Goodbye To All That

Written by Amre Klimchak on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.


It`s not as easy as it used to be to run a bar on the Lower East Side. Between the growing chorus of noise complaints from residents and the new intensity of the NYPD’s crackdowns on underage drinking, at least one bar owner who used to make money hand over fist in the neighborhood is looking elsewhere for sustainable businesses. If you ask Rob Shamlian, one of the area’s most voracious entrepreneurs, he’ll immediately expound on the problems he’s encountered as the owner of Fat Baby, Spitzer’s Corner, Los Feliz and Mason Dixon.

"The community is very hostile and the cops are a nightmare," he explains. "We get harassed nonstop."

Now he’s setting up shop in Brooklyn, and he’s just opened Spritzenhaus, his first bar and restaurant outside of Manhattan. Given the climate on the LES, Shamlian decided his energies might be better spent elsewhere.

"I’m done with the Lower East Side," Shamlian says. "I’ve had enough."

The years leading up to this decision have been tumultuous ones for Shamlian. The former photographer entered the business in 2004 after living hand-tomouth for years and tiring of it. Because he’d seen his brother Will’s success opening Los Angeles bars, Rob chose to follow suit on the East Coast. He zeroed in on the Lower East Side, an area with which he is intimately familiar.

"I live down there. I spend all my hours down there. I know the crowd," Shamlian says. "I know what to do there."

Or, at least he knew. Shamlian chose to focus all of his attention on a three-block vicinity in an area that the blogs have dubbed "Hell Square."

Shamlian’s first nightlife venture was the aptly named Darkroom, a low-lit basement den on Ludlow Street that became a popular party spot when it opened in 2004. He parted ways with Darkroom in 2005, and later that year opened another space, Fat Baby, a block away on Rivington. Its cavernous multilevel structure made it a magnet for the barhopping hordes, and it quickly became a neighborhood fixture.

In 2007, Shamlian opened the mechanical-bull-equipped whiskey bar Mason Dixon, which instantly became a lightning rod for local residents’ growing discontent with the unruly masses of drunkards that had increased in the area.

"It was supposed to be a tongue-incheek type of thing, ‘Take the piss out of a mechanical bull on the Lower East Side,’" Shamlian explains. "It wasn’t meant to be a serious thing."

Though Shamlian was amused by the mechanical bull idea, neighbors were not. The condo residents who lived above the Essex Street bar began a very public and protracted legal battle with Shamlian over noise concerns and other complaints, and he says he was never able to finish Mason Dixon to his satisfaction because of it.

"The condo board… threw me into a lawsuit before I even started buildout," Shamlian says. "It was such a race to get it open so that I wouldn’t lose my license, it never even came close to hitting its potential. I kind of regret ever doing Mason."

But at the same time that Mason Dixon was faltering, Shamlian plunged into the restaurant world with Spitzer’s Corner, a gastropub at the intersection of Rivington and Ludlow streets he opened at his brother’s suggestion.

"It was supposed to be a European-style gastropub, and it kind of morphed into an American gastropub," Shamlian explains.

The American focus seems to have fueled the success of Spitzer’s Corner, which delivers upscale comfort food, from artisanal grilled cheese sandwiches to Kobe beef burgers, and a selection of 40 (mostly American) craft beers on tap. He continued his expansion into restaurants in 2009 with Los Feliz, a three-level taqueria and tequila bar that’s named after a Los Angeles neighborhood. And thus far, Los Feliz has, for the most part, thrived. But investing all of his resources into one neighborhood came with a price.

None of Shamlian’s spots has been immune from police crackdowns on underage drinking in the neighborhood. After receiving citations for alleged underage drinking violations, Shamlian says Spitzer’s Corner had to be turned into what’s essentially a bar in the evenings and no longer admits anyone under 21 after 8 p.m. Mason Dixon and Los Feliz were both shut down recently for alleged underage drinking, and though Los Feliz reopened, Shamlian decided to close the doors to Mason Dixon for good after expensive new security restrictions were imposed. Needless to say, his outlook on the LES has soured.

"Los Feliz is great, Spitzer’s is great, Fat Baby is doing really well, so I’ll keep those. But the second they become giant headaches to me, forget it," Shamlian says. "I’ll go where it’s a little happier."

That happy place is apparently Brooklyn. He ventured into Greenpoint to open a 6,000-square-foot beer hall called Spritzenhaus at the end of April.

