At a Tavern on Ludlow Street
“A SCHOOL FOR ALCOHOLISM”
The Tavern is open for business officially only on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Though typically and unofficially there are underground lap dancing parties happening late Wednesday night in the basement. The lights are kept dim no matter what happens. You need that to hide subtle stains from fluids. You can dance all night if you have to, but eventually someone has to herd the cats out the door and hide the bodies on the floor. The Mehanata Social Club is tucked away discreetly on 113 Ludlow Street on the lower east side of Manhattan. This is their second location. Numerous police raids and finally a raid which transformed into a brawling melee succeeded in burning to the ground the original location on Canal and Broadway. In an ugly incident that took place in 2005 the lights of the “Bulgarian Bar and Cultural Society” briefly went out. The new location is about six times the size over three levels. Surely it will not be the final location, given the tumultuous nature of the existing times. Sasho the owner has already begun planning an even larger Breuklyn location, a whore house in Kiev with the same name and a ‘School for Alcoholism’ in upstate New York.
At an infamous establishment such as this you ought to always know the names of the men standing watch or the women pouring your drinks. Or the people holding down of your bags and coats. Most importantly you ought to be cautious of the seductive forces marshaled via awkwardly inexpensive liquor and the black magic to lead you to things you ought not to be playing around with. Such as foreign persons in needs of papers. Or creatures that drink blood.
There might was well be signs on the wall telling you anything not tied down will be carried away into the night, your bags, your souls, and virginities of nearly every kind. Come to think of it, there are such overt signs hanging everywhere! Literal not figurative signs. One claims three teeth are needed for entry. One says anything not checked will be stolen. One says “get naked get a shot, get fucked on the bar win a bottle”. That is hardly a bluff, but the bottle is never top shelf stuff.
It’s a ‘Gypsy Bar’, they claim to the public which sometimes romanticizes Gypsies, but often does not. But Gypsy’s all steal. Gypsy’s will trick you with music and some dance, lure you for tarot cards and then steal you internal organs and you will wake up in an ice bath in Bratislava missing some elements internally, then die of blood loss. The name of this place literally means ‘the Tavern’ in Bulgarian. And it lives up to that designation splendidly.
You wouldn’t find it unless you were looking for it. The entrance isn’t loud and the clamor inside is well insulated by its system of layers. The Lower East Side area is a drinking dancing seven day a week shit show anyway for university students and the children of the upper middle classes. Mehanata is the club of choice for New York’s newly arrived undocumented immigrants from South America, Central America and the former Soviet Union. You’d only be looking for it if someone told you about it. Perhaps you’d hate them for it later, but very few people are not amused the very first time. There never is just a first time. But, in the New York wilderness a tavern of eclectic wilding foreigners and untamed domestic people dancing to the tunes of South America, the former Soviet Union, the Balkans and the Roma can draw to it both angels and demons by word of mouth. Since 2000 it has been surviving pogroms, police raids and venue changes via fire. The police department is doing everything in their human power from keeping the Breuklyn location from obtaining a liquor license. Sasho has been trying to open it for three of four years it seems.Who is Sasho? He’s of course the boss.
There are three floors to the Tavern. The website extols patrons to “meet their future green card holding spouse.” There is live Mestizo music. Live fire juggling. Bulgarian contortionists on Thursday alongside with Bordel Dali. Rafael and his business comrade Georgie who is from Bucharest, Romania. Or maybe he just says that knowing no Americans know any other cities there.
“But I’m not freaking Gypsy!” he declares. He’s getting a PhD in Computer science. His specialization, the tracking of petrol futures purchasing and predicting in relation to major airlines. The cast of characters around here boggles the mind.
The club has the look of a vast lawless pirate ship or a wilderness brothel. It is sometimes dim red and under the cloth tarps of the upper galley level which looks down with little tables in the dance floor. The main floor has a dance floor, a bar and a kitchen. The downstairs has stripper poles, blue light, a bar and an Ice Cage.
