(editor’s note: Beau/Brady are pseudonymous character names)
Barflies Vol. 2
Vanguard Wine Bar, New York, New York March 2017
7 o’clock P.M.
I was on the floor of River’s apartment, drinking a beer, when Beau called. “Sinelus. Vanguard. It’s a wine bar. We gotta check it out.” “Raw, raw,” I said, and put on pants. Beau and I took the subway down to 72nd street. Inside the bar, I had the uncanny suspicion that everybody here was a middle-aged, B-list celebrity. A table opened up in the back and we snagged it. “What we drinkin’? What we snackin’ on?” “Surprise me,” Beau said. “Chop chop.” “Yes sir, very good, sir,” I said in my best British-butler voice, and ordered us a bottle of white (dry, minerally, a little briny) and the mushroom, shallot, and truffle paste tartine. We started drinking. “So,” I said, leaning in, “River and I had an ol’ heart-to-heart about past relationships…” See, I explained, her and I’ve both been lustless, fucking, tugging partners, guiltily dreaming up a stranger’s legs; restless in bed, beside beloved lumps of flesh, flirty thoughts, who’s coming next. “Who hasn’t?” Beau said, raising his glass. “But then I got paranoid,” I said. “Very paranoid.” The tartines came, which deeply upset me. These freaky mini-baguettes were topped with uninspired swirls of gnarly-greenish brown truffle paste that—I hate to say it—looked like poop. They really did. Not crap, not waste, not human excrement—poop. And just as I had this weird epiphany, the lady in beige next to me asked, “Yummy, what is that?” triggering a mild hallucination, in which I imagined that everybody here, this motley-crew of aging fashionistas and young corporate chums, were shoveling shit into their mouths. Should have ordered the charcuterie. I unfolded the napkin on my lap. Beau was standing next to me, pouring us glasses from a bottle of WILLM, 2015, a pinot blanc. “Ooo la la, darling,” I said, wistfully, “you surprised me.” This wine was excellent. Went down like a cool, Colorado stream. “Here’s my problem,” Beau said, taking a seat. “Me? I never tell anybody what I’m actually thinking. Easier that way, but I run into problems…” Beau’d been seeing an older woman, he told me, a writer who is more successful than him. They’re both old fashioned, so he’s been picking up the dinner tabs. She likes the best—places not like Vanguard, so their date-nights have been depleting his modest bank account. Not only that, but since the precedent has already been set, he can’t go back, and has found himself, at her place, her place, buying the groceries and cheese plates. “The cheese plates!” I exclaimed, outraged. “The cheese plates!” A blonde at the bar sneered at me. Suddenly my phone was singing. It was Juan-Pierre, our friend, the artist, who did the illustration for Barflies Vol. 1, in which Beau and I visited a Filipino place called Jeepney. I went outside to chat with him. “Juan-Pierre,” I said, lighting a cigarette. “Brady!” he screamed, “Brady! You’ll never believe where I am.” “Where’s that?” “Jeepney! Oh! Brady! I walked by Jeepney, and went inside! It’s quite funny, no?” He let out a guttural chortle. “That’s amazing,” I said. “Have a drink. Say, I think we’re writing Vol.2 tonight. Wanna do another drawing?” “Well,” Juan-Pierre said, quietly, all business now. “We’ll see, you know, send me the writing. I’ll see what images appear, from the words, no?” “Groovy.” I hung up and called River. “Hey!” she said, and I could tell that she was lights off in bed, naked maybe—I don’t know—a guy pictures certain things. “Just saying hello!” I told her. “Seems as if this has become a drinking night. How are you?” “I’m grrreeeaatt.” And she is. River’s the only writer I know who has an uncomplicated relationship with alcohol, AKA she doesn’t drink it sometimes. Back inside Beau was boogying to our table with a bottle of Maison Champy like anybody’s grandpa. “Now we’re talkin’,” I said, whackin’ his back, noticing cracked glass on the floor. “I went a little crazy, baby,” he said, smiling. The wine looked beautiful, sure cost a lot, but don’t ask me how it tasted. Just like us to order the most expensive bottle last. We drank up. Beau said, “That lady over there, see, the blonde, at the bar, yeah, she hates you! She said, ‘Your friend. With the hand tattoos. How dare he come into a place like this.’” “A place like this?” I said, looking around. A huge light-bulb ‘LOVE’ fixture was, in terms of wall-art, Vanguard’s big event. In front of me a plaque said, ‘Danger: High Voltage,’ right next to a Harley-Davidson ad. “Jesus,” I muttered. A place like this. We tried a few more dishes, but they’re not worth talking about. Later, two girls appeared, asking what the occasion was. “Oh!” I said, swinging my glass. “Nothing special. Just one of Beau and I’s ol’ romantic date-nights.” “Ah!” they said, “So you’re dating?” One of ‘em frowned at my hand tattoo. I’m used to it. “‘ave a good night, ladies,” I said, nodding. After the third bottle came the tab.
