A new book documents local characters and the places they love.
“This is like my home.”
“I’m here three, sometimes four times a week.”
“It’s kind of a living room.”
“This place is where I can be who I am now.”
“The vibe, man.”
These are just some of the things Joshua D. Fischer heard when he went out into the bars and clubs and shops of Brooklyn, seeking out the people who are always there, and asking them: why?
For the past three-and-a-half years, Fischer has been collecting moments of intimate conversations with locals in their go-to spots, first as a column for New York Magazine’s Bedford + Bowery blog, and now in his new book, Meet the Regulars: People of Brooklyn and the Places They Love.
Fischer is very conscious of the image that springs to mind at the word “regular.”
“I know that someone could do a book called Meet the Regulars and it could be full of all these old, amazing, hairy, crazy men in their old-man bars, who have stories to tell of lives lost and loves lost and all types of bar fights,” Fischer says.
But he was looking for something different. Having lived in the same Greenpoint apartment for ten years, Fischer watched the neighborhood change around him: sleek new bars sprung up next to old dives; artisanal coffee shops faced off with the old Polish bakeries. “It made me wonder: who are the people that are hanging out in these new places? Who’s still going to the spots that my friends and I used to hang out at?” he says.
Fischer decided to find out. Sometimes, he’ll have a particular place in mind. He’ll walk in and start chatting to the owner, then mention his project and ask if there’s anyone he should talk to.
One of the first places he headed to was Black Rabbit, a Greenpoint bar lined with private booths affixed with bulbs that glow red when the patrons are in need of another round. There, he met Mari de Monte, a hairdresser whose kitchen looks into the bar’s backyard, and who loves the place so much that she got its sign tattooed onto her arm. “On the weekdays I can decompress here,” she told Fischer, once they started talking. “All day I feel like I’m the one taking care of people. I come here, and I’m the one being taken care of.”
But other times, Fischer finds the person first. If there’s someone he’s interested in talking to—an actor, an artist, a musician, a comic—he’ll reach out to them online and see where they spend their time.
Tinuade Oyelowo, a Café Grumpy barista and Bedford-Stuyvesant resident who also appeared on the first season of Girls, led Fischer to Bembe, an “unmarked, unassuming club” in Williamsburg. It’s an unpretentious but passionate place, and, she says in the book, its diversity keeps her coming back:
It feels like a reflection when I walk through the door. Not specifically skin color, but diversity like: queer, straight, white, black, Puerto Rican, Asian, South Pacific, West Indies, African…Even though we live in Brooklyn, a lot of times we kind of put up shutters to culture…It’s wonderful when you can come into a place and everybody’s experiencing different types of fusions of music and expression that’s so unbelievably raw.
Meet the Regulars does away with any sense of the conventional; instead, the book is filled with people “who have found their own way in, who have created their own patterns for themselves,” Fischer says. “It’s very easy to be anonymous in Brooklyn, but it’s not as easy to make genuine, human connections, or even to form strong connection to this place, because things are constantly changing and constantly moving.”
Fischer spoke to a retired firefighter from Staten Island who found a sort of family in the people who come to play at Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club; he spoke to a Benjamin Moore Paints employee and Detroit native whose twenty tattoos, all inked at Three Kings Tattoo, made permanent his connection to his new city; he talked to a stand-up comic whose runs through the Brooklyn Bridge Park keep her grounded.
“The beauty and irony of Brooklyn is that a lot of people have moved away from home to be here, but you don’t spend much time in what is actually your ‘home,’” Fischer says. “Here, you have to seek these spaces and create your own sense of home.”
Meet the Regulars, $19.99, at Indiebound.