55 BarPosted: October 9, 2012
After an earlier round of hot cocoa at Caffe Reggio, I walked over a few blocks to the 55 Bar. Greeted by the plethora of “2 DRINK MINIMUM PER SET” signs, I dutifully ordered grapefruit juice, which came in a heavy glass beer mug with a straw. After that, I didn’t feel that I could handle any more beverages and also didn’t want to run out to the ATM to make sure I had enough cash for the tip jar so I asked to purchase a bottle of water. The bartender replied, “we don’t sell bottled water—keep jazz alive.”
Keep jazz alive. I hardly think that the two-drink minimum is keeping jazz alive. If anything, it may be elongating a slow and painful death. Sure, the minimum is allowing the 55 Bar to stay open on a month-to-month basis but sustaining jazz through an IV drip is not the answer. A fundamental restructuring of the organization seems necessary to resuscitate the jazz economy, though I’m not sure what that would look like. I thought about this between sips of ginger ale, which the bartender poured into the beer mug I was using previously. I must have contributed a few more cents into the “keep jazz alive” jar by forgoing the labor cost required to wash an extra mug. Someone please give me a bumper sticker.
I don’t mean to get dark on 55 Bar—it’s a good venue, especially if you remember to sit along the bar so that you can get a full view of the band. There’s a somewhat festive atmosphere with icicle lights strung all around and a Christmas bow and a St. Patrick’s Day clover cutout behind the bar. The walls are adorned with many posters, album covers and a charming old clock that displays the wrong time. With a case of Samuel Adams and a box of Swiss Miss in plain view, it can feel like you are in a giant pantry, decorated by Christmas lights. This may be the closest you get to understanding how the Indian in the Cupboard felt.
While waiting in line for the ladies room, I couldn’t help but peek into the men’s room to see the urinal filled with ice. I wonder what that’s about. Both restrooms are sufficient in size for one person to use. The ladies has two trash bins and several rolls of toilet paper readily available.
When I visited two Wednesdays ago, percussionist Rogério Boccato’s quartet with Nando Michelin (keyboard), Jay Anderson (bass) and Dan Blake (sax) played sets of music from the post Bossa Nova generation. In between listening to this ensemble led by the ethnically Italian percussionist from Brazil, I talked to my ethnically Japanese friend Yumi from France about her life back home and in the city. She mentioned that while she never identified as an Asian in France, she thinks about it all the time here. On the other hand, while French peers requested an explanation as to how she can be both fully French and Asian simultaneously, New Yorkers don’t require an explanation of her Asian-ness, perceiving her simply as a foreigner.
As I recall looking upon the Japanese façade of a McDonald’s in Liberdade, a subset of São Paulo, Brazil, I wonder if national sentiment and sense of identity will shift on a global level as cultures clash and merge giving birth to things like kogi tacos and cream cheese wontons. Gulli from Iceland, who is taking Rogério’s Brazilian music class in New York tells us how to say, “Where’s the restroom?” in Icelandic –