Fat Cat

It seems like people are always going to Fat Cat to hang out.  Right off the Christopher St./Sheridan Sq. station, the place is bustling with people inside and out on the sidewalk.  Upon entering, you’ll flash your ID and pay a small cover in exchange for a wristband and a Fat Cat stamp, which may stain your hand for days after.

Fat Cat Women'sThere were too many people for my liking and I tried my best to not get jabbed by anyone playing pool, as I strained to carry on conversations with friends in the spacious basement space abuzz with everyone’s chatter.  It wasn’t so bad once we were able to get a ping-pong table in one of the netted areas off to the side.

The band added to the noise and quite frankly, it made little difference who played what.  Though there was a small attentive crowd on the couches surrounding the performance area, the majority was much more interested in playing games like chess, scrabble, shuffleboard and imbibing great amounts of beer.  Likely because of that last interest, the place had large and clearly marked restroom signs in prominent places.

And while it wasn’t my kind of scene, I was glad to be there to celebrate a college buddy’s birthday.  Many move out here from California for graduate school or work and I’ve a number of good friends from both undergrad and high school out here now.  In densely populated Manhattan, I’ve randomly run into familiar faces from home quite a few times, passing by someone and thinking a moment later, “Hey, that’s the girl from rhetoric class freshmen year.”

Fat Cat Women's entranceFat Cat Women's stall

Fat Cat Women's stall graffitiFat Cat Women's toilet leaks

The women’s restroom maintained the seedy dive feel of the rest of the place.  The toilet in one of the two stalls was leaking slightly and there was a bit of graffiti on the wall, which surprisingly, I haven’t seen in the other clubs.  I tried to get a peek into the men’s room but didn’t have a chance, as guys kept going in and out.  In fact, in hovering near the restrooms, I noticed that the men’s room often had a line, maybe even more than the women’s did.

Other than the nightlife activities, Fat Cat offers other services, from chess to music lessons.  Growing up, my dad, sister and I used to play ping-pong on the piano bench to determine who would have to do the dishes; I could take ping-pong lessons and show them up this Christmas.

Wojtek from Poland tells us how to say, “Where’s the restroom?” in Polish —

Gdzie jest toaleta?

55 Bar

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.”

55 Bar mens

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.

55 Bar ladies sink uses the drain net like Korean households.55 Bar ladies toilet

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.

55 Bar ladies mirror. Disclaimer: Yumi says the photos make the restroom look better than it really is.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 –

Hvar er klósettið? (Kvar er klosettith)

Blue Note

Ten toilets spread among five bathrooms—I knew it would be a busy night and took the team along to cover Blue Note on the opening night of guitarist/singer Lionel Loueke’s CD release last Tuesday.  Joined by pianist Robert Glasper, bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Mark Guiliana, the music possessed a rare quality that was at once both killing and accessible.  It made me grin just to watch because the band looked and sounded like they were having fun.

Blue Note office pinballBlue Note office restroom

Blue Note owner's toiletBlue Note green room bathroom

It was an amusing night in general.  Perhaps I expected a more corporate vibe from the renowned establishment, but instead a room full of laid-back employees dressed in t-shirts enthusiastically greeted me.  Their office restroom was the best, with a pinball machine by the door you can play while you wait.  Another restroom directly above was similar, though with wall tiles of a varying shade and a different toilet model, and not exactly unisex, but designated specifically for the owner and his guests.

Blue Note women's restroomThe restrooms for patrons are located up the stairs on the second floor, with three toilets, a urinal and a sink in the men’s room and three toilets and two sinks in the women’s.  The green room and office’s eco-friendly toilets have two buttons for flushing depending on how much water you need.

I would like to thank the Blue Note team for the warm welcome, the exclusive backstage toilet tour and the pinball tutorial.  New York is the biggest little city, where it’s easy to feel like an anonymous nobody as you constantly rub shoulders with countless extraordinary people so I’m grateful for the encouragement.  I must say that recognition as “the toilet girl” is much less pressure than my previous role as somewhat of a North Korean expert, though my current role requires just as much research.  Also, you don’t have to worry about hate mail or being blacklisted when you cover a seemingly noncontroversial topic, such as bathrooms.

Blue Note men's urinal, courtesy of men's room correspondent KMacBlue Note men's sink

In actuality, bathrooms can be highly controversial.  What does it mean when there are exactly two types of restrooms, one marked male and another marked female?  What does the lack of diaper changing stations in men’s rooms signify?  What about the scarcity of water and sanitation facilities in many parts of our world?  There’s enough fodder there for an entire series of books that could be titled The Subversive Politics of Toilets.

But what do I know?  I’m just a music student in a conservatory bubble.

And I hope be fully present my final year in the bubble, not wishing away the weekdays waiting for the weekend.  I am amazed to have become a part of the city’s narrative in the midst of living here for school, as I remember thinking about New York eleven years ago today.

Lionel Loueke who emigrated from Benin tells us how to say, “Where’s the restroom?” in Fon –

Fi tê kpa min ô dé?

Cornelia Street Cafe

“Do you have a reservation?”

Yes—I did when we chatted about it at length ten minutes ago and that hasn’t changed, even though you gave away my seat.  Dumbfounded by the host’s sincerely inquisitive expression, I concluded that he must either be affected by amnesia or not recognize me with my glasses on.

