Last Call for A Tiger

by

12/20/2005

250 w 10th Street 10014

Neighborhood: West Village

Tale of the Tiger #1: Three weeks ago. One of my best friends from growing up in Billings, MT, stand-up comic Auggie Smith, moved to New York after years of occasional visits and constant prodding on my part. We go out to celebrate and hit the Blind Tiger on a Sunday night. We settle in, get a beer and Auggie says, “Oh yeah, I remember this place it smells like piss and malt vinegar.”

I was perusing my weekly “the-sky-is-falling” newspaper known as The Villager with typical skepticism of its drumbeat that the neighborhood was always better than it is today when I came across an item that gripped me in angst for a not-so-distant-past. The corrugated tin ceiling really was falling.

They’re closing my bar.

On December 27th, an unpretentious bar on the corner of Hudson and 10th known as the Blind Tiger will shut its doors, leaving the city with one less great place to knock back a few. The reasons why are as common these days as $12 cocktails, suffice to say “luxury condos” is a central theme. Downtown housing prices and hipsters being what they are, it isn’t surprising that the Tiger is closing down, but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing.

Tale of the Tiger #2: Holiday season, 2002. My wife Kim, my buddy Leo and myself decide to get a drink on a wintry December before putting up our Christmas tree. Kim wants one of Louise the bartender’s all-world Bloody Marys spiced up wit her homemade pickles. She brings a jar and shares them with other bar denizens. It’s a brilliant combination, equal to your-chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter, and the pickles don’t last long. Hours later, a crooked tree with lights and ornaments all weighted to one side is erected, leading to a second tree-decorating-correction-celebration the following night.

The shuttering of the Blind Tiger means very little and a whole lot. Given the economic realities of living life in regular New York, one less tavern isn’t going to provoke the boozy masses to revolution, nor is it going to spark bittersweet pining on one of the “Great Walks of New York” shows WNET breaks out during pledge week. The Tiger doesn’t qualify for Greenwich Village pathos because it wasn’t forced out, the owners decided not to renew the lease. And it doesn’t deserve an old world elegy because no matter how lived-in and comfortable the Tiger feels, it’s not even ten years old. This isn’t even a eulogy because one of the owners told me a new location five minutes away is coming soon and it’ll be bigger, better, cleaner and minus the distinctive piss-and-malt-vinegar smell.

Time will tell if the new Blind Tiger captures the old vibe, but it’s a safe bet that the women’s bathroom won’t be so cold in winter that sitting on the toilet seat becomes a test of internal and external fortitude (so says Kim). It also probably won’t have the important life lessons on the men’s bathroom walls such as “Never, ever bruise your whiskey with rocks, drink it naked with the water on top.”

Tale of the Tiger #3: Christmas Eve, 2004. My Mother is in town and we are going to mass at St. Veronica’s Church. I get the time wrong, but instead of walking the extra block to my apartment, I suggest a pre-service beer. There’s probably ten people sitting at the bar, ringing in the holidays. Mom says, “Why is it every time I come to New York City I end up in a bar?”

Good question, Ma, but I don’t have a good answer. That’s just how it is. There’s the obvious elements of a small apartment, a huge selection of brews and friendly atmosphere where beer geeks, cops, hipsters, European tourists, regulars and one-timers could tipple in peace together, but that could be said of a lot of neighborhood bars like Kettle of Fish, the Village Tavern or Chumley’s.

I can’t explain why the Blind Tiger always felt right, except maybe on weekend nights when it was packed and getting a drink became a contact sport. The Tiger is too corner bar to be cosmopolitan and too cosmopolitan to be corner bar. It’s not quiet enough to be a hideaway, but it’s not rowdy enough to be a honkytonk. It’s too grungy to be a lounge but not sketchy enough to be a dive.

The Tiger doesn’t have a pool table, dartboards or the unctuous douchebag magnet Golden Tee. Hell, it doesn’t even have a jukebox, just a multi-CD player stacked high with the barkeep’s favorites like every American dorm room circa 1992. They have beer and cheese tastings on Wednesdays, free hot dogs on Mondays and a bagel buffet on Sundays (to go with Louise’s Bloody Marys of course) but it doesn’t have live music, poetry readings, photo exhibits on the walls, stand-up comedy, pub quizzes or karaoke to take the attention away from its main purpose. Drinking and bullshitting.

The Blind Tiger is a bar. The kind of bar where anyone could walk in anytime, belly up and discuss/argue important topics such as: is Patrick Ewing top-50 of all-time (No), the best Belgian brew (Lindemans Framboise Raspberry Lambic) or what demon Karl Rove really is (Haagenti, great President of Hell who makes men wise by instructing them on every subject). The Blind Tiger is a bar where you can bring your mother on Christmas Eve. It’s also a bar where patrons get insulted by the permanent graffiti chestnut on the men’s room wall: “You wouldn’t know a classy broad if she took a dump on your head.”

Tale of the Tiger #4: Super Bowl Sunday, 2005. After spending a couple of hours watching Sportscenter highlights, trying to figure out if my beloved Philadelphia Eagles could still figure out a way to beat the New England Patriots, I picked myself up and went to drown my sorrows and congratulate bartender Chris, a big Pats fan. I sat down and he poured me one on the house, saying that it was a close game and it could’ve gone either way or something that he didn’t really believe. He had every right to talk trash, but instead, a free beer. Too bad the saucy regular at the other end of the bar who is always wearing the highwater jeans couldn’t abide by a weary Iggles supporter. He isn’t even a Patriots fan, but he sure couldn’t stop running his mouth about how bad the Birds suck. I’m not going to miss that guy…oh, sure I am, every Cheers needs a Cliff.

If I had to sum up the Blind Tiger, it would be the 2004, first-annual chili cook-off. Kim whipped up a big batch of her famous-in-our-apartment chili and entered against a surprisingly large field of twenty-five to thirty recipes. There was a wide-range of bland chilis and a few stand-outs including one that was way too friggin’ hot from Brooklyn and another made with Kobe beef, at a cost of a lot more than the D’Agostino’s ground turkey my wife used.

Yes, we may have brought the biggest crowd for the balloting and had a couple of attractive young ladies work the room on our behalf, but there were a truly gourmet options and that $50 first prize had to be earned.

As they called out the third and second place winners, Kim turned to me, looking a bit forlorn at the outcome of her first foray into competitive cooking and said, “I’m not gonna’ win, but that’s all right.” Then they announced that the “Cincinnati” chili entrant was the winner. Kim got red in the face from both excitement and embarrassment. And her eyes welled up a bit as she claimed her prize.

And I fell in love with her…and her cinnamon-infused chili…and the Blind Tiger, a simple local watering hole…all that much more.

Tale of the Tiger #5: This Tuesday, I’m coming back early from the holiday weekend for a final toast a fine bar. You should come on in and do the same. Raise your glasses to the Blind Tiger. And remember, if whiskey’s your drink; don’t bruise it with rocks, just a bit of water on top.

Slainte!

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