I never go out on New Year’s Eve. I consider it a sucker’s holiday and refuse to participate in it. Instead I like to stay home and write. But what to write about? That’s the question I pondered on this last night of 2013. Then it hit me, I’ve never written about my year of going to 365 bars in 365 days. So here we go!
The Weirdest Year Of My Life—A Guy Walks Into 365 Bars And That Guy Was Me!
A Guy Walks Into 365 Bars was the second blog I published. The first one was called, The Marty Wombacher Show and it was pretty much a complete and utter failure. The work on it was good, I just needed to learn how to present it properly on a blog. You live and you learn, I needed to learn.
The problem with The Marty Wombacher Show is that I approached it with a magazine mind, since that was my background having edited and published two of them in the past—People of Peoria and fishwrap. The home page of the blog had all kinds of links to different posts and I updated most of them on a daily basis.
I have a large mailing list and I emailed out the link to TMWS when I started it and because of this, in the beginning the numbers were big, at least as far as I was concerned. The first month I was getting between 200 to 500 hits a day! I assumed that it would just keep growing and who knew what could happen as the numbers got bigger?
Well I never found out because after the first month the numbers started to get smaller and every month they got worse. I was working my ass off on it, updating it daily with what I considered stellar content and I just didn’t get it. Why did people tune out? I actually knew the answer to that, it just took me a while to accept the fact that I had fucked up.
More than one person had told me that there was just too much content on it. And there were so many different sections, it was confusing and overwhelming to most people. Criticism is hard to take, but if enough people are telling you something isn’t right, the odds are you’re doing something wrong. Sometimes you need to swallow your pride and learn from your mistakes. So I sat down and took a long hard look at it. And I realized that yes, there was too much going on. It was confusing. I had laid it out like an online magazine, but people don’t want magazines online. They want something quick and to the point.
I decided to try and think of a new blog with a singular focus. One thing on TMWS that was always successful was a section I called, Photoblog. What this was, was a section where I went somewhere and took a bunch of photos and then strung them all together with captions. Out of anything I did on TMWS, the Photoblog always got decent numbers and comments. I decided that this would be the template for my new blog. I’d go out and do something daily and take photos and post them with fun captions. But I didn’t just want to go to random places, I needed a theme, something that would tie it all together.
I decided to go to one of my favorite bars in New York, The Stoned Crow and have a few beers and think about it. As I sat there in the bar, drinking a bottle of Budweiser and soaking up the charm of The Stoned Crow it hit me like the Cassius Clay punch that knocked out Sonny Liston: I’d go to bars and take photos inside and out. There’s thousands of bars in New York City alone. I could probably do this forever and never run out of bars.
Then I decided that I wouldn’t do it forever, I’d do it for a year. I’d go to a bar every single day or night for 365 days in a row. It was a little gimmicky, but I thought it had the potential to get press and maybe even a book deal. Money!
At first I was going to call the blog, “A Guy Walks Into A Bar,” but a Go Daddy search showed that someone already owned that domain name. Shit!
And then the following title popped into my head: “A Guy Walks Into 365 Bars.” Even better! I checked at Go Daddy and no one owned that URL, but moments later I bought it was mine. It was time to get to work.
I contacted my pal, “Boris” who had done a ton of cool artwork for TMWS and told him my idea. He loved it and I asked him if he’d design a banner to go at the top of the blog and he wholeheartedly agreed. This was shortly before Thanksgiving in 2009. My goal was to have the 365 bar blog up and running at the beginning of January in 2010, so I went to work!
I designed the 365 blog so that it was much simpler than TMWS. The main content would be visible as soon as you hit the blog. There was a few other links up at the top, but this way as soon as someone got there they could see the new daily post without having to search for it. “Boris” came up with a genius banner piece of art and we were ready to start the adventure.
