I’m taking a break after this week and I’m going on a little summer vacation! I’ll be traveling back to New York City where I lived from 1993 to 2012. While I lived there I had a blast and also worked on a lot of writing projects. In addition to doing freelance writing for The NY Daily News, The NY Post, Manhattan Spirit, NY Weekly, Time Out New York, Gadfly magazine and others (sadly...or maybe for the best, none of this writing is online, some of the clippings are in boxes in my closet here at MBIP World Headquarters). I also published, edited and wrote my magazine fishwrap and I wrote two books, 99 Beers Off The Wall and The Boy Who Would Be A Fire Truck. And then I started blogging and that kind of changed the course of my life.
I started my blogging career on a failed note. My first blog was called The Marty Wombacher Show and I set it up kind of the way you would a magazine. There were different parts to it, things were updated at different times and it was kind of a confusing mess for people and not a lot of people looked at it. Being a firm believer in learning from your own mistakes, I looked at this online failure and realized I needed to do a blog that was just updated once a day with a focused theme to it. After some deliberation (translation: Obsessing over it for a couple of weeks) I decided it would be fun to do a blog where I went to different bars around New York City and recorded my time there with photos and text. Then I decided it might really be something if I went to a different bar, every single night for a year in a row without stopping.
And so I started the blog, “A Guy Walks Into 365 Bars,” and it kind of changed the course of my life to where it’s been somewhat recorded and documented for the last six years online. I’ve been thinking about my time in New York and talking to old friends lately and I thought today it might be fun to post some highlights from my 365 Bars blog. And so here they are!
This was the night it all started for me. Otto’s was a punk rock tiki bar on 14th Street in the East Village. Bands used to play there on Sunday nights, so I thought that would be a good place to go and get pictures and start this year-long adventure. I was really nervous doing this because I knew I’d have to take pictures of strangers and kind of be in the center of this hurricane I was going to start building online. It went well, but being nervous I drank a lot and learned one lesson right off the bat, don’t drink a lot while you’re working on the post! Save it for when you get home later. Oh well, you live and you learn and I was off and running. One thing that did happen was I found it kind of uncomfortable talking to strangers, but was amazed that most of them let me take their photo for the blog. That part was easier than I expected. I remember putting this post up and having a real sickening and exciting feeling in my stomach when I hit, “publish.” Little did I know of what was going to come from all of this!
Sixteen days in and I was still kind of a nervous wreck before I would go out to do my nightly post. This is something that continues to this day and I’ve learned to live with it. It’s kind of a stage fright feeling and I get it before I do every post. It’s a sinking, sickening feeling that somehow everything will go wrong and the post will be horrible. This never really happens, but I’ve learned that it’s a fear that’s not going away so these days I just deal with it and know it will pass. This post was an important one because it was the first time that I went to a bar and it was closing, so I had to improvise and find another one. I quickly realized that doing this blog (and the ones that have followed) are kind of like doing improv. You never know what’s going to happen and have to be ready to do things totally different than what you planned.
I started going to a Sunday night dinner early on in the year and realized that it would give me another layer to write about and that was food in New York. I didn’t want the blog to just focus on drinking, but more the social aspects of going to a bar, meeting people, bartenders, waitresses and sometimes the food they serve. One thing that was great about the blog was finding new places around New York like this place. Keen’s is really old school New York and I’m planning on stopping there when I go back in a week!
Not every night went well on the bar crawl and this is an example of a night where a bartender from hell really ruined the evening.
Is this New York’s oldest bar?...
Or is McSorley’s? They both claim to be, but who knows? They’re both classic New York bars that you have to go and see when you visit the city.
Little did I know that walking into this bar would really change the course of this blog and my life somewhat. While in there I met Simone Weichselbaum who was a writer for the NY Daily News. We got to talking and she was intrigued by my bar blog and she took my card and said she’d pitch the idea to her editor for a possible story in the paper. Well, a few days later...
Simone got the green light for the story and I met her and a photographer at the classic New York tavern, The White Horse where she observed me doing my bar crawl thing, interviewed me and the photographer took some pictures. I wondered what would happen after the story came out...
Well on March 10th, 2010, the story came out and here it is online: NY Daily News 365 Bars Story. Things went absolutely berserk for a while after this came out. The U.P.I. Wire Service picked up the story and it went all over the world! I got written up on local New York blogs, out of state blogs, out of the country blogs and I was interviewed on the Australian version of The Today Show. Plus I did hundreds of radio interviews, had to keep working my night job and of course...
I had to keep going to bars! Port 42 is just one of many of the bars that are no longer in existence since I did the bar crawl blog. One thing I plan on doing when I go back is to go check out some of the places that used to be bars and see what’s there these days. I have a feeling it might be kind of depressing!
This night was memorable for me, because it was the first night I was recognized and referred to as, “The 365 Bar Guy.” I went in and the owner flipped out because he had been reading the blog and was thrilled I had stopped in. I remember thinking I didn’t like it as well because some of the spontanaity of being a random guy going to a random bar seemed to be gone in this post and I didn’t like it as much. Oh well, that’s the price of fame and no fortune, I guess!
I liked this post because in addition to going to a bar, I also got to interview John Strausbaugh who was a friend, writer and a former editor at NY Press. It was nice to do an interview in between all the bar stuff. Plus this was a failed attempt at going to The Mars Bar, but I would return there on...
