When I was young, with a liver that performed like a Lamborghini and employment as the world’s surliest receptionist, I adored open bars. I’d spend workdays alternating between misdirecting phone calls and scouring Craigslist for freebie offerings—say, unlimited Bud at Lit Lounge or vodka tonics at Blue Owl, a Wednesday standby that endures today.
Free-drink deals felt like alcoholic welfare. I could continue my collegiate revelry without emptying my bank account like swimming pools come September. Night in, night out, I’d shoehorn into bars, waving my wrinkled dollar bills like flags to attract the overworked bartender’s eyes.
“Four drinks,” I’d say, batting my hazel eyes like a weathered starlet pretending to be an innocent teen.
“All for you?” the bartender would reply.
“For my….friends,” I’d say, motioning to the massed inebriants, as decorous as soccer hooligans.
When I had my fill, which is to say when the drinks ceased to be free, I’d lurch away on legs as steady as a newborn calves’. My brain would be as blank as a reformatted hard drive, driven by a simple, fallible operating system: Go home. Eat cheap food. Since I largely roamed the East Village, my feed station was Bagel Café/Ray’s Pizza (2 St. Marks Pl. at Third Ave., 212-533-6656), where I’d opt for the Sicilian slice. It was as fluffy as a pillow and as big as Tyra Banks’ forehead.Whether it was a placebo, like Prozac, or an actual cure-all, I believed the dough bomb sobered me up for the train home.The slice, I imagined, prevented me from conking out and awaking in the underground hinterlands, my pockets cut and my Velcro wallet as missing as a milk-carton kid.
Devouring the “head slice,” as Ray’s Sicilian came to be known, was a formative New York experience. Sure, it was bland and dry, the cheese like spackle, but it was our $2 tradition. Mention it to Aaron, Andrew, Steve or any character inhabiting my ecosystem, and they’ll grin broadly.Then they’ll groan and shake their heads: the regretful remembrance of consuming shame food. Shame food is as multifaceted as
Magic the Gathering dice. It could mean ravaging a 99-cent bag of bodega-bought sour-cream-and-onion Utz potato chips. Or ditching your locavore leanings for a Big Mac, chased by Middle Eastern street meat painted with yellow-tinged “white sauce.” Buying shame food is naughty and regrettable, a tequila-fueled dalliance with an ex.
You should know better, but some urges are just too strong to resist. Like open bars.
Welcome to two weeks ago. I swung by rustic rathskeller, Jimmy’s No. 43 (43 E. 7th St. betw. First & Second Aves., 212-982- 3006), to scope out a weekly event featuring sustainable, locally harvested oysters, such as Long Island Peconic Pearls and Connecticut Mystics. Fancy, yes, but I possessed a press pass. (I occasionally don pants and imitate a journalist.) But upon arriving at the antler-decorated tavern, every bivalve had been shucked and slurped. Instead I took a liquid repast in the form of Green Flash’s bitter IPA and Climax’s smooth, bright Hoffman Helles.
By 10 p.m., I was buzzard prey. I lurched to the subway, dumbly bypassing Ray’s and taking the train to Brooklyn’s
Franklin Avenue.When the witching hour draws close, my Crown Heights neighborhood is a dead zone of deliciousness.
There’s bulletproof-glass Chinese food and bulletproof-glass fried chicken. I opted for the latter at McKing’s (790 Franklin Ave., Brooklyn, No phone).
Its specialty is shame food, especially popcorn chicken served with matchstick fries.The combo costs $4.99.When alcohol has weakened me like Kryptonite, I lack the willpower to fight off the fowl lure. “I wan’ tha’ one,” I told the bored counterman. I pointed at the lurid picture of popcorn chicken.The golden orbs were round as vending machine bouncy balls.
What chicken parts create such circular flesh, I wondered, as my factory-farmed chicken and fries gurgled and crackled in the deep fryer. Ding, the timer binged— dinner served in a paper box. Outside, I crammed dubious meat between my molars. It was chewy as gum, tasting of old grease and tomorrow’s remorse.When I reached my house four blocks later, the box was crumbs and Rorschach oil blots. I clodded upstairs and embraced my girlfriend. She kissed me hello, once again thankful I hadn’t fallen into a ditch.
“Why does your breath smell like grease?” she asked, recoiling from my slick kisser.
“Sumpin’ I ate,” I muttered, stifling both my burp and the truth.