The Ice Cage has bottles of wall to wall Vodka, which is all the same Vodka, but when people pay $40 to enter the cage and slam that wall to wall Vodka orgy in Soviet officer uniforms; they don’t notice. Vodka drinkers of repute, do not go in the Ice Cage, which also sits above a hatch to the abandoned railways under lower Manhattan. So one can walk or take a private train to Breuklyn or New Jersey. That is also why the place is only officially open Thursday through Saturday, to facilitate that traffic.
The waitresses and bar tenders are skinny or shapely, all Post-Soviet Bucharest or Sophia girls just arrived recently though generally well educated and for now, un-indentured. Some claim they are ‘from Moscow’. But they are not from Moscow at all. They are from shitty little Eastern European towns no one has ever heard of. They mostly don’t stay long and the reason for that is partly because of the mental and physical demands of the work and because their boss is the devil himself. The club is only open Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Things that go on during the week here are private and mostly didn’t even ever happen. There are private parties in the basement you’d do well not to crash unexpected or uninvited. Like the one on Wednesdays which is sort of high stakes a gang bang contest. There have been cock fights, dog fights and also bear fights. There are a lot of meetings happening upstairs right before the place fills up in Eastern European languages that you’d do well not to hear. The musical talent is highly various. Normally three or four live acts a night on Friday and Saturday. A lot of live horns. There’s a rather Pall Mall esthetic of transcontinental bacchanalia.
The booking agent for Music is petite and elegant Viktoria Lynch often wearing the hat of a Soviet officer the shoulder length locks of her hair falling over well fashioned skirts or flowing dresses. She was born in the Catskills, but has recently gotten her New Yorker residency card much to her delight; eight years later. The primary live acts are Gypsy Jazz, Spanish Ska and Balkan mostly. Roma meets Latin American for the most part. You get dance hall and reggae tone periodically from the Selectors, but for the most part ‘the brothers’ stay out of the place. The doughty wine happens, but as international as everything remains, there are almost never black people at Mehanata. Which no one has a problem with except maybe Kawa Zivistan who keeps bringing them there? But, they have one drink and politely leave after meetings. For some reason the charms of the venue are lost on the brothers.
Since 2001 the Z.O.B. has made Mehanata its unofficial office and also its social club. It’s meeting spot and its drinking spot. Sasho allows all kinds of people to meet under his roof and being there has connected the movement to darker things. There is a power the club has to draw in the very worst and best of people. Mehanata is thus a fitting place for the Z.O.B. leaders to draw towards since many of the group are hardly saints. Its members are generally able to lumped into the categories of ambulance workers, criminals, sex workers and also some leftist radicals. Sometimes a cadre is two or more of those things.
The Balsa, the Wango, Rumbia, sometimes even a little Zouk are played by the various selectors, but ‘the brothers’ always immediately depart when the meetings are over. No one can say exactly why they don’t like the place, but they really don’t. But as it is a central location for all five boroughs, it’s remained an unchallenged haunt.
Sasho and Kawa allegedly go all the way back to 2001, but they don’t always remember or talk about all the events in between. The most popular disk jockeys are Raphael Rafael Contreras Lynch also called Selector Rafflex and Georgie from Bucharest also called ‘Selector Mishto’. As stated Romanian but “not a fucking Gypsy”. Recently booked is the bearded, crazy eyed Serb Adrian Jankovitch. The most famous of the current bartenders is moxy Martina Hella Dubreskaya. She has been here a good deal longer than the others. A black haired Bulgarian journalist, music blogger and BDSM enthusiast. She has the special constitution that a bartender needs to work the shit show around here longer than a month. Though many suspect she will quit soon. Perhaps go into Real Estate. Martina smiles at everyone in hate. She is technically speaking the first person to publish the work of Kawa Zivistan by putting his sad poems on her website. She regrets that she encourages him, but secretly likes some of his work.