People always ask me what my favorite bar on the bar crawl was and I always tell them: “The Mars Bar!” This post was a real lesson in not giving up on a post. I went there and everyone was a little cool towards me and no one would let me take their picture. The Mars Bar daytime regulars were a little leery of newbies, especially ones with a camera that wanted to take pictures of everything and everyone in the bar. Well, after waiting around and having a few beers and goofing around, the guys at the bar started warming up to me, I drew on a mannequin and soon an Easter Sunday party at The Mars Bar was in full swing! I ended up buying pizza for everyone and this was such a fun day! It was really a highlight of the bar crawl and it taught me to keep on trying even when it looks like a total bust. Lesson learned!
I did venture out of New York and the first place I traveled to was Cleveland to hang out with writer, Michael Heaton, who writes for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. You can see pictures from my post and you can read what the experience was like from his side of things in a column he wrote about my trip in the Plain Dealer.
Shortly after my trip to Cleveland, I returned home to Peoria for the first time since I started the blog and had some memorable stops at old haunts like Jimmy’s Bar...
And I went to a bar in Peoria I had never been to, Khaki Jack’s
And of course, I had to hit one of my favorite tavern’s in Peoria, Mike’s Tavern!
After my trip to Peoria, I stopped and went to some bars in Chicago for a couple of days, saw old friends including, Chloe, "Boris: and Brad and then...
It was back to New York City! One thing that was great about doing this blog and the ones that have followed is all the people I’ve met in my travels. I can’t possibly remember all the different people and the places I met them, but it is cool to look back online and see all the different faces and places and try to remember what we talked about. This stop at Molly’s Pub was memorable because I met the infamous BBC gang there from Baltimore! Gene had gotten a hold of me, told me he had been reading my expoits online and wanted to know if I’d meet up with him, his wife, Smoopy and their friend, Terry. We met at Molly’s and it was a blast and this was the first of many visits and nights out with the BBC!
Time moved on and the whole year is kind of a blur, but stops like this one are forever burned in my memory. It was great to meet Fedora who had kept this bar going for years. She was getting ready to call it a day and I’m glad I got to meet her and document the bar the way it was back then.
As the year wore on, I was getting completely worn out and just couldn’t wait to fihish this whole blog and project. However I did have some highlights at the end of the year and one was my friend, Biff coming to town to join me on the bar crawl!
A night later while Biff was still in town I met up with my Australian friends, Clacky and Shannon, my first international friends and visitors on the bar crawl!
Towards the end of the year I had to go back to Peoria for the Christmas holidays and one challenge was finding a bar that would be open on Christmas day. Well, my brother found out that a bar called, The Last Chance was open and so we went there on Christmas afternoon to have a few holiday beers and document my 350th bar. I was supposed to meet someone there who at the time went by the name of, “The Chief.” Well, “The Chief” flaked out and didn’t show up but he sent his friend Amber who I was more than happy to meet, because she was really cool and while I had never met this Chief guy at the time, I was sure she was a lot prettier than he was! I really enjoyed talking with Amber, she was a kindred spirit and I was kind of sad when she left because I figured that like so many other people I met on this year-long bar crawl, she’d be another person that I had a great time with and would never see again. Well, little did I know back then that I’d be living in Peoria three years later and our paths would cross again and we’ve been really good friends ever since! Great to have met you back then, Amber and thanks for all the friendship and fun we’ve had ever since I’ve moved back to Peoria!
After the holidays, I briefly returned to New York City and this was the last bar I went to before I flew back to Peoria to end this whole experience. I remember being so thrilled the whole thing was almost over!
On Thursday, January 6th, I flew back to Peoria to finish this whole madcap adventure and year and I was mentally and physically exhausted. I really felt like my nervous system was about to give out on me, so I decided to take a night and spend it at my parents bar in their basement and Jerry’s Bar was born that evening! It’s become one of my favorite Peoria bars!
This was the final road trip of the bar crawl for me! I went to Pontiac, Illinois and met my friend, “Boris” in his hometown and we went to Exit 197 and really had a great day and I got to meet his mom! Okay, one more to go...
This was a really weird day for me! I couldn’t wait to end this whole thing but I did feel a lot of different emotions on this day when I went to Mike’s Tavern with my parents for the final day of the bar crawl. At this point I was so tired and mentally mixed up, I wasn’t sure who would show up and I even said to my parents before we drove there: “Wouldn’t it be funny if hardly anyone showed up?” Well, that wasn’t the case and I was overwhelmed by the crowd that was there and the people that continued to show up through the evening. Lots of old friends, new ones and people I had never met before in my life. I was really glad I decided to end this journey at Mike’s Tavern in my hometown of Peoria. Thanks again to all of the people that showed up and special thanks to Mike’s owner and friend, Tony Ward, Tony’s not around anymore, but he lives on in our memories!
People always say to me that this must have been the most fun year of my life and while there were some fun moments, it was more work and constant pressure of a daily deadline looming the next day. I swore I would never do anything like it again. Then after a few weeks I realized I couldn’t stop and another blog was born! I’ll write about that next Saturday, now I have to go, I have another deadline tomorrow morning! It never ends! We’ll see you all tomorrow!