a restaurant. 

Anyway, this is not supposed to be a post about bars in general but about one special bar that has been part of most of my life in NYC, a bar that I have spent so many nights in over the past 8 years and a bar that will always have a very special place in my heart, as it does in the place of many other people. This bar, Motor City, closed its doors for the last time last Sunday, after 18 years of existence on Ludlow Street. The one bar where on any night of the week (or any time of the night for that matter), you would find like-minded people and a DJ playing music that you would like. Even on Friday and Saturday nights, amidst all of the bars playing radio-friendly mush for the drunken weekend crowd, Motor City would still be rock n roll and a haven from everywhere else. 

So many memories, more than I could ever put into words, as one memory just divulges tens of others. So many friendships made and broken and reformed again, so many people passing through and moving on to other lives elsewhere, but often leaving there own mark on the establishment, and leaving with a piece of Motor City in them, never to forget the bar where they did more than just drink in. Because you always did more than just drink at Motor City. You danced and talked and wrote on the bathroom walls, you changed the world with words, discussed things for hours, jumped up on the bar and danced (well I used to for a while), heard songs you had never heard before and watched your friends scream and shout when they tried to beat each other at Miss Pacman. Injuries may have been sustained (a broken cheekbone in my case) and many a hangover suffered after a night at Motor City. Some memories that you probably would prefer to erase, but many more that you will cherish for life.

In my opinion there is nothing better than going into a bar by yourself, knowing that you would never be alone. Nevermind knowing if one of your friends may be there or not, just by the fact that you knew the barstaff and that they would always be there to chat and have a laugh with you, whether you were drinking alcohol or not. And I have to say that Motor City would not have been Motor City without the bartenders and the owners. Wonderful people who had been there for years and probably would have continued to work there if it hadn’t been forced to close down. People who always made me feel welcome and at home, even when I was at my drunkest, or when I was at my most sober. People who never made me feel judged or uncomfortable, and who I will miss not seeing in the setting of the bar, as this bar really was an integral part of my life. Even if, over the past few years, I had spent less time there than I used to do, mainly because I was working most nights on Orchard Street, but also because I was trying avoid running in to some people I didn’t want to be around anymore, the bar still felt like home whenever I stopped in. 

I stopped by the closing party, which was held a week before the actual closing, on a Sunday night after I finished work. The bar was so packed that it was nearly impossible to get a drink. I had a shot and left, as I couldn’t speak to anyone or really hang out there. Then I went back a week later, on the actual night that it was closing and it felt EXACTLY as it always had – a place where you went to have a lot of fun, listen to the music you loved and hang out with people like yourself. Or different, but that didn’t matter! My last memory of Motor City will be sharing a bottle of Powers and a few cans on PBR in front of the bar. Fitting memory for a place that never failed to remain the same, even when the entire street started to change. 

How many memorable birthdays have we all celebrated there? How many of us DJ’d there at least one night? How many times did you bump into, and hang out with people who play in bands that you adore? How many debaucherous after parties were held there? How many times did you end up there because there was nowhere else to go where you would feel at home? How many times did you walk through the doors and breathe a sigh of relief because the atmosphere never changed and you knew you could be yourself without feeling judged? And how many places in the city (especially on the Lower East Side) can you still go to and feel the same way? How many times in my life have I ever bought a new dress specifically for a Christmas party in a bar? (only ever for the MC Christmas party!).

RIP Motor City – you will always have a huge place in my heart. And thanks to everyone who worked there and who I met there who made the place into what it was.

Rant: Tourists who forget to tip

Warning: this is not going to be a rant about a major issue in this country or this world right now, but just a rant about some certain types of customers I have had in the bar over the past week. Writing about it isn’t going to change anything, but at least I am going to be able to get it off my chest and move on to bigger and better rants.

I’m sure most foreigners who come to the States peruse a guide book or two, look online for tips, good places to go, where to eat, where to drink and all of that. Even if I like an adventure when I go off to explore a new country I always look up what the customs are and if there is anything I should know (for example, taxis charge tourists triple in Egypt so you should avoid them if you are broke). Every single guide book on the US tells you that service is NOT included in restaurants and bars. Yes, NOT included. This means that you leave a tip. Customary tips are 15-20% after tax in restaurants, 15%-20% for cab rides and probably a dollar or two per drink in a bar. If you don’t tip you are either extremely rude and/or you are unhappy with the service, and if it’s the latter should explain why to a manager so that they can put it right. Most people who work in the service industry get an extremely low hourly wage or shift pay, or none at all, so they literally LIVE OFF the money they make in tips. These tips don’t go towards new shoes, dresses, expensive and frivolous items. They go towards rent, bills and food to survive. Most people I have encountered are good tippers, they know the rules and to be honest for every bad tipper there are always at least 2 good tippers, so I don’t ever really complain about it. Until you get multiple different groups of foreigners in the bar at different times in the space of a few days, ALL of whom acted in the same way.

The first group of four Polish people (I think – they were speaking some type of Slavic language) got 5 drinks (after tasting a couple of beers and deciding on a local draft beer). They paid, didn’t tip and went to the back room where they lingered over their drinks for a while. Once they had gone I went to clear their glasses… And they had STOLEN one. Yes, I know the Coney Island beer pint glass is kind of quirky and cute, but come on!! If they had asked I would have sold them one!! Just after they left a couple of Brazilians walked in and sat at the end of the bar. They had three rum and cokes, paid for them, entertained themselves with extravagant public displays of affection and then left, without tipping of course. One of my friends told me to tell people that it is customary to tip in this county, but I can’t get over my British politeness and say it outright. So I suppose it’s my own problem in the end. Then a bunch of Brits came in, ordered a round and gave me a dollar tip, with a big smile on their faces like they were doing me a huge favour. Thanks. The next one of them to order a round had obviously been in the US before and made up for it when he paid for their round, so I didn’t get too annoyed about it. The thing is, I was in one of my friend’s bars last night and a different group of Brits did the SAME THING with the dollar tip, making it out to be a huge deal that they were leaving it as a tip. It’s common knowledge in England that service is not included here in the US, so they don’t get to hide behind the whole “well we didn’t know!” lie. And if you don’t know what you should leave, then just ask! I’ve had people who have asked before and I let them know. Then it’s up to them to decide!

I think it all boils down to being a little bit more knowledgeable about the location that you are going to. When I’m abroad I don’t remove the service charge from the bill and just pay for the food and/or drinks!!

OK, rant over. Come and watch real football at the bar with me tomorrow from 11am and I promise not to start ranting about people who write really mean reviews on Yelp.

Here’s a lovely page on Wikipedia that explains tipping customs all over the world: HERE

For a larger version of the image above go HERE

Now you will never need to worry about being the object of a bartender or servers rant on their blog ;)