There are secret doors and secret passwords to secret places in New York. When the streets have rolled up for the night understand that – on some streets, anyway – this is an illusion. You’ve just got to speak the language, meet the right people, and, most importantly, wear the right thing. At least in this case.
For the sake of being diplomatic I’ll give myself 99% credit for the success of our NYC Nocturnal Adventure. One percent respectfully goes to my amazing, non-flower eating friend (refer to NYC Part One) for putting us in the time and place for the ultimate journey to begin. “Café Wha’”, it was, an underground jazz club, “underground” meant both literally and figuratively. A favorite stop of hers, we enjoyed the music and authentic New York City ambiance and crowd. I don’t recall if we got there late or if time just went by that quickly but it’s a coin toss and, ultimately, irrelevant. The fact is, as we were innocently (I swear) soaring on adrenaline and intrigue the cue too soon arrived for the curtain drop & “last call”. Suddenly “Café Wha” became “Café Wah-wahhhhh” (insert tuba cry here). You’ve heard the term, “Go gently into the night”? Okay, good. ‘Cause we hadn’t.
Now, this is a straight up fact. It has happened on more than one “’stranger in a strange land” vacation. Call it a “skill” or call it a “mischief radar”, it makes shit happen. If you want to go off the grid I can spot the stranger in a crowd with the knowhow and extract that information like Jason Bourne, but with a shared hug and laugh, before they have time to actually do the math.
Bar lights on, crowd shuffling out. We straggle. Like, seriously straggle, getting the “You gotta’ go” looks and direct verbal address. Tolerance and time from the ranch hands responsible for leading the herd out was running dangerously short.
Scan the long bar. Male bartender. Has that just right “I’m not an asshole and I’m not grumpy even though I’m ready to go” look as he was wiping down glasses. THIS was our Wonka Golden Ticket with a wink and a smile.
We scored an address from him but when our taxi pulled up to it in the dark the neighborhood was a ghost town with a capital G”, “capital T”. As in, “If you get out here you are taking a serious gamble with your life”. Logic would say this was ill-advised especially considering this was in the late 90’s so cellphones were not mass marketed yet and were still the size of a brick. Getting out of our yellow, 4-wheeled safety was a serious commitment to the cause. Strap on your fatigues and say a prayer, we’re doin’ this! Even the taxi driver expressed that he wasn’t sure getting out here was recommended but hopefully he didn’t worry too much. If he’s reading this, I assure you we had a BLAST!!
We stood on the dark, quiet sidewalk as we watched our ride’s taillights grow ever smaller, leaving us in our, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore” territory. There was not a random pizza joint nor a 24 hour drugstore to run into should things go awry but adventures are rarely made that way. We approached the door with the magic street number the bartender had confidentially provided us with though there was no sign. No lights. No windows. Most importantly, there were no people.
*Knock, knock, knock*
And just like that, we’re at the Emerald City! Seriously, writing about it as I reminisce all of these years later, that is still what immediately comes to my mind from that moment. A small, eye level, mafia-gnome type “what’s the secret password” door opened in the darkness before us. Male eyeballs peered at us with suspicion and curiosity. Sensing this was a vital moment determining the future of our evening (morning?), I didn’t waste any time relaying the message and name the bartender told us to pass on.
And the door….opened!
And …..there’s NO ONE there.
What the hell. There’s a bartender, it’s after hours and we are officially rollin’ in “secret society” status. Okay, so we’re the only ones but whatever! It feels like a bucket list item we didn’t even know we had and we didn’t have to call it a night when our tanks we’re still full of youth, curiosity, and adrenaline. We each get a drink and begin chatting with the bartender who informed us it was so empty because we are early. A little clarification: By now it’s tick-tockin’ around 2:45a.m.
Fast forward 30 minutes and it is standing room only. In context only, we are now back in “Café WHAAAA?”. How did this happen? Where did these people all come from? Ahhhhhh – welcome to the world of down-low, “In The Biz”, NYC bars.
As I’m sure you have already gathered, my friend and I are neither one timid types and the conversation with the people that had filled the empty space was flowing. But this, my friends, is where it all ties up in a perfect bow. After talking to a small group of fellow females that appeared close to our age they identified themselves as regulars and expressed how unusual it was to see non-regulars so they were curious and inquiring as to how we found it and gained entry. The whole time we had been talking with them my friend and I were sidled up to the bar on our stools, talking over our shoulders to them due to the crowded, close quarters. I turned around to better relay to them over the decibels of the crowd and the *second* that I did they let out a collective cry and one of the girls pointed and yelled, “THAT’S how you got in here!!!!”
Never underestimate the power of a shirt that has an LED star on it that shines multi-colored lights in constant motion. While you tell yourself, “I’ve seen those, big deal”, remember that this was before cell phones. Straight up truth, the battery pack that provided this shirt its stellar quality was so big that I had to tuck it between my boobs where it was barely hidden and I am a double D. We’re talking multiple AA batteries not a watch battery or a USB charger so it wasn’t widely marketed or feasible attire for most people.
To this day I have a couple of people that still call me “Blinky Star” because of that shirt.
Moral of the story: Never underestimate the power of accessorizing.