Manhattan just doesn’t make for good redneck living. You can’t bag a 12-point buck, park a Ford F250, get a gun permit, or buy a tin of Skol in this city. If you like Nascar racing, the N.R.A., Rush Limbaugh, and personalized bug-deflectors, finding like-minded friends won’t be any easier. Worst of all, as far as redneck bars go, the pickin’s are pretty slim.
I ought to know, being a Jewish girl from the suburbs. No, really. In some strange rebellion against a relatively privileged upbringing, I decided small-town life in Upstate New York and Southern Vermont was more my style. Over the years, I worked in a local sheriff’s office, married a deputy, shot rifles for recreation, registered as a Republican, divorced a deputy, received tobacco products as Christmas presents, and drank beer in bars that smelled of horse manure. So it is not entirely without authority that I offer some observations on two of the so- called redneck bars I have visited since moving to Manhattan.
Red Rock West (457 West 17th; 366-5359; $5 domestic beer) seemed promising at first: Low- lighting, weathered bar stools, clutters of empties on beer-logged wooden tables, cigarette butts covering the floors. But within minutes I began wondering if the don’t give-a-shit atmosphere was actually the result of giving a shit about looking like not giving a shit. The bartendresses, strapped in leather halter-tops and extra low- riding pants, alternated their cocktailing duties with strip-joint style dancing on top of the bar (a practice first popularized at another faux-biker bar just a few blocks south, Hogs & Heifers); reluctant, but willing, women standing nearby were lifted up to join them.
It made me think of honky-tonk theme night at the sorority house—in the early hours, when everyone was still awkward and sober. The ogling men—a mix of college grads, 30-ish professionals, and blue-collar guys— crowded the bar with heads cranked and tongues waging. At some point, one of the bartenders—who must have determined that too little hell was being raised–picked up a microphone and started yelling debauchery-inspiring imperatives, such as, “Everyone is getting fucking loaded tonight!” Her conviction was so impressive, I almost joined in the collective response: “Hell, ya!”
I felt a little embarrassed by the country boy kitsch that covered every available wall space–POW-MIA flags, human skulls, hard hats, Route 66 signs, rams horns, and stickers that say “Red-neck” and “Harley Parking Only.” The seriousness with which the Harley Davidson bouncers—large, hairy, and tattooed—kept watch over the tame crowd seemed a bit absurd. One bouncer sported a button on his leather vest that read, “Speak English or Get Out”—a rare tidbit of authenticity. Then again, this was the same guy who told me he was wearing “Drakkar Noir” cologne and admitted that he’s never had to break up a fight.
The music selections–apparently controlled from behind the bar despite a money-accepting jukebox on the floor—were enough to put even a good-natured hillbilly in the mood for a brawl. My jaw dropped when I heard Madonna’s “Borderline,” “Come on Eileen,” and “Go Daddy-O.” The blatant disregard for their supposed backwoods image was astounding. By the time the bartenders pulled out the hool-a-hoops and straw hats, I had softened. Maybe they really didn’t care. At Red Rock, patrons got what they came for—a rowdy night doing something out of character, in a place that feels dangerous, but isn’t. Rednecks, stay away.
A few blocks south, at The Village Idiot (355 West 14th St.; 989-7334), I found what I had been looking for. The alcohol-slicked floors, old drunks weaving at the end of the bar, and unfit-for-a-campground bathrooms were welcome sights. Patrons were drunk and getting drunker but in a fun, communal way, and there was no awkwardness about this party. Women in short skirts and hairspray, blue-collar guys with mullets, and haggard old regulars, were mixing it up with a handful of younger, hipper newcomers and a rare few Brooks Brothers types. People danced wherever there was space, talked with the person closest to them, slammed shots, and drank redneck beer at redneck prices ($1.75 for a can of PBR). I almost forgot that we were in New York.
The bartenders at The Idiot rocked. All female, well-endowed, and scantily clad, they managed to come off as bad-ass and sweet at the same time. They could drink a trucker under the table, dance on the bar looking sexier than Debra Winger on a mechanical bull, serve another girl’s boyfriend a kiss with his whiskey, and, still, they remained likable as hell. (Maybe because they were as flirtatious with the women as they were with the men.) After a couple Irish Car Bombs, I was wailing along with the others to Jerry Jeff Walker and David Allen Coe tunes, and dancing with some weathered old guy who wore his cap high on the head, and was too skinny everywhere but his middle. It was upon encountering some heavy-duty P.D.A.–which is, of course, a redneck bar staple—that I decided The Idiot was pretty darn close to being at home.