Go for the wine, that breezy wine, and if you’re gonna eat, do what everybody else did: order the charcuterie. Outside we passed Little Italy Pizza, one of my favorites, where the slices are stacked on top of each other like the dirty t-shirts on my bed. Beau couldn’t believe it’d be worth writing about. “No way,” he said, A place like this?” But I ordered the slices and out in the night he took his first bite and was a new man instantly. “Oh my god! You weren’t kidding! You! You!” A glob of marinara stained his cheek and I wiped grease on my jeans like I always do. Beau lifted his arm for a cab and my eyes followed the gesture, raced past it, tumbling into visions of strange nights in Hell’s Kitchen, to 14th street gross ‘roach bars, time wasted in the places I’ve died and become myself. A car pulled up curbside. I went home alone.
Yeah, we go to wine bars sometimes, so what? Don’t get me wrong, I like a saloon as much as the next guy—I’ll happily drink Lone Stars out of an ice trough. I love a good dive bar with the two dollar shot and a beer combo and a sweaty bathroom. I also thrive particularly well in a place with red leather seats and weak candlelight, sipping on a slow martini, pretending I’m a millionaire wearing my country clothes for the hell of it. And yes, I prefer to walk down stairs to a good underground bar where the lights are low and the selection is limited to a few cold beers and a bottle of green Chartreuse, but I also feel right at home up on a rooftop, one spotted with tall tables covered by those sexy, slim, tight fitted tablecloths, you know the ones, the ones that make the table look like the legs of a woman wearing a dress. Yeah, I can stand happy on those roof tops all day long, all night, poolside, too, chugging an Aperol Spritz on the rocks, counting the windows in the skyscrapers instead of listening to whomever is talking to me. I’m versatile. I can blend in. And I can also appreciate a good wine bar, so you should too. And you might not know it by looking at him, but Brady is just as versatile when it comes to drinking, not kidding, he loves white wine, really appreciates the stuff and is kind of an asshole about it.
It’s one of the many characteristics that doesn’t match his appearance. You’d expect a guy like Brady to watch John Carpenter films alone at night—which he does—but you wouldn’t necessarily think he’s the kind of person who prefers white over red. It doesn’t add up, but it’s true. I wouldn’t lie to you, man.
So I called him because I heard about this wine bar. “Sinelus,” I said, “Vanguard Wine Bar. Seems like a place we can take it easy tonight and relax. Let’s go. We’ll have just one. ” He responded in the affirmative, and I could tell from the sound of his voice he wasn’t wearing any clothes and was at the tail end of a good time and had probably had a few already at this point in the evening because his voice was relaxed and loose and he was agreeable, real agreeable.
He showed up late on the platform wearing a ten day old blazer over a t-shirt, a black hat, and was stuffed into some white jeans. He looked like a stressed out insomniac mixing muscle relaxers and Red Bull’s, but I said “Lookin’ good” when I saw him walk up. Then we rode the train six stops in silence with a hairy dog sitting next to us growling. I put my face in my hands and tried not to touch anything.
So Brady and I showed up at this place, Vanguard, I mean, and I was under the impression I knew everyone in there. We took a seat in the back because we always take a seat in the back, and I suggested we split a bottle of wine. Brady said, “A bottle, a full bottle? Maybe we should start with just a glass each,” and it was beautiful because I knew he was kidding and he knew I knew he was kidding. We ordered the full bottle.
