Friday, March 18, 2016
Photos and text by Stacie Joy
Longtime local writer, editrix and party producer Abby Ehmann is fulfilling a dream of hers and opening a new bar at 168 Avenue B between East 10th Street and East 11th Street called Lucky. I stopped by to see the space during its renovation and to ask her a few questions.
What can you tell us about your new space?
I’m taking over the old Boxcar Lounge space [which closed for good at the end of February after 18 years in business]. It isn’t a very big bar so my plans aren’t too extravagant. I want it to be a comfortable neighborhood bar. I have all kinds of ideas but I want everything to be a surprise! But I am hoping it will be the bar for all the people who feel like there aren’t any bars left for them.
Why did you want to be a bar owner?
Judging by all the people offering me their ideas, it seems like anyone who’s ever sat at a bar has thought about owning one. Seriously, though, ever since the first time I worked behind a bar I’ve wanted to own one. It was 1992, my “summer of discontent.” I’d been laid off from the ad industry and was crying into the want ads. Tommy at The Village Idiot gave me a job as a barmaid. I’ve had about a million jobs and bartending’s my favorite. I love interacting with people.
What can we expect from your bar? I heard you had an amazing jukebox planned.
Yeah, people have asked what my “theme” is gonna be. There isn’t gonna be a theme. The vibe of the bar will be completely dependent upon the bartenders — almost all people who’ve worked in the neighborhood for years — and the music.
The jukebox will be filled with as many mix CDs as I can collect. I’m hiring DJs to make them for me. I want each one to be an homage to a defunct bar, club, party or “world” — Downtown Beirut, Mars Bar, The Idiot, Motherfucker, Green Door, Jackie 60. Even if the person putting their money in hasn’t ever heard of any of those places, the music will be great. But for those who do know what the mixes mean, I’m hoping it will make them really happy. It’s a warm, familiar nod to the past, to what came before.
What are your favorite bars — in NYC and/or elsewhere?
I’m a huge fan of dive bars, neighborhood bars, places that feel like an extension of your living room…if you have a living room.
Back when I lived on 10th Street between First and Avenue A, I practically lived at Downtown Beirut. I could go there alone and as soon as I walked in the door, Carolyn would hold up a pitcher and point and I’d nod. My beer would be on the bar before I even sat down. That bar was my favorite bar in the whole world. I still miss it. And that jukebox, heaven!
I usually go to Double Down [on Avenue A]. I love the punk rock and PBR. I’ve been going to 2A for 30 years. It was the first bar I went to in this neighborhood. I’m not too sure about their recent upgrades, but the vibe and general feng sui of that place…I love it. Exposed brick and those big windows, it’s the quintessential bar. Sophie’s, 11th Street Bar, International Bar, Manitoba’s, Coal Yard, Doc Holliday’s (when it isn’t full of college kids). Places that feel like they’ve been there forever. And places that don’t have a TV. Not a big fan of the twee cocktail establishments or “speakeasies,” where someone else decides whether you get in or not. I wouldn’t subject myself to that bullshit. I don’t like to wait in line for anything. I mean, even if they were handing out gold bars, I wouldn’t wait in line.
What do you think makes a good neighborhood bar?
Locals and regulars, a bartender who knows your name, or at least pretends to! Knows what you drink. Nothing pretentious or fake. A place you can go when you’re having a really crappy day and you’ll walk out feeling better.
What are your thoughts on the East Village in general? And what are your thoughts on the East Village nightlife in particular?
It’s easy to complain about the East Village and all the changes it’s gone through. I’ve lived here since 1989 and I’ve watched a lot of those changes. It’s heartbreaking when places that have been around for decades close down.
And I hate the new buildings. I have this ridiculous, irrational, somewhat romantic love for old buildings: Old architectural detail, the tenement apartments, walls with history. So whenever something gets torn down, I mourn.
The East Village may not be as “cool” as it used to be. It certainly isn’t as affordable…so many of my friends have moved away, but it’s still better than anywhere else. It still feels like a neighborhood. I can walk down the street and see people I know. Go into a bar or restaurant or Key Food and bump into people. What’s the alternative? I mean, have you been to LA? Hell-fucking-no. New York City is the best place to live. I get choked up, still, when Frank Sinatra sings about it… I swear. I’m a sap. What can I say? It’s the fervor of someone who has chosen this city as home.
I really enjoyed Ada Calhoun’s "St. Marks Is Dead." It applies to the neighborhood and to the city in general: if it’s dead to you, yes, it’s dead. If all you have is old memories and you aren’t creating any new ones, yes, it’s dead.
A lot of the grumblers, including me, simply aren’t raging drunk through the streets anymore. It might’ve been why — or maybe when — we moved here but many have moved on, if not geographically, otherwise. I can’t begrudge younger people their right to rage drunk through the streets. I’m sure there were bartenders who found me and my friends obnoxious. I can bemoan my lost youth and hate on the youngsters, and often do, but complaining about noise in the biggest city in America seems a little…sad.
I’m not a fan of too-high heels and girls who all wear the same dresses when they go out or man buns and overly fussy facial hair or whatever the latest trend is. I’ve never been into trends. So sure, I lock myself into my apartment on the weekends. I guess the bottom line is: noisy bars have always been and should always remain noisy bars. Deal with it. Create your own nightlife. Yes, I’m opening a bar but over the past decade I’ve hosted (much smaller) parties in my living room to avoid the people I find distasteful. Just cope with it however you can.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I feel fortunate to have this opportunity. My landlady isn’t one of those greedy folks who are quadrupling the rent, which appears to be VERY rare, bless her. I have a crystal-clear vision of what I want my bar to be, but I can only control so much. I can create an ambience and curate the music and pick the beer and booze. Once I open the doors, though, who knows? I would like it to be a refuge, or as my friend Joe Vincent said, “an oasis in a desert of douches,” a place that all the people who feel displaced can call home. Or as I’ve said, “a respite from the stumbling insanity.” That’s my vision, anyway. That and a room full of people singing along to "Bohemian Rhapsody."
[Lucky under renovation]
You can keep tabs on the Lucky bar project by checking out Abby’s IndieGogo campaign