"There’s other beer halls in this area," Shamlian says. "But it’s kind of like building a better mousetrap. It’s a beautiful place. It should do good business" While a space like Radegast Hall and Biergarten, which is only a dozen blocks away in Williamsburg, achieves the feel of an authentic Austro-Hungarian beer hall with its weathered dark wood interior and wide selection of Eastern European brews served in massive steins, Spritzenhaus’ industrial minimalism feels thoroughly American.

Shamlian says the behemoth bar and restaurant was inspired by a 1900s Vienna train station, but it looks more modern than retro and appears to be made in the U.S., which makes sense given that much of the interior was handcrafted by local artisans. The most intriguing aspects of the space are the two walls of windows that fold up to transform Spritzenhaus into an open-air beer hall with a view of McCarren Park across the street. But the openness also means that Spritzenhaus has become the noisy, boisterous new kid on the block.

Spritzenhaus has 100 taps, but offers only 25 drafts (which included more American craft beers than international choices on a recent evening) that are repeated four times along the 110-foot bar that winds through the space. Initially, drafts like Lagunitas IPA ($6) and Kstritzer Shwarzbier ($7) were delivered in smaller-than-a-pint, 14-ounce glasses, but the glassware has since been upgraded to include larger mugs and traditional Weiss glasses. The menu of bottled brews offered more German and Austrian possibilities, and the list will expand over time.

And since no beer hall, Americanized or not, would be complete without sausages, Spritzenhaus’s new chef Rolf Weithofer, formerly the executive chef of Prime Meats, is rolling out a menu of bratwurst, pretzels and updates on traditional dishes like sauerbraten and schnitzel, as well as oysters, which will be offered mostly because they complement the beer.

Shamlian has learned a few lessons from his clashes in the LES. Spritzenhaus faces McCarren Park and is surrounded by warehouses on both sides, so the bar and restaurant has no nearby residential neighbors who might complain about noise. And thus far, the local police and community board have been nothing but friendly.

"It’s so welcoming," Shamlian says.

"It’s renewing my faith in authorities. It’s a whole different deal."

Next year, Shamlian and his wife are moving to Brooklyn Heights, and he says he plans to open additional spots in the borough, eventually moving all of his business out of the LES entirely.

"I’m going to phase out of that area," Shamlian says. "I’m going to get the hell out of there." 

>> Spritzenhaus 

33 Nassau Ave. (betw. Guernsey and Dobbin Sts.), Brooklyn, 

no phone.

Goodbye to all that

Written by None - Do not Delete on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.






Goodbye to all that




I was
lying in bed
at my apartment in Seoul one night, alone and thinking about
a woman I know. Twelve months earlier, the thought of her would have sent me
into arousal. But not now. I simply lay there, unstirred. My fondness for her
was unchanged. Her beauty was unchanged. But something else had changed profoundly.
Diabetes had caught up with me.


Diabetics
have trouble with peripheral nerves and with circulation in the extremities.
Together, those systems permit, or don’t permit, a man’s sexual response.
Over the previous few months, my fifth extremity had shut down. It no longer
responded. Suddenly, I was inactive at an age when many men were fathering children.
I had lost the ability to achieve erection. And with the ability, the desire
departed as well.


They say
that just before dying, one perceives a "life review." Something comparable
happened to me: As my capacity for response died, I reviewed my sexual history.
The recollections were not happy ones. Over the years, erotic drives had brought
me close to calamity, or at least serious difficulty, on an annual basis. Now
I understood why Sophocles said in his old age, "At last I am free from
an insane and cruel master!"


"Insane"
comes close to describing some of my romantic associations over the years. Did
I really contemplate marriage to a mental health worker as deranged as any of
her charges? What attracted me to a hulking giantess? Why did I have that intense
relationship with a self-styled psychic whom I once found seated on the living
room floor of my apartment, her hand raised to detect ethereal vibrations? My
experiences with that last lover–who once told me that my kitchen appeared
to be haunted by an entity resembling a spectral mime–would fill a book.


Events reached
their worst at a cabin in rural New England, some 20 years ago. My companion
of the moment got drunk, piled into bed with me and insisted I perform a peculiarly
invasive act, one the state’s dated Blue Laws could never have anticipated.
I complied as best I could. About all I can say in my defense is that the deed
occurred in private, between consenting adults and did not actually involve
shedding blood. After disengaging, I stood in the bathroom, shaken, wiping myself
off and reflecting on what had just happened. No merry quotes from Rabelais
came to mind. Instead, my thoughts were nearer those of the king in Richard
II
:



O…that
I could forget what I have been,


Or not remember
what I must be now!