Four is my lucky number, so I thought I’d go out on January 3rd, which was a Sunday and start my run of 365 bars on Monday, January 4th, 2010. Then the 3rd came and I was pretty nervous. I knew once I had started this thing it was going to be a shitload of work with a new and daunting deadline every single day for a year. Every day. I made a rule that if I missed a day I’d have to start all over again. I figured this would keep people coming back and it worked. Later I would curse the day I put this rule up!
So as I thought about it on that Sunday, I opened up a beer to soothe my nerves. Then I had another and then another. Pretty soon I was well on my way to a place where nerves don’t exist, I was getting plowed. I’ve always took pride in never writing while drunk and I decided that while doing my bar adventure, I’d keep it down to about three drinks in the bars so I could keep my wits about me and get the work done right. Well, that was out the window because I was already trashed. I decided I’d start the blog the next Sunday and opened up another beer.
The next Sunday came and I was just as nervous. I knew for this to work, I’d have to approach strangers to take pictures of them and I had no idea how people would react to having their picture taken in a bar by someone they had never met. I had never done anything like this and it scared the living shit out of me. One lesson I have learned in life is that if something scares you and you face it, more often than not good things happen. So I had just one beer and walked out down to 14th Street, hailed a cab because it was freezing as fuck outside and rode down the street to bar number one: Otto’s Shrunken Head. A punk rock tiki bar. That’s right, a punk rock tiki bar. As Cindy Adams likes to say, “Only in New York, kids, only in New York!” God, how I hate Cindy Adams!
Anyway, I snapped a couple of pictures outside of the front window and then took a couple of deep breaths and nervously walked into the bar. There was a pretty bartender behind the bar and she approached me and I blurted out the line that in time would become second nature: “Hi, my name’s Marty and I’m going to 365 bars in 365 days!”
She told me that her name was Lani and asked how many bars I had been to so far and I answered, somewhat sheepishly, “Well, this is the first night.”
Lani laughed and said, “Hey, you gotta start somewhere and we’re happy you picked, Otto’s!”
She was really nice and happily posed for me behind the bar. So far, so good! I ordered a tiki drink and then another and then I approached a couple sitting nearby.
I went up to them, gave them an official, “365 Bars” business card and explained what I was doing. They looked at me kind of like I was a crazy person (I got used to that look), but they happily posed for the camera. Then I approached several other people and no one said no! I was amazed, I took some pictures while wandering around the bar and then I proceeded to get looped out of my mind on strong tiki drinks.
I had set my alarm for eight in the morning the next morning and when it went off I woke up to a horrific hangover. I usually stick to beer and this is the reason. I laid in bed trying to piece the night together and then I looked down at my bag on my futon (I slept in a loft bed.) I was scared out of my wits that I had left my camera at the bar or in the cab I took home because I had gotten so shitfaced on strong tiki drinks.
I raced down the ladder and ran to my bag. The camera was inside. Thank fucking God! I took it, snapped a photo of myself in the mirror and then downloaded the photos and put the post together. Around eleven in the morning I published it, sent out an email, put up a notice over at TMWS and the first post was up.
I only had to do this 364 more times.
The first month of the bar crawl was no fun at all. I was constantly nervous and would feel kind of sick before I went to the bar. Once I punched out at the clock at work (usually around midnight), then I’d have to start my 365 bars job. And that’s what it was like—a job. I really was obsessed with putting on a good “show” the next day and would be nervous about approaching people and taking pictures in the bar. Plus I was constantly trying to think of angles on how to do things so every post wasn’t the same thing. Hence things like the “obligatory mirror shot,” and posing with a Guinness on top of my head were born. Then I’d go home, usually between two and four in the morning, I’d check the photos to see what I had to work with, then would usually drink a beer or two, go to sleep and get up around eight in the morning and put the post together so I could put it up before noon.
