Clayton Patterson has lived in the Lower East Side of NYC for the past 35 years and has run his Clayton Gallery over that same period of time. He created the Tattoo Society of NYC. He was the one who recorded all the mayhem during the Tomkin’s Square Park riots of 1988 – something that was not at all commonplace in the era before mobile technology. He is the epitome of what people describe as a ‘downtown bohemian’ from the hey day of downtown NYC scene in the 1970s. He was and is an agent of the underground creative scene that made downtown NYC, well, downtown NYC. But the NYC he once knew and loved has disappeared and he has recently decided to move to (of all places) Austria:
If the notion of a New York fixture like Mr. Patterson moving to a chalet in the Alps struck some in his circle as unfathomably strange, it nonetheless possessed a certain logic. There exists in Bad Ischl (Austria), Mr. Patterson contends, a creative community of artists, writers, tattoo designers and musicians that “is very much alive.”? Then, too, he happens to be big in Austria, unlike in New York. “They love me over there”? he said. “They think of me as America’s No. 1 underground photographer.”?
Still, as the news of his retreat leaked out, the downtown avant-garde shuddered with amazement and despair. Clayton is the neighborhood, or what’s left of it,” said Ron Kolm, a poet, editor and bookseller who once worked at the Strand with Patti Smith. “I guess I always figured that he’d be the last one standing, surrounded by tall buildings. This really is the end of an era.”?
CBGB goes away. Grey’s Papaya goes away. The Knitting Factory goes away. The story goes on and on. Yes, nothing lasts forever but maybe it is true that the real downtown vibe of NYC has also moved to Brooklyn.
An article from yesterday’s NY Times titled Comfort From the Cold Winds about the one and only McSorley’s brought a little tear to my eye. It also reminded me that I need to get back there soon. It has been way way too long, my old Irish friend.
Beyond the greatness of the bar, it’s beer, and it’s unrivaled atmosphere, McSorley’s great little secret has always been it’s food. After several lights or darks with your oldest drinking buddies (or the newest ones you just met after being thrust down at one of those scarred wooden tables), bellying up for the McSorley’s burger & steak fries would make the same meal at Five Guys or Smashburger seem downright partisan. I’m not saying it’s the greatest meal you will ever have, but paired with the atmosphere, it is tough to beat.
Whenever I knew there was a “McSorley’s Virgin” in the mix, I would always push the Mustard and Saltines hard. The presentation of the Mustard was always something to behold. It was just slopped into a extra beer mug, filled halfway, with a flat wooden spoon and crusted mustard on the lip of the mug. Hardly sanitary but it just fits so well sitting there in the middle of the ancient, spilled upon wooden table. Having the mustard for the first time was a true initiation into the wonder and old time history of the bar, as the article so eloquently puts it:
Go easy with that tub of yellow mustard. It’s full of Colman’s, and a heaping spoonful of this British staple can unleash a saloon brawl on your tongue.
One last McSorley’s memory to share: I was there many moons ago with several friends from my undergraduate days at Syracuse. I think that visit to McSorley’s was part of a bachelor party. As can only be done at McSorley’s, we ended up sharing a table with some intimidating looking, leather clad bikers. Several fists full of lights and darks later, one friend of mine was going toe to toe in a drinking contest with the biker dude introduced to us as “Porkchop”. It was just a beautiful scene.
The “clean” wishbones hanging at McSorley’s Old Ale House in the East Village, NYC
On a quiet April morning this past weekend, a sad event took place at the legendary McSorley’s Old Ale House. If you have been to McSorley’s down in the East Village, you may have noticed the chandelier above the beer taps…you know, the one that had inches of dust on it and numerous wishbones, also caked with layers of dust accumulated over the years. Â You know you were always curious but didn’t dare go near them. It wasn’t the most appetizing sight, but it was part of the charm and legend of this old ale house. Well, this past weekend the NYC Health Department forced the hand of the proprietor of McSorley’s:
So, with heavy heart, the proprietor, Matthew Maher, 70, climbed up a small ladder. With curatorial care, he took down the two-dozen dust-cocooned wishbones dangling on an old gas lamp above the storied bar counter. He removed the clouds of gray from each bone. Then he placed every one of the bones, save for those that crumbled at his touch, back onto the gas lamp, where, in the context of this dark and wonderful establishment, they are not merely the scrap remains of poultry, but holy relics
So the dust is gone, but the wishbones remain. Mr. Maher treated the dust with reverence, placing it all in a bag and taking it home with him to archive it as another relic of the McSorley’s legacy. But again, on a broader scale, a tiny bit of the story and uniqueness of NYC has been taken away.