Earthy, minerally, whites, three of them are on the menu and we agreed to the least expensive, maybe try the others another day. “Just one tonight, right Brady?” And then the bottle came and we drank, and we drank and complained about people, about those people in our lives who we’d be better off without, and we complained and drank and that’s the beauty of drinking with a friend at any kind of place, wine bars included. The beauty is that drinking and eating isn’t just about drinking and eating, it’s about sharing something and getting a part of yourself out in the open, a part that’s been keeping you down. But everyone knows that. And I don’t really ever share all that much so I guess there is no point in drinking after all, at least for me. But we kept drinking, on to the next bottle, another earthy white, Willm Pinot Blanc 2015, dry baby, dry. Vroom Vroom. Yes, we got a second bottle because it’s never just one if the wine is good, and here the wine is good, and I told Brady about this woman I’ve been seeing and how she’s used to this lifestyle which I can’t afford, and he smiled and was unhelpful, just said, “That’s a shame,” and then he went on to talk about the wonderful woman in his life, River. That’s her name, man, I swear, I wouldn’t lie to you. River. You can’t make up stuff like that. So he talked about River and how the two of them eat sweet rolls on her floor every morning. He talked about how she just brings the cinnamon rolls to him on the floor like he’s the king of the world, and how she even chews them for him and spits them into his mouth, and it’s so wonderful because his life has never been better now that he doesn’t have to chew anything anymore. I think that’s what he said at least. And before he was finished telling me about it I asked him to stop talking because I’m a firm believer in the rule that if you don’t have anything unpleasant to say about a relationship, you should not say anything at all. But I let him go on and on longer than I normally would have because Vanguard, man, they have good wine. It’s easy to be polite with a bottle of wine in you and another in front of you.
Then Brady excused himself and I set my glass down too hard and it shattered. I took the pieces up to the bar and figured, since I was already up there, I’d order another bottle of wine. I ordered the most expensive one on the menu, Maison Champy 2012. I remember it being delicious but I can’t say for sure what it tasted like, and that’s the irony of the situation. You see, we ordered the cheap wine first and it was fine enough, the medium priced bottle after that was even better but our perception was a little off, then we had the best bottle last and were both so drunk by that point we couldn’t really taste it. So here’s some advice for you, order the nice bottle first. Put out the good china. Don’t wait for a special occasion. Today is special enough, if it’s special at all, if there is such a thing.
Brady finally came back from wherever he was and we continued to drink and drink and by then we were loose enough to pretend to be luxurious and we proved it by ordering every item of food on the menu. That is, every item except the charcuterie, which I’ve since heard is the only thing we should have ordered. But we go against the grain, Brady and I, and we ordered a mushroom and truffle crostini and it tasted like garbage and fell apart on the plate and the colors were all wrong. Then we got a white bean hummus and it didn’t have enough garlic and was underseasoned and the cracker it came with was dry and miserable and reminded me of the world’s longest fingernails hanging off the dirty hands of that old man from India. Then came the salmon caviar flatbread, and it was a respectable plate but the cracker was basically a Ritz and I could have made it better myself. Who the hell serves salmon on a cracker without capers and some red onion? So I was let down, but only in the way a drunk person is let down by food, that is to say, not in a real way, and the conversation was on point and I wasn’t disappointed in anything because I don’t go to wine bars for the food, I go to drink wine. You should too. And, because we were satisfied with the wine and disappointed with the food, Brady pointed at a place across the street when we left Vanguard. The building was called PIZZA and it was lit like a Wal-Mart and I almost didn’t eat anything but am glad I did because it was the best piece of pizza I’ve ever had. And then I went home alone.
Original Illustration by Alexis de Chaunac .
Kyle Kouri is an MFA candidate in fiction at Columbia University. He also makes visual art. His most recent exhibition, “Long After You’re Gone,” opened at 7 Dunham Gallery in April 2015. His story, “Fuck Donald Trump,” was published in Cleaver Magazine’s March 2017 issue. He has a short story featured on horrorsleazetrash.com. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @kylekouri. He writes in the Chocolate Lab at Columbia with Nathan Fetherolf.
Nathan Fetherolf is a graduate writing student at Columbia University. He lives in New York City and writes with Kyle Kouri.