I’m sitting on a LIRR train after a long day at work, not a bad day but busy enough to make me miss my manager…just a little. The train is filled with half drunk teens going to see some band, one of them pukes a little and a few people leave the car. I stay because I can’t smell it anyway, I’m getting a cold and I will be really sick in two weeks, but at the time I don’t know that yet. Still I can’t wait for the ride to end these little loud boys are annoying and I wonder how the lone girl among them can stand all the goofiness and macho posturing of these eighteen year olds. A little while later two police officers get on board and all goes quiet-Thanks Guys!
I got home later than usual and by the time I showered, dressed and got to the train station I was tired and stressed, but tonight I want to enjoy myself. The show is at the Mercury Lounge, I look forward to a cold beer and to see some good music performed by mostly un-signed acts. But as we finally pull into Penn Station I think to myself that I should try to take it a little easy this weekend.
Anya Marina is a singer/songwriter from LA whose releasing her second CD on Dec 9th. I first discovered her on National Public Radio on a quiet Saturday at work in 2002. The honest impeccable lyrics of her original songs like “Miss Halfway” and her soft lilting little girl voice, especially captivating on her heart breaking rendition of the Disney classic “Someday My Prince Will Come.,” was all I needed. I was instantly hooked. So I bought the 5 song EP that was available through the mail and her first full CD release too, both were signed personally to me but it wasn’t until 2004 when I finally got to see her live at the Living Room in the Village, the show was all acoustic and informal with many of her family and friends there to cheer her on, even a little girl ( a cousin or niece I think) was practically on stage while she played. I met her after her set and told her who I was, and how happy I was to finally see her live. Anya was happy and gracious to all posing for pictures with me and other fans and signing CD’s and shirts.
But now as I get into a cab when I tell my driver “Mercury Lounge please.” he stares at me thru the rear view mirror and asks me “Where is Dat?” in a thick Jamaican accent. Now don’t get me wrong I Love Jamaicans, I really like the way they talk and how they pronounce words like Bah-Nah-Na whereas we say Ba-nan-ah through our noses here in New York. After a long cab ride during which I think the driver is trying to rip me off, I mean first he doesn’t know where the place is located, and I’ve got to take time out to fish the ticket printout outta my wallet and tell him which street it’s on! So well alright I got a rookie. It is whatever it is so I sit and look out the window and listen to the news on the Orwellian TV installed in many taxi’s now to keep us all up to date on the world of Big Brother. We arrive by way of China to E. Houston St, he’s looking out the window for the street numbers and drops me off on the wrong side of the street cause it’s more convenient for him. So I cross the street hungry and am happy to find I’ve got two hours to kill before Anya hits the stage.
After spending 15 bucks on the taxi ride from hell I have to eat cheap, times are getting harder and money isn’t growing on trees. I walk down East Houston St past tiny bodegas and ATM’s and a dizzying array of food. The street is alive with people enjoying the warm early fall air, happy college students talking excitedly about school, tired blue collar workers on their way home, office people in suits on their way to a much needed drink, hipsters and punks, hippies and squares, the haves and have-nots crowd the sidewalks. I go inside the famous Katz’s deli but decide after seeing this place on the food network that it just too much food and to much money to spend, so I leave and find myself sitting down in Ashkara.
Ashkara is a Mediterranean place offering Falafel, Hummous, and my choice a Beef and Lamb burger with all the trimmings, served either in a fresh homemade pita or on a plate it comes with as many salad bar toppings and sauces as your heart desires. The place is small and kind of dirty but the smell of the food is as intoxicating as it gets and I enjoy the Techno music being played while I listen to the sounds of the street only a few feet away, there are few tables here and people standing against the wall to eat is common. The young man behind the counter cooks me two Ashkara burgers adding marinated onions and while I wait, he takes at least six more orders while his boss looks on from the street. This kid is cool and gets everything right. He puts Hummus on first, then cuts the burger into four pieces arranging it with care, adds lettuce then hands it to me. I add marinated cucumber and tomatoes and hot sauce and mango sauce. The flavors are incredible, the savory lamb and the earthy beef mixed with the spicy goodness added to the meat, set against the coolness of the vegetables and over all the hot sauce, tying the whole thing up. The warm soft pita is unlike any I’ve had before, it’s a truly great and filling meal…ultimately it’s a revelation. I’ve eaten Mediterranean food in a few nice places in my life but sometimes, just sometimes the small dirty place with two tables-is the place you want to be.
I leave Ashkara and walk back full but happy and I remember earlier in the day at work I suddenly thought about Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, I might have heard someone mention it on TV or radio but right now I’m too stuffed to think about beer as I come up on the Mercury lounge, I get ID’d and try to get my ticket at the door but the girl doesn’t have the stub, only my name on a list of internet buyers. I am disappointed but walk to the back where the shows are held without complaint. I mean what can I expect from a bar anyway, and an underpaid waitress.
This is an old brick and wood place, it is crowded and smells musty and sweaty, except for an occasional whiff of perfume. The girls very easily outnumber the guys here two to one, Anya always draws a largely female crowd. I make my way to the stage area just as the first band is packing up their instruments. There is a small mixing board on my right, and a small bar annex on the left where a pretty girl calls orders in to the bar thru a small window, and makes change while you wait. It’s a neat system to keep people from having to walk back and forth. The bar girl asks me if I want anything. I decide to wait taking in the scene, admiring the guitars of Blackstrap as they pack up. Later when The Pestilles are just about to go on, I decide to order a beer before they do, looking up at the small chalkboard above us I see that they have Pabst Blue Ribbon.