I learned that if you posted at the same time every day, people would come around at that time to check it. Very quickly, my life became this insane cycle of getting up, resizing and picking photos, writing an introduction, uploading the photos, writing captions for the photos, writing a review of the bar, then taking a shower, running some errands and then going to work and then after that going to a bar. I felt like a hamster on a wheel that was quickly spinning out of control.
I decided not to think too far in advance or it would really make me nervous. One thing that was happening was that the numbers were slowly getting bigger. One of the smartest things I did was to make a 365 bars business card. It seemed to make the whole thing legitimate to people I’d approach in a bar and it had the www.aguywalksinto365bars.com URL on it, so the next day they could go and see their picture on it. My idea was that maybe they’d tell their friends and a word of mouth following might start and slowly it started happening.
After about a month I started settling into a routine of waking up, putting up the post, running around getting personal stuff done, going to work, going to a bar, coming home, checking my pictures and then going to sleep, and then getting up a few hours later to put up that days post. It was a rarity that I got more than five hours of sleep on any given night.
But as tiring and nerve-wracking as it was, it was also a real adrenaline rush. I’d be real nervous before going into a bar and would take a couple of deep breaths open the door and after a while I kind of created a character, the 365 Bars Guy. When I walked into the bar, I became the 365 Bars Guy.
I’ve always been somewhat outgoing, but the 365 Bars Guy was fearless when it came to meeting strangers. After a while I found a good formula that worked well. I learned that if the bartender was into the idea, then most people at the bar would follow his or her lead and it would make for a good post. However, if for whatever reason, the bartender wasn’t into it, things could go bad real quick. And that happened more than once, see here and here for a couple of those examples. When that happened I’d go into an angry rant and it would be funny, but I knew that this couldn’t happen often or the humor would be gone and I’d just look like some pissed off asshole runing around town. Luckily, for the most part, bars and the people I met inside liked the idea and played along with me.
I always say that the blog was not only about the bars I was going to, but about the people inside of them and it was wild to be meeting so many people on a nightly basis.
Things were rolling along nicely and the numbers kept moving up slightly. Most days I’d get between 300 to 700 hits, which I thought was pretty good at the time. I figured I’d try and get some press after I’d passed the 100 bars mark. But, as it turned out, the press came to me.
On March 2nd, 2010, I strolled into the 52nd bar of my tour. The bar was Fontana’s, a large rock and roll bar with live bands in a back room. It’s located just outside of Chinatown. By now I had gotten the whole thing down to a science. I still got a little nervous right before I walked in to the bar, kind of like stage fright, but I had pretty much learned how to charge in, become the 365 Bars Guy, get my photos, talk to people, have my three beers and then get out after usually about two hours in the place and get home and check the photos.
I remember that this night I had gotten most of my photos taken—I learned to do this the first thing after getting a beer and get it out of the way, so then I could just get a couple beers at the bar and try to relax for a little bit. Which is exactly what I was doing there. I was talking to Dan the bartender, who was an artist and we were talking about New York and the art scene and that segued into talking about music.
That’s one of the things about the bar crawl which was crazy and that’s all the conversations I had with people. Since I had to take photos of strangers, it would often lead to a conversation and sometimes people would start getting personal, things about a relationship they were in that was going bad, something about their job, I met tons of artists and musicians and we’d talk about how frustrating it could get working nights and trying to do something creative while working to pay Manhattan-priced rent. I’d have these deep conversations, but I always knew that for the most part, I’d never see these people again. After all, I had to get to another bar the next night and do it all over again!
Anyway, on this night, I was talking with Dan and a pretty young woman approached the bar, so I naturally stopped talking to gawk at her. She started asking Dan questions about beer and being in my boisterous 365 Bars Guy mode, I snottily blurted out: “What, are you some kind of beer connoisseur?”
She smiled and said, “Yeah I am. You got a problem with that?”
I laughed and held up the can of Rolling Rock I was drinking and said, “Yeah, you’re making me look like a cheap-ass over here!”
She scrunched her face up and countered with, “Well I wouldn’t drink that crap if you paid me!”
