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With the 21st century officially starting, I find myself casting a nostalgic eye over the boozeries of the 20th century. Ah, the fickle fancy of Fashion! No sooner is one boîte deemed hot than the masses descend, only for a new trendsetters’ den to crop up the next week. Yet the creepily withered, liver-spotted hand of Time can work wonders: While most bars fade from popularity to sink into Siberia forevermore, a lucky few survive being uncool for so long that they finally become cool again. (Would that I could do the same.) Brace yourselves for the special historical edition of Liquid City!
Our first stop back in time takes us to the early ’90s, a primitive era before the dawn of the cosmopolitan and the green martini. Shabby-bohemian MAX FISH (178 Ludlow Street, 529-3959) was the sole bar on the street, a magnet for indie rockers arguing the merits of Orange Juice vs. Mecca Normal. The inevitable downturn followed. But today, when Wall Streeters favor its Ludlow competitors and fashionistas wouldn’t be caught dead there, a fresher music crowd is beginning to sprout, watered by Absolut cocktails ($5) and fertilized by the nearby Mercury Lounge. If it’s good enough for Mogwai (the Godspeed You Black Emperor! it’s even better to like), who drank here after their last show, it’s good enough for us.
Eons ago, before we were born, herds of “writers” and “artists” roamed Greenwich Village; fossil records show that they fed on whiskey at the CEDAR (82 University Place, 741-9754). Still outfitted in its ancient wood-paneled, stained-glass glory, it’s since made do with serving sporty NYU students burgers ‘n’ brew (Bass, $4.75). A young acquaintance informs me, however, that the artsier, less Neanderthal undergrads lately gather on the airy second floor with its room-sized skylight, where well-spaced tables enable one to converse without shouting. (Despite my young friend’s assistance, I refused to share my order of exquisite mozzarella sticks [$5.75], for the mozzarella sticks are mine—all mine.)
In the last century we’ve seen empires decline and fall, but none have fallen to rise again so swiftly as the STANDARD (158 First Avenue, 387-0239), a three-year-old initially frequented by smartly clad architects and designers, then overrun with New York-reading Euro suits who apparently got lost on the way to Tribeca. Happily, it has outgrown its awkward phase, and the walls (translucent screens magically banded with light) are alive once more with the sound of gimlet glasses ($6.50) clinking and creative types, gay and straight, exchanging quips by the glowing red Lucite liquor cabinets. Thank god the Standard’s back—the Gavin Brown gallery bar is so 1999. óJ. YEH