Such scenes
replayed themselves, one after another, in my brain as I lay there in my darkened
apartment in Seoul. Though I did not exactly celebrate with Sophocles, the loss
of my libido was no cause for lamentation, either. I sighed with relief.


I later
discreetly mentioned the condition to a few friends and associates. You might
think other men would commiserate with a man whose capacity for sexual response
has vanished. Or you might be surprised. One of my acquaintances, for instance,
a very wise man who lives on a spectacular piece of real estate in the Rockies
west of Denver, replied, "Good for you! You’re free from a tremendous
source of trouble!"


Not everyone
has congratulated me on losing that burning in my loins, but neither has any
man actually said, "That’s awful!" or even, "Sorry."
Why not? I suspect that many men would like to share my newfound status as a
eunuch.



 


"Eunuch"
is the proper word.
Though still anatomically intact, I find myself in much
the same situation as the eunuchs of Korea’s ancient court–outside
the sexual circus, glancing in. From this perspective, how does our hypersexual
society look? One sees a world as bizarre and alien as a Rod Serling fantasy,
or Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. Rather than gremlins on aircraft
wings, however, or ghastly trees with human faces, one perceives… Well,
won’t you come with me for a walk through Seoul, as viewed through a eunuch’s
eyes?


My home
is near Taehangno (University Street), a boulevard known for its bustling nightlife.
Here sexuality is anything but subliminal. Midway between my apartment and the
subway is a convenience store where I buy the morning paper. Just outside the
store is a sign advertising a club whose initials have been altered to read,
in English, "SEX." Posters on adjacent walls advertise a production
of The Vagina Monologues. The posters show a young woman baring her teeth
in a grimace. Dentata, indeed. On a building nearby, someone has placed large
mannequins fashioned in the style of traditional Korean "gokdu" figurines.
One depicts a man riding astride a huge serpent.


Every time
I walk to the subway station, I pass young women trying to walk in shoes that
might better be described as crippling afflictions. Just outside the station,
a CD store displays a poster of a half-clad pop singer. One of the few things
she wears is an enigmatic expression.


The subway
ride is a study in sexual imagery. Posters show young women contorted into various
poses. A dominatrix stands over a supine man. A bare-chested youth with shaggy
hair and a come-hither expression advertises something or other. In one gigantic
ad–for what, I’m not sure–two androgynous young men with perfect
hair and perfect teeth appear very close to a kiss.


After getting
off the subway at Jonggak, which is roughly Seoul’s equivalent of Times
Square, I wander across the street to a building with a big internet room in
the basement. Here, I can check email. The inbox is often flooded with pornographic
spam or ads ("SEXUALLY FRUSTRATED?") for products that promise to
make a man into a walking sex machine.


I used to
work in this building. My job was editing publications to promote Korea as a
tourist destination; much of my work involved festivals. Promotional material
for one festival went everywhere. Its emblem was a jolly, unmistakably phallic
mushroom. That grinning mushroom is about the only cheerful memory I have of
matters sexual.


More typical
of my sexual recollections is the thought of a young man in San Francisco whose
neighbors had to listen to his screams as he was dying of AIDS, evidently in
the dementia phase. He had no one for comfort at the end. His mother denounced
him in unprintable language, and his lover, another AIDS patient, had passed
away a few months before.


Consider
also an American illustrator whose brilliant use of color I admired. He died,
I learned, of auto-asphyxiation in pursuit of an enhanced orgasm. The leather
contraption around his neck reportedly failed to release him at the critical
moment, and he perished. Can a man be called a martyr when he dies for an erection?
Not everyone would say yes.


Then there
was a Western businessman I knew in Seoul. His satyriasis destroyed his marriage
to a beautiful and charming Korean woman. His infidelity was extravagant, and
he made no particular effort to hide it. When his wife confronted him with the
evidence, he flew to the United States with their young daughter and used the
child to attempt extortion. Arrested soon afterward for child neglect, he said
it all had been just a joke. The authorities were not amused. He went to jail.
In a conversation with me later, his ex imagined his sex life in prison. "He’s
still young!" she said with a vengeful grin.


If a drug
had side effects like these, we probably would deem it a menace and have it
banned.


Ever grimmer
memories pass in review. One involved a friend–a handsome man with a splendid
voice and great potential as a writer and artist–who squandered those assets
on devotion to sex and alcohol. He found a partner who had the same preoccupations,
plus an inclination to violence. This paramour tried to strangle him one night
in a drunken fury. It has been years since that unhappy fellow contacted me.
When last heard from, he said he was contemplating chemical castration. He asked
if anyone could advise him on how to have it done.


Perhaps
the saddest case of all was that of a classmate from college. An M.D., he settled
in a small Virginia town with his neurologist wife. One morning in 2001, he
shot her to death in the kitchen of their home. Then he sent final emails to
friends (possibly as his wife lay dead in the kitchen) and proceeded to hang
himself from a tree. The motive? Sexual jealousy, I was told.


"I
understand his wife was getting emails from another man," one of his friends
informed me by letter.


Compared
to stories like these, a eunuch’s life is an idyll.



 


Korean
literature expresses
the pain of sexual desire eloquently in the 16th-century
poem "Bedroom Chagrin" by Cheong Cheol. Part of the poem might be
rendered freely into English as follows:



If only
I could free myself from longing…


Why must
the rain come down so heavily?…


My lamp
alight, I play upon the lute


And sing
a song of love to quench my pain,


While in
the background I can hear the rain.



In similar
fashion, so-called sexual humor now impresses me as little more than an effort
to mask anguish. Shakespeare’s sex jokes, such as those in Othello,
merely accentuate the horrors of "romance" in his plays. For that
matter, much of Shakespeare may be read as a cautionary tale about sexuality
run wild. He has the ruined Timon warn, for instance, against "melt[ing]
down thy youth in different beds of lust."


Meanwhile,
Marlowe’s "Passionate Shepherd to his love"–"Come live
with me and be my love"–sounds, to a modern-day eunuch at least, like
a used-car dealer’s spiel without the laughs. Take away erotic appreciation,
and much of Western literature suddenly seems grotesque, if not downright scary.


But "scary"
does not apply to my new life as a postsexual. "Liberated" is better.
The old fire between my legs is gone. In its absence, life is secure and pleasant.


"Don’t
you miss the satisfaction of orgasm?" some have asked.


Not really.
Other rewards have taken its place.


One is a
new relaxation in dealing with women. Now I can hug a woman without getting
aroused. It is amazing how much more stable and rewarding a man’s relationships
with women can be without the distraction of a tumescent organ.


At the same
time, appeals to sexuality have ceased to sway my judgment greatly–a beautiful
woman no longer makes me burn. About the most she can do is cause my insides
a brief flutter. She is a lovely sight to be sure, like sunset over the Yellow
Sea or the blue tile rooftops of Seoul under snow. But feminine beauty now lacks
the power it once had over me. My work does not suffer as a result.


Find men
who will talk candidly about their struggle with sexual desire, and you may
be impressed to discover how many men really do not want intercourse at all.
On the contrary, they fear it. From fiction, a barely disguised reflection of
such fear is the death struggle between man and octopus in Victor Hugo’s
Toilers of the Sea.


Hugo’s
description of the man about to be consumed by a ravenous, multi-limbed creature
of muscle and mucus sums up much of bedroom activity neatly from the male viewpoint.
(For a female perspective, see Germaine Greer’s famous simile about getting
attacked by an enormous snail.) Fear of that devouring monster, or rather what
it represents, is never far from masculine consciousness.


Take the
example of a friend of mine, a virile young man from Canada who once taught
in Asia. Tormented by a porn addiction, he feared it would destroy him. At last,
to remove temptation from pornographic websites, he disabled his computer’s
internet connection at home and ripped out some wires to make sure it could
not be restored. This act was a high-tech equivalent of castration. Though drastic,
it worked.


Men in such
straits may pray–literally pray–to have their sex drive removed. That
was my request. I would undergo such torture from lust at times that I remember
asking God, "Please, take it away!"


And that
was what happened. Diabetes, the leading cause of such sexual dysfunction in
men, delivered me from the jaws of the devouring monster.



 


Would
I go back?
No. This sea change in my sexual life more than compensates for
the bother of monitoring blood sugar and injecting insulin daily, and even for
nerve and circulatory damage. Better to live with diabetes and dysfunction than
with a raging libido.


Better still
is the discovery that I didn’t really want sex in the first place. I wanted
to be hugged and held, not brought to climax. A sincere, warm embrace from a
woman is worth more than 10,000 orgasms. That lesson, lost on me while I still
burned for sex, became clear only when my libidinal drive disappeared.


None of
this is meant to make light of sexual dysfunction or dismiss it as trivial.
It is of course a devastating experience for many men, especially when they
have been conditioned by a hypersexual culture to think that "manhood"
is merely the ability to impregnate a woman. Yet sex is only a minor part of
manