I love fancy cocktail bars as much as the next person (actually, probably more), but my heart really lies with dive bars—dark, dank places that always smell like stale beer and attract a crowd that will verbally berate the bartender if their beer costs more than $3. Maybe it brings me back to my Spoontonic days. Maybe I want to take a shot of something questionable (cough cough Fireball cough cough) with impunity. And maybe it’s just because they’re the best way to waste a few hours on the cheap in a place that won’t judge you for wearing wedge sneakers and bare eyebrows (so pale!).
I first saw Raccoon Lodge while I was walking to my reservation for the 9/11 Memorial. I was already slightly bitter, because I had devoted the day to “me time” but had also told myself that this week I was going to abstain from drinking, as part of my detox/figure out what is going on with my insides plan. I got a coffee in defiance. It was a bad choice. But I left the memorial with another three hours to kill until Grand Budapest, and the siren song of Raccoon Lodge called out to me once more. “Come and warm yourself in the neon glow of my lighting,” it said. I wavered. “We serve weird shot and beer combinations,” it continued, as I gave it a slow walking drive-by, peeking inside. “We have BIG BUCK HUNTER,” it screamed at me and I was powerless. Also, I really had to pee. I texted Dom that I was caving and went inside.
Raccoon Lodge is surprisingly spacious. Also, eclectically decorated. There are fire helmets from stations around the country, due to its proximity to the memorial, and a harder to explain array of dingy ducks stacked up on a shelf behind the bar. (Don’t make eye contact with the very artistic drawing of a raccoon staring at you with its judgy eyes.) The ephemera dotting the walls provides ample distraction, but so does the people watching. OH the people watching. During my first beer, a house lager that tasted just as terrible as the bartender promised, there were only a few guys playing pool in the back and a handful of regulars filtering in and out. But when I upped my game to a Coney Island Mermaid Pilsner, so did the bar with its cast of crazies.
I was treated to a group of fratty bros, obviously lured in by the advertised special and waaaay too into leaning into my personal space. “Should we do another one?” “OF COURSE!!” At the other end of the bar, I also had the pleasure of watching a couple continue what had to be a day of heavy drinking, which had really reached its stride at 4pm. The female half of the duo tottered her way out before she returned, planted herself at the opposite end of the bar, and proceeded to fall off her chair. After I wasted a few dollars on a pitiful showing at Big Buck HD, a trio of different dudes claimed the game as their own and left me in a state of inconsolable despair.
But throughout the whole circus and rotating cast of characters, the bartender was gracious, fun, and only slightly forgetful. She bought me a beer, forgot I hadn’t paid for one, and thanked me for coming in when I turned to leave. And really, that’s all I ask when I’m looking to waste a few hours. Give me a seedy dive with cheap beer, and I’ll be more than happy to make a weekend afternoon disappear. Even if I can’t play Big Buck Hunter.