Outside and inside is James Burns the feisty retired Fenian cop on ¾’s pension. They call him James White, because he’s white. After his ACL was torn chasing down a perp he retired to bouncer work. His partner is James Behemoth Brown Pererez a smart talking, burly Mestizo from the Bronx. They call him James Brown, because he’s Mestizo. Always outside is Slavi the stone faced brother of Sasho, but no one trusts they’re actually brothers. Until sneaking a sly grin the Bulgarian strong man collects people’s papers, cans their IDs and directs them to be retina scanned via this Illubadori device at the door which biometrixes all the guests. He collects the cash or the directs drunk patrons to use the external ATM which charges an extortionist ten dollar service fee, the highest almost in New York actually. The irregular admission charge never gets a smile, because Slavi doesn’t charge people he knows in money. Then he sneaks a sly happy grin, has a quick smoke and sometimes, only sometimes asks people for money to come inside wearing a black Soviet wolf fur ushanka hat except during the summer.
You should pay cash up front for everything. Unless you’re a card carrying regular. Giving them your credit card is simply a horrible idea. It means you’ll just keep drinking and very often, leave without your card. James White and James Brown are sometimes easy going on admission for just about anyone not over weight and female. The regulars never pay. The various mob tough guys never pay. The Z.O.B. members never ever pay. Sexy young girls never ever pay. The endless Korean bachelorette parties never pay except to ride the Gypsy Bus. The guests of regulars, mobsters, musicians, D.J.s, rebels and girlfriends of friends never pay. It’s between 15-35 dollars though if you’re just sort of showing up. Except on Thursday when everyone is in for free.
James White, James Brown and Slavi sometimes have to get fierce quick to squash the brawls which happen, generally around 2 AM, generally instigated by the Albanians, but often before and after. They can’t seem to keep the Albanians from breaking people’s faces over stupid things. But that’s part of their cultural charm some say.
Justin Toomey O’Azzello is ‘the General Manager’. He is full blood Fenian and has ‘wandering hands’ people say. He is quite jovial and likes to tell elaborate stories about his days in the Air Force flying bombing missions over former Yugoslavia. He blames his flirtations with alcoholism over the years on bombing runs he inflicted over Bosnia. But Justin was never in the air force or ever in Bosnia. His hands do wander though. Recently he has taken up painting. Some say he’s Sasho’s top Capo.
The owner of this place is a fearsome Bulgarian half Ukrainian Ivory named Sasho, but is real name is Alexander Dmitrievich Perchevney. He was born in Kiev, lived in Belaya Tserkov, Ukraine and moved to Sophia, Bulgaria before arriving here in 1992. He used to be a dentist. He used to be a person of importance in the now defunct U.S.S.R., in the Inner Party. He thus has something of soft spot for revolutionists. The debaucheries of fallen men too. As well as a hard spot for undocumented woman of theatre. Misha Kishbivalli, the long haired millionaire playboy from Georgia also is his silent partner. No one ever knows of asks what Misha does for a living. But the answer is blood diamonds. The Mehanata “cooks” are all from the tropic of Capricorn but nothing is ever very good eat except the beet soup or the Bulgarian salad; cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and pepper and white cheese. The feta cheese over fries is pretty safe too. Some type of Borscht which is rumored to sometimes contain menstrual blood. The pork dishes are outright made of people.
Sasho’s wife Tanya isn’t the cook anymore. It’s always undocumented Mexicans Sasho brings on over the years through the under tunnels. They say the Breuklyn venue, when it opens, will have ‘traditional Bulgarian food’, but no one knows what that means exactly. Tanya is not a vindictive person, but she cannot stand this ‘so-called Kawa Zivistan’. There is very valid reason for that contempt, beyond him being something of a trouble maker. They have history in other lives.
“Stop cooking people and more people would eat here,” Kawa once suggested.
“Stop being a fucking Democratic Confederalist, Blat and Daria will perhaps date you, yet again,” was Tanya’s response.
It is rumored, also that there is vast tunnel system running from under the Tavern to multiple places unknown. Some nights, Misha Kishbivalli has pontificated outside of the club with clearly manic eyes that an ‘American engineered mega tunnel system runs under the entire country in case of insurgency, general emergency or nuclear winter.’ The traffic around here is always hard to predict. ‘Of course I’ve been to camps’ Misha exclaims, ‘let me tell you, one time I followed the tunnels all the way back to Bulgaria!’