We both laughed, she ordered a beer and I told her about the 365 bar crawl and that this was my 52nd bar I had been to in a row.
She laughed and asked if this was for real and I assured her it was. Then she said matter-of-factly: “You know this would make a great feature story for the Daily News.”
I told her I agreed and was going to try to get some press down the road for the blog. Then she told me maybe she could make it happen a little quicker. I asked her what she was talking about and she uttered the following magical words, “Well, I’m a feature writer for the Daily News.”
I immediately countered with, “Could I buy you that beer?”
She told me that her name was Simone and that she’d take a look at the blog and if she liked what I was doing, she’d pitch the idea to her editor for a feature article in the New York Daily News. We talked about writing and New York and then her friend showed up and she told me she’d be in touch.
I remember feeling that things might really get interesting if the Daily News ran a feature on the 365 blog but in retrospect, I had no idea! Simone got the green light for the story and I met her and a photographer at The White Horse Tavern on Sunday, March 7th. I did my 365 Bars Guy thing while Simone observed and asked questions and three days later it was a feature story in the New York Daily News.
Then everything got nuts for a while. The U.P.I. Wire Service picked the story up and it ran all over the world! Newspapers picked it up,TV news stations ran stories about it and I was blogged about everywhere from Philadelphia to New York to blogs who’s language I couldn’t even read! I was interviewed on the Morning Show in Australia—their equivalent to our Today Show. Radio stations from all over the country were calling me and I had to hide at work while talking to some DJ across the country answering the same questions the last DJ had asked me five minutes earlier. Madness!
I was also averaging about 25 to 50 emails daily from strangers all over the world and I felt like it was my duty to answer them. For awhile I really just didn’t have any spare time. Days and nights flew by like someone had pushed a “fast forward” button on my life. I started to feel kind of like I had lost control of pretty much everything in my life. I was really overwhelmed, but I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it, I had to get to a bar every night to keep this monster going.
My numbers at the blog went through the roof and I had to buy more bandwidth just so the blog wouldn’t go down. The biggest day I had I got over 40,000 hits! All of the sudden I had a world-wide audience and it was more than I could really comprehend, but I didn’t have much time to digest it, because I had bars I had to go to and be the life of the party inside them, get pictures, post it in the morning, go to work and then do it all over again the next night. And again. And again.
Since I was written up on so many blogs, I got a lot of hateful comments made about me on the internet and after a while I just chalked it up to jealousy and quit reading them. Funny enough, a lot of people would comment and say, “Oh this asshole’s just trying to get a book deal!”
Uh...yeah! I was always amazed by that. It’s like walking into a bar, seeing a band and saying, “Oh, those assholes are just trying to get a record contract and make a bunch of money!”
Yeah, I wanted a book deal and then maybe a movie of that book made! Sadly one never materialized! But I had no time to dwell on that, I had bars that I had to go to, then sleep, then put up a post, then work, then another bar, then work...it seemed like it would never end. I virtually had no personal life left. I was happy that the blog was so successful, but wondered if I could make it to the end. I was really feeling burned out and tired. I was kind of sorry I started the blog, it felt like a runaway train that was heading towards a brick wall at 900 miles an hour.
On October 13th I had been having a rough time at work and there was a ton of rush jobs that had to be done by first thing in the morning. I knew I was going to be stuck there till at least one in the morning. I was really burned out and I kind of felt like I was going nuts. I was up to bar number 277 and just felt like I couldn’t go on and do it anymore. I literally felt sick about having to go to a bar later and becoming the 365 Bars Guy. I kind of felt like I was on the verge of some sort of breakdown and the way I was feeling was scaring the shit out of me. It really felt like the walls were closing in around me. Between the stress at work and the dread of having to go out for yet another night and try and be the life of the party and take pictures of strangers in a bar just made me feel like running away and going somewhere and hiding out.