It’s amazing how one simple addition to a face, like glasses, bangs or facial hair can alter another’s perception of someone or summarize one’s existence.  Dan Rufolo, the leader of Friday’s band at the Cornelia Street Cafe, had a beard that was in accordance with his composer-ly piano playing and driven compositions.  The drummer, Arthur Vint’s mustache encapsulated his keen wit and amplified his cowboy vibe.  The goatee on bassist Bill Thoman seemed only appropriate for his suspicious nature, in which he exclaimed that I was interrogating him and writing everything down.

If you look at the picture hanging in the restroom to the left, you will see three men and a woman donning facial hair to match their pirate garb in front of the cafe.  Details like this make me appreciate not only the quaint restrooms, but all of Cornelia Street Cafe, especially the shoebox diorama-like performance space downstairs from the restaurant.  From oversized Christmas lights hung around the exposed pipes, to mirrors framed like windows and open candle flames that would be in violation of the fire code in another city, the venue makes you feel welcome, even when the host forgets your face and the performer accuses you of being an informant with malicious intent.

Once you walk down the stairs to the performance area, make a left and you’ll see an arrow shaped sign that says “Restrooms” on the mirror wall.  The arrow leads to two small, unmarked white doors at an adjacent angle.  If they weren’t at a dead end, I would have taken longer to deduce that both must be doors to unisex restrooms.

The walls are at strange angles and the ceiling is very low so a tall person may have to crouch.  Every time I go, I note their very thin toilet paper and cute little sink.  Regarding the restroom on the right—the last I checked, the left tap is for hot water and the right, for hotter.  Turn on both to get cooler, warm water from the faucet.  Both restrooms are comparable in size and features.

The all-American band also featured trumpeter Nathan Eklund (beard) and saxophonist Rich Perry (clean-shaven), neither of whom spoke a language other than English.  Bill offered his Mandarin skills but only knew how to say his name and other useless things, and not our key phrase.  And thereafter, he continued to speak to me in elementary Chinese, possibly so that I could not transcribe or comprehend anything he said.  Tucson native Arthur translated “Where’s the restroom?” with gusto in gringo Spanish and Dan, a third-generation Italian-American, double-checked the phrase on his iPhone so that he could ask us in Italian –

Dov’è il bagno?

Bar Next Door

After having gotten lost inside Macy’s and having been accosted by a large, unruly dog on my walk down 6th Ave., I almost passed the place when I turned on my heels at a sound that registered as jazz, to see a plaque that said “Next Door.”  I hurried inside and balked at the sight of the cave-like room, until the polite waitress seated me in a corner.  Then, I pondered if I could touch the ceiling and why the table was sticky.

The clearance must have been 6’10” at most.  I know this to be a fact because a guy who said he was between 6’7” and 6’8” nearly scuffed the ceiling with his hair.  I gradually settled into this dark, cozy room and tried to look like a normal person, having vichyssoise with a side of bread.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t suppress my smirk at the sight of two of my favorite boys playing music.  The group was led by Benny Benack III, who is usually a trumpeter, sometimes a singer, and always a ham.

“I’ve had too much ham today,” said Mark, refusing pizza that Benny offered him.  Mark Whitfield Jr. (drums) also declined chocolate mudd cake.  He does like cranberry ginger ale, dolphins, Duke Pearson’s ballad “You Know I Care” and purple.

Benny is a self-proclaimed legendary ping pong champ, avid golfer, former high school junior varsity baseball player, fantastically imaginative yarn spinner and the ultimate middle school sleepover talent.  And that’s just in his own words, from an unsolicited interview.  I think we can safely add narcissistic to his list of traits.

Raviv Markovitz (bass), the only one without a generational suffix in his name, rounded out the trio.  I hadn’t met Raviv before this but I quickly gathered that his name backwards is Ztivokram Vivar and that he roots for the Red Sox and likes watching Sports Center.  Also, according to other sources, he is the sweetest guy ever and can rattle off a long list of chick flicks to watch, if you’re in the mood.

You may be wondering why this matters.  Why does it matter that Coltrane loved to eat sweet potato pie?  Or that Miles Davis wore Brooks Brothers suits?  When these twenty-somethings just barely of drinking age step into their roles as the next jazz legends, you can say that you heard it here first.

April 11th 2012 inventory: three rolls of tissue, none on the holder

Tarot by Janet

There is a bathroom each for women and men at the Bar Next Door, down an unlit and narrow hallway (see the first photo).  A very fat person would not be able to squeeze through to get to the bathroom, nor a would a very tall person be able to fit under the ceiling.  Being a short and petite person, I was able to make it to the women’s bathroom at the end of the hall.  It was similarly dimly lit and grungy, but not without flourishes, like a nice round mirror and an advertisement for tarot readings by Janet.

Benny did tell us how to say, “Where’s the restroom,” in what he claimed passed for native speech in France.  Not because I was incredulous, but because I’m a good journalist, I cross-checked the information with Lucas from France.  I learned that it should be “Où sont les wc,” not “Où est le wc,” but will give Benny the benefit of the doubt and include his French below, followed by that of Lucas.  Perhaps his translation is some local variation on Canadian French.

Où sont les wc?