There are tall glass pitchers of apple cider ginger vodka that sit atop the bar, sitting there for haShem only knows how long. There is a sign informing people that “get naked get a shot, get fucked win a bottle” and people seem to win all the time. Also the rule that patrons ‘must have at least three teeth to enter the establishment’, that is untrue. You just need to have cash money. Preferably American type. Or be vouched for by a regular. But, things are always pretty fucking negotiable.
The music is playing loud at the Mehanata Social Club where Daria Andreavna makes eyes then orders a Vodka based energy drink confection. She then slides up to Kawa at the bar. He is wearing a black suit this time. A week since his death, no one acknowledges or recognizes them.
“I thought you were dead,” Kawa says.
“Martyrs never die,” Daria replies and she winks.
“It seems that we have found each other again,” she whispers.
“You completely misbehaved I dare tell you,” he says, “you got us both killed yet again. This time for true bullshit.”
“I was bad. Bored? Rude should I say? I am told, the other night, I insulted your hospitality, greatly.”
“That you certainly did.”
“What are you drinking,” she asks.
“Astika,” he replies. The Bulgarian beer that is never in stock, hasn’t been in stock since 2001, but he always asks for it. Knowing they one squirreled away.
She catches Martina’s attention, and get him his drink. Martina winks at her. One man’s hot commodity, still is the cheapest drink in the house.
“So,” she whispers again, “Cheers. I have no memory of anything last weekend. Forgive me for that. I don’t even know what I did. Or didn’t do, might have done.”
“You remember nothing?”
She just gives him a coy but devilish smirk. And she shakes her head.
“I drink a lot for fun. I don’t always remember my Friday or my Saturday nights. Outside work, where I also drink the week gets interrupted by school, and then I party hard on the days off. I was told I was really bad to you. So, I’m saying the sorry. For the being of bad. What are you really drinking? This is our custom. Astika is shit,” she says.
“Nothing? No recollection?”
“No nothing at all. Oh, okay,” she smiles at him, “you were wearing a suit that’s a different color from the suit you’re wearing now, this I remember.”
Kawa is now in a black suit. The night she almost killed them last it was white linen. It’s almost always a cheap suit or a blue uniform with him.
“You never acted all that drunkenly. You were calm and in control throughout, your, shall I say, outbursts. My friends have told me that it’s too late to stop your vodka calamities from unfolding sometimes. But, you nearly killed us. And you bit me,” he says showing her the red ring around his index left finger.
“Well we all have our demons in there, don’t we? I’m good at drinking. Until I sometimes fall down. I fell down those steps one night,” she says pointing to a long downstairs plummet into the downstairs floor where the Ice Cage is hidden.
The Ice Cage is a freezer box in the basement where people pay forty a head to slam wall to wall cheap vodka over a period of two minutes. It never ends well for those who get in that cage. There is perilous flight of stairs down to the basement where they keep the stripper poles and the blue lit fuck cage by a second bar and dance floor.
“That looks like if would hurt,” he replies, “if you remembered it”.
“I don’t remember it,” she smiles wide and seductively.
But that’s a silly thing to say. Seductively. Dasha is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. Her proclivity for homicide aside, she is fascinating. Describing just how beautiful she is almost doesn’t fit in a later play he could end up writing. Her golden locks are like a lioness. Her eyes are capable of quick swing between fierce, curious and loving. She loves to hear men say it, how beautiful she is, but beauty isn’t where a man falls from when he falls from the heart not the groin. Beauty is a thing of lust. It has no bearing on love when that love is real love and not lust with imagined feelings. Love is energy, a wave crashing over you. Kawa has drowned several times before. He’d be very careful to use the word again. In that regard he is reckless to no end. He feels an attraction and can’t comprehend it, must be love. Previous formula for the same emotion dictated that whatever woman resisted his affections the most adamantly and then let down her guard to an elegant seduction of deeds and art, must be love. There were loves at first sight, or interaction as well as friendships that became romances and he was unafraid to say the words again. The words often came out without his permission.
Overtime several women had accused him of bastardizing the loaded phrase via serial usage. There were over a dozen women he’d uttered it to over the course of his 28 years. Generally after the conquest of kisses, but to a couple stupidly even before.
They were all very different women of course and they all brought out very different rolls to his emotional dice. Sides to his coin being a limited idiom. Supposedly in popular fictions man or woman is supposed to have only one true love in a lifetime, to marry them or be parted from them tragically. So Kawa was working hard by that standard, which truly in real life it can never be that simple, that limited.
“You’re really something to write about,” he says.
“Absolutely I am. And I never say sorry to men, but Rafael said he would cancel his friendship with me if I didn’t say sorry to you. Apparently I underestimated that you are the favorite host. The dashing revolutionary saint. The darling also of the owner. The grandeismo! Wait, I’m not sure what that word means blat! You’re great. Also as the confidant of Rafael Rafael and Viktoria, you should become my confidant too.”
“I’m just Kawa on my good nights.”
“And on the bad nights? Tell me some of your other names,” she whispers.
“Zachariah, Valera or Vasyli Pveada, or, wait, wait, my memory is growing back, perhaps your papers really say: Sebastian Adonaev! Ha! A royal victory? Where did you concoct these strange and slightly atrocious monikers? Moniker, is that the right word?”
He nods slightly.
“I’m Kawa when the drinks flow and the desire to dance returns to my hard hips. All other times I’m at war. With myself and my nature, with a world of sheep and a den of wolves. In such circumstances I require a hard Russian name, and the luck of a royal victory.”
“Hmm. Well it sounds ridiculous the way you say it. I’ll call you Valera, highly sparingly, it’s an insult you know! Some girl insulted you and you made it your Russian name. We can get you a new on. But, Kawa is okay too. I’ll see what rolls better off tongue. All that other stuff, well I have no idea what you’re talking about.
“Martina, two shots, Russian Standard please,” Daria proclaims dropping another twenty on the bar. Martina the bartender comes over and gives Dasha a little wink again. She pours them out.
“This is sorry alright,” she smiles “I have said the words sorry! Now I again reserve the right to be rude to you and forget about it later. Fair game, yes? You got two drinks.”
He looks deep into her blue eyes and gives a half smile wondering how much she really remembers. In her eyes he sees someone looking out at him below the swagger of her posture, behind her beauty is a much older beauty.
“Well aren’t you impressed with my new manners?” she asks
I find you quite a bit stunning, he thinks and almost says.
“Of course I am.”
“What are you drinking next?” she asks.
They clink the shots and she proclaims, “Nazdrovia!”
She drinks like a fish, but really she just drinks like a Russian.
“Astika,” she orders for him.
She has years of recent training in anticipating the needs of men. By realizing those needs controlling them. And she thinks, what terrible piss but of course she orders him another one from Martina. The raven black haired Bulgarian bartender who knows exactly what she’s doing. Since Daria never buys men drinks. Because Russian apologies are based on acts not words.
“Are you coming to our little festival?” Daria asks him almost casually.
There will be a four day Bohemian Festival happening Labor Day Weekend where all manner of fuckery will take place in a park in Queens called the Onderdonk Public Historic Fields. Sasho the owner had let Victoria allow Kawa do a benefit concert for their Haiti efforts at Mehanata a month ago. So a week from now Kawa and his E.M.T., Paramedic in training comrade Jared Forgetter from Kalifornia will be freelance E.M.T.s covering the first two days of festival.
“Wait,” she pauses.
“You are working the festival as our paramedic,” she says as she presses her palm to his side burn and face side.
“Sharp as a dagger you are dorogaia,” he smirks.
She smiles with big bright eyes. Who the fuck taught you that word, she thinks.
“Don’t call me dear ever again, I’m not so old! I’ll alert you that I may well come to some of that festival and if I fall down, drunk, I will ask for very intimate and professional service.”
“Hand pressed ice,” he promises reaching for her waist then thinking again.
“Hand pressed everything,” she demands.
“It’s at the service of all attending,” he declares.
“You are a true servant of the people,” she mocks with a wink.
“Dasha, you’re a tough act to follow.”
“You’re gonna keep calling me that are you?”
“That a problem?”
“It’s rather intimate, I don’t know if we know each other like this or that.”
“Well I suppose we can work on that over festival.”
She smiles a lovely, practiced smile.
Kawa, or whatever stupid name you’re calling yourself tonight. Press me best you can. The risk is completely yours not mine.”
A song about the great and noble Commandant Che Guevara by the Buena Vista Social Club comes on and she thrusts herself into his arms for a last dance. They take the floor to themselves.
“I knew you back in Cuba,” she whispers in his ear.
“I’ve never been to Cuba,” he replies with a stone face.
She Latin sashays with him across the dance floor muscling out the other couples with her buxom way. She’s part crass and part wonderful. She lets him lead and he does a fairly good job under pressure to keep up. It’s been over a year since he’s danced with a woman of any substance.
“You dance like you’re actually from the Caribbean,” she says to him.
“But I’ve never been to Cuba,” he repeats.
He dips her slightly. She’s a gorgeous powerful woman who will always get what she wants in the end so it seems. Except perhaps happiness which no power or money can so far buy.
“You’ve gotten much better at playing an Amerikansky radical,” she tells him in Ivory language. “You are even at better at playing a Russian courtesan,” he replies and they dance the rest of the night.
It is past 4 am now and efforts begin to clear the worst kind of rabble out the tavern have begun. Only card carrying regulars and lovers of staff can remain and light things up or pound things down. It’s now with the storm shudders sealed just over two dozen left lingering around the bar. Smoke them if you got them. They count out the cash on the bar. For some reason, with almost no music, drunk as hell, Kawa and Daria are still dancing. Slumped into each other.
“Right never on schedule,” says Justin Toomey O’Azzello to Sasho, the burly owner smoking a cigar at the end of the ground floor bar passage way, packed up with intoxicated core circle patrons, tight except around his circumference.
“Hasn’t changed his cap or tune much in ten years,” Justin notes.
“I know him of course,” Sasho says without looking up, “with or without the ridiculous peasant cap. He’s been the same good man for over a decade. Dependable killer. Knocked the fuck around in Ayiti, that is for sure.”
“He’s dancing with Daria Andreavna, good for him! She’s got great big ones for him.”
“He’s always dancing with Daria,” replies Martina, “or at least trying to dance with her anyway.”
“You’re thinking of…” notes Justin.
“No my O’Azzello. I’m thinking exactly what I mean to be thinking. He’s always dancing with my Dasha right before things get interesting around here. And it sure will get interesting fast.”
“They just met boss,” says Martina.
Sasho almost yells,“You’re thinking of things three dimensionally and I am thinking of things fifth dimensionally, even sixthly or seventhly and I know that when those two dance. Fucking trouble. Niggers with fire and arms in the streets. Illubadori mind games. Decapitations on camera and lynchings to boot. Lynchings I say! Gays being flung of roof tops! And lots of piles of burning bodies. Walking dead and fucking flying robots. It’s time to call up all our troops, every single man to the front.”
Justin sometimes suspected the boss was fucking insane, but the old man had a gift for utilizing that insanity. The lights come on and the remaining guests not vouched for are herded like drunk cats out the secondary exit on to Ludlow street until no one is left inside but the staff, a handful of regulars and of course Sasho with his cigar.
Daria and Kawa wander out into what’s left of the night on the Lower East Side.
Out of the corner of his eye Sasho notices the mini Mexican weight staff are carrying the body of a man out of the tiny room upstairs where people go to fuck whores, or their drunk lady girlfriends, or college students. Or, he supposed less frequently, but evidently in case tonight; kill a man, drain his blood and empty his pockets. A little room to the very back of the second floor mezzanine. You can fuck or even murder at the top of your lungs and no one would know. Of the four little Mexicans none are taller than four feet a piece and they must carry drag the body down the stairs. The corpse is pale from exsanguination, being bled totally dry.
“Into the soup or the soap?” asks little Enrique from Monterrey in Spanish.
Sasho nods. “Let the dead keep eating the dead, like they do out in the colonies.” James White and James Brown sit with their drinks in near silence. Tanya just counts money. Martina counts more money with a smoke in her mouth for some reason naked as they day she was born. Justin Toomey the General Manager sits on the bar next to Sasho wondering how many days the Tavern in its current incarnation has left above ground.