Dirty Blonde: Drinking at Five Leaves, and Drinking in the Melodic Wisdom of Tim Fite

Two new bars for the common man

Anyone hoping that Heath Ledger was taking cues from Beatrice Inn (his famously favorite haunt) when outlining the plans for his now-open Greenpoint spot Five Leaves will likely be disappointed. I went twice last week, and it's definitely not a place to rage—the "We close at midnight" thing isn't a joke, unfortunately, which I found out upon walking in on Wednesday night at 11:45 and hearing the bartender announce last call. I went back the next day at a more respectable hour to find the place about half-full, with a few small groups still ordering grub and a rotating cast of cute loners taking their places next to me at the bar. My roommate was happy to find that the place stocks Coopers Pale, a beer she fell in love with while living in Australia, the land of Ledger. (Owners are first-time restaurateurs Jud Mongell and Kathy Mecham.)

The space is beautiful, predictably: Designer John McCormick is also credited with the interiors of lookers Tailor and Smith & Mills. (Everyone keeps throwing around the word "nautical," which I'm a little burned out on—for me, it evokes the laid-back, beachy feeling of being near water more than being, like, in it.) They've got all the contrasts just right: An enormously heavy bathroom door balances the pretty glass-and-wire fixtures, and steel toughens up the clean, blond wood. The angles alone are enough to occupy the eye, with exaggerated plank lines running alongside the arcs and parabolas of the bar, and the asymmetry of the physical space itself playing along. (It's located in a weird little triangular space at the tippy-top of McCarren Park.)

Supposedly named for the Swan cigarette papers that tell you when there are just five left in a package—although it's also posited that Nick Drake's album Five Leaves Left was a factor—the place is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Morning people can swing by a window00 to the side of the bar for coffee and pastries, and happy-hour friends can tide over dinner with oysters. The staff is affable, the crowd is pretty but not intimidating (so far), and the location is perfect for pre-gaming. I can't rage there, but I like it anyway.

Another thing I didn't know I liked until this week: Tim Fite. He played the friends/family press party for new Gowanus spot the Bell House, which I wrote about last week, and he was fantastic—truly. Sandwiched between the Mugs (kinda boring) and Nada Surf (allegedly) on a surprise lineup, Fite (or all four Fites, if you count the video projections of himself playing backup for himself), along with sidekick Dr. Leisure, pulled from a rousing catalog of country-tinged singalongs: This is a guy who sings from deep inside his suspender-strapped belly. And homeboy is astoundingly agile—he jumped on and off that stage like it was an easy-breezy aerobic stepstool.

Against a backdrop of childlike drawings that belie very grown-up messages, Fite's live show requires audience participation—even if said audience is slightly bewildered, as we were Wednesday. Some tricks worked better than others (getting adults to play along with "head, shoulders, knees, and toes" might have been asking too much), but even I sang along to arsonist fantasy "Burn It Down." And I was sober.

His songs aren't all for show, of course—the lyrics are consistently tight, and he does right by melodies. Forever playing up the common man, Fite offered "Away From the Snakes," crying out: "Heavens to Betsy/The man's out to get me/He's raising my rent/And he's taking my money/While the rich get rich/Well, us poor don't get shit." (One blogger cited these lyrics as the reason the crowd wasn't so into it, "giving some would-be gentrifiers a little too much pause." Ha.) When Fite got to his perhaps best-known selection, sweetly crooning, "Everyone gets to make one big mistake," I scrunched up my nose and thought, Just one? The Bell House's big stage was a good fit for Fite (the results are in, and it seems everyone likes the venue as much as I do), but I also imagined a Tim Fite show amid those lovely Henry Darger watercolors currently exhibited (but soon to close) at the American Folk Museum—Fite might be the closest approximation to an outsider artist that we see in non-experimental music.

Some 45 minutes after Fite finished, and tired of waiting for Nada Surf to take the stage—it's unfortunate that bars get so boring when you're not drinking, but after Tuesday night's L Magazine Nightlife Awards party at Touch, I needed a night off—I left a little after 11. When I texted my friend Phil Palazzolo to say I'd taken off before I had the chance for goodbyes, he replied that Nada Surf apparently couldn't make it (Matthew Caws missed his flight, or it was delayed, or something), and that he was instead taking the stage to play bass for Carl Newman on some New Pornographers hits. Suffice to say, I was most displeased. I miss all the good stuff.

 
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