“Fuck this,” I thought to myself and I went to a computer at work, sent in a ticket to the SquareSpace support staff and asked how I could take the blog down so nobody could see it anymore. My plan was to take the blog down and then just hide for awhile, because I realized that I’d be pissing off and disappointing thousands of people, all over the world after it went down. Just thinking about that freaked me out.
About fifteen minutes later I got a reply back that basically told me how to do it, but then the person added, “Hey Marty, I follow your blog and would sure hate to see you do this. Really think about it before you do it. I’m really enjoying what you’re doing, maybe just go somewhere and chill out tonight.” Then he told me to, “hang in there.”
That note really touched me. I realized reading that how if I quit, I’d not only be disappointing people, I’d also look like a huge loser. I decided to move along and after work I went to this bar close to my apartment and decided I was going to finish this fucking thing and then I’d never do anything like it again. I didn’t know if I’d even continue blogging. I decided to take it one post at a time and kind of chalk it up to a years worth of stories I could tell in the future.
People kept asking me what bar I was going to end the bar crawl on, but I knew I could only end it at one place: Mike’s Tavern in West Peoria. It was my Grandpa Seitz’s bar that he was a regular at his whole life and I had a history with it. I flew back to Peoria and we had a great end of blog party at Mike’s Tavern and lots of friends showed up and people I had never met came as well. After it was over I went back to my parent’s house and collapsed. I just had to put up one more post and I was done!
The next day I put the last post up, got a ton of comments and then I flew back to New York. I went back to work and the first night as I punched out, I started feeling anxious and then I realized I didn’t have to go to a bar. I laughed to myself and walked home.
I got home, checked my email, opened a beer and I really felt uncomfortable. I had nothing I had to do. I didn’t have to go anywhere, didn’t have to write any copy, didn’t have to worry about taking pictures but instead of relaxing, I felt really anxious and nervous. I had forgotten how to just sit around and do nothing and I realized I didn’t really want to go back to that kind of a life.
The 365 bars experience really changed me and I realized I needed a daily deadline in my life.
I immediately started thinking of a new idea for a daily blog and I came up with the concept for, Marty After Dark. I’d go somewhere after work, but it didn’t have to be a bar. Also, there wouldn’t be the pressure of having to go somewhere, I could always do something from my apartment or write something. So there wouldn’t be as much pressure, but I’d still have that daily deadline and a daily dose of adrenalin rush.
After Marty After Dark ran its course for about a year, I started another blog called: Tripping With Marty. Then I moved back to Peoria and started this blog, which if you’re still reading this far I applaud and thank you for making it all the way through this epic tale!
Whenever someone asks me why I’m doing this blog, I’ll tell them I’m really having a lot of fun and I’m it’s the time of my life, but the real and honest truth of the matter is I’m doing this because I can’t stop doing it. I’d explain further, but I have to get ready for tomorrow’s post. So much to do and so little time. We’ll see you all tomorrow!
Special thanks to my friend and brother, “Boris,” who’s collaborated with me ever since The Marty Wombacher Show. He’s created great art for me through the years and contributes wonderful photos and stories every other Saturday here at MBIP. He’s always been my go-to pal to bounce ideas off of and without him, I doubt I’d have gotten this far. Wherever “this” is, anyway! Thanks, Brother “Boris!” Don’t forget to check out his radio show over at Woody Radio, The "Secret Weapon!"
And a hearty thanks to the MBIP Contributing Writers and Photographers, you’ve all done great work and added a great second dimsension to MBIP! I’ll see some of you at the next Contributor’s Lunch in a week or so.
And thanks to everyone who has supported my blogs through the years by reading, commenting and coming back every day. It truly means the world to me. I’ve made lots of friendships via my blogs, too many to start naming names, but you all know who you are and I value your friendship and support more than I can articulate in simple words! Thanks to all of you, happy new year and now I’ve really got to get going, I’ve got shit to do goddammit!