Last Saturday night on Avenue A, post-college boozers were spilling out onto the sidewalk from a jam-packed Niagara. Watching drunken couples falling over each other in an attempt to snag a cab, I wondered, if the recession is so deep, why aren’t these people on Greyhound buses back to Rochester? In front of a brand new nearby basement speakeasy, Cabin Down Below, a burly punk with blue-tinted spiked hair was waving customers away. The owners were obviously confident that there’s plenty of money to be made this summer.
Downstairs, except for a ‘70s MOR soundtrack, it was 2002 all over again. Carefully scruffy alt-rock icons and a movie star relaxed to the sounds of Steely Dan and Neil Young. Oversized shot-glasses filled with Jameson or tequila came quickly across a small semi-circular bar—no charge. Hidden behind a bushy beard and black fedora, Devendra Banhart handed a couple of them back to his group of jet-set bohemian pals.The clique included the short-haired, stubbly cheeked Strokes drummer Fab Moretti and his movie-star ex, Kirsten Dunst, who was standing bobbing to the mellow music.The pair was wearing identical charcoal-gray cardigans, Dunst’s sweater pinned with an early-’80s New Wave button.
No doubt, in the lightning-fast downtown bar cycle, Cabin is the place to be this spring. That’s if you can get in. The three owners, Johnny T, Jesse Malin and Matt Romano—all East Village scene makers from different eras—toasted Lady Luck and threw back their shots. Malin and T go back to the halcyon days of Coney Island High and the two are currently partners in Niagara and Bowery Electric among other haunts.
Since Cabin is filled with famous types nightly, looky loos are not welcome,T says: “I hate people coming to see specific types of people, I find it disgusting.” I asked him if a Top 40 Tom Petty tune is a strange name for the elegantly wasted elite’s newest clubhouse.With a Fonz like shrug, the Jersey native admitted,
“You can’t call a bar Sweet Child o’ Mine.” In the back alley—the walls covered in graffiti scrawl—Morretti and a couple of friends were smoking butts. The Strokes drummer’s longhaired Aussie buddy, James Bellasini, was poking fun at the lyrics of Janis Joplin’s, “Me and Bobby McGee.” He waxed,“Nothing left to lose isn’t freedom, it’s desperation.”
Back inside, Malin—an ageless punk rocker draped head to toe in dark blue denim—was standing off near the door. The former D Generation frontman cut his teeth playing in hardcore groups in the ‘80s all along Avenue A, but now he seemed unsure of the speakeasy idea, saying softly in his Queens accent, “I have trouble with these elite things.”
I asked T how long he could keep Cabin exclusive. “It depends on how many people like you write about it,” he shot back.