plies bar

1017 Avenue D
JULY 29, 2013



When Mars Bar shuttered in 2011 there was some concern that New York City might no longer have a grimy, disgusting bar. “What if there’s no place to drink where your feet stick to the floor?” people asked themselves in the late hours of the night. “What if there aren’t walls covered in thirty-one layers of graffiti, with a thirty-second in progress?” “What if there’s a place with more than two choices of beer and you aren't worried about being assaulted?”

Do not worry, dear reader.

Plies seeks to reform the reformation of the east village. It is a vision of sweaty, mustached, and possibly armed New York, with the kind of sunglasses that suggest a corrupt undercover cop. It is not a music venue, and it's only been open for two months, but its front door has been stickered to death, washed with urine, and then stickered again. What kind of stickers you ask? They are either dire sounding bands or dire ideas, and their sheer number is distressing alone.

“I liked Mars, but the problem was, it was too clean,” says bar owner Gary “Gravy” Ricks, with a meaty chuckle, “That’s why they shut.” Plies was supposed to be called “Piles”, named after one of Rick’s friends, but apparently Ricks was not paying close attention when he was commissioning their neon sign. “I like Plies though. It sounds like it’s short for pliers.”

I am mystified by why this is appealing.

“Because it’s like when you mermrnrnen,” he trails off into incomprehensibility, “Gemme the plies, I godda muhnahdahamana. Beneugmph.” He then pauses, turns his head, and belches, the kind of belch that you can see on a sonic level, one that smells a lot like a beer tap, so I decide that our interview is over.

Only a few brands of beers dot the selection at Plies, like faces in a police lineup. They stock Üptok Brau, which is named after a small village in germany that was perpetually on fire for most of the 13th and 14th century. Had the Üptok brewery been around at that time, however, rest easily that their watery, sudsy beer would have easily quelled those flames.

When I walked in on a Thursday night, there is music playing, but the jukebox is clearly broken, there is a small battalion of flies buzzing around, there’s a large puddle of hot sauce on the floor, and it’s not clear who the bartender is. A wirey form in the corner is mumble-rapping along to the music, which I recognize as not being in any way related to the song playing. And then, just when I think I’ve had enough, a guy walks in, dabs his finger in the hot sauce on the floor, and tastes it. I somehow prevent myself from screaming.

I am mystified as to why someone would create hell on earth. I am equally mystified as to why people would go there, willingly. “After I read all the health code violations, I just had to go,” a woman wearing a lot of stripes and lipstick told me. “New York’s just so safe now, I miss when it was crazy and no one wanted to live here, except for the people who made it great. When you could get mugged, or better yet, mug somebody yourself!” And then, joking, or more likely sincere, she makes several attempts to grab my wallet, so I run out the door, where there are people smoking, because even in this lurid deposit of fetid crapulence, smoking is forbidden. Why are they here?

A guy who I hope is an art student, wearing half a shirt (not the half you would expect) says, in a practiced lackadaisical drawl, “It’s just nice there’s a place that’s, you know, real.”

“Flowers are real too,” I say.

“Yeah, but they feed off of carbon dioxide, which can like, kill you. I mean, they actually like that stuff.”

“I just love this place,” says a small Courtney Love-ish looking woman, jetting an Old Faithful-sized plume of smoke into the air above her. "My apartment seems so much cleaner after I leave here.”

“It does?” her friend asked, pausing from drawing an obscene picture on the wall. And I would be lying if I said I wasn’t impressed by this picture, which was, I think, Maria Abramovic sitting before an indecent and spiral-eyed walrus wearing a trenchcoat. Am I wrong? The walrus part is kind of genius, right?

I was ready to leave, had been ready for some time, when my bladder informed me that I would be staying longer than I would really prefer. No, I thought, no I really don’t want to see the bathroom. Maybe I could just urinate on the front door like everybody else seems to have done. But my sense of propriety and more likely, morbid curiosity had got the better of me.

Behind a cracked door that was partially held to the wall with string, was something that was theoretically a bathroom. The floor was extremely damp. There was a mirror that had probably smashed itself rather than go on reflecting the indignities, and a pile of paper towels on the floor. The sink seemed like it had met something that it could never get clean. The toilet was cracked, and the seat had either been stolen or eaten by the toilet. And, most alarmingly, there seemed to be a hole in the floor, one that went a long way down, one that was about a foot away from the toilet, about the diameter of a basketball. You could easily get a foot stuck in it, or worse, it seemed like something large might crawl out of it.

I dropped a penny into it, and heard a slight splash after a long wait, and then, I swear, a coarse voice from far away said thanks.

It was here that I began to feel fear, not just the fear of frightening bathrooms, but the fear that man’s sins, waste, filth, and indecency outweighed every contribution to art, literature, drama, dance, and of course, food. It seemed to me that by using this bathroom, I was somehow complicit in this. But what was I supposed to do? Magically not urinate for the rest of my life?

I put that thought aside, and managed to complete the task at hand before a thundering of fists at the door signaled that it was someone else’s turn to experience existential dread.

The strangest, saddest, most repulsive aspect of Plies is that it has only been open for three months. What was it before, a factory for nightmares?

Let us speak no more of that night, instead let me tell you that a week later, I found myself in Cupola Cupcakery, not too far from Plies. I thought I had become used to these places of frosting and light, but it felt a little unreal to me. I found myself missing the grit and filth. The walls felt so unstickered, so graffiti-less. I found myself thinking that I wish I had a marker in my hand.

Two days later, I found myself looking for Üptok at my local grocery to go with some grilled lamb burgers, and of course it wasn’t there. I can say nothing else other than my living room is a bit of a mess right now, I let some magazines slide off the coffee table and felt no compulsion to pick them up, I left a pen in the middle of a book I was reading and didn’t have much anxiety about it. It’s taken a long time for me to throw away the scrap paper that my notes for this article were written on.

I let the reader draw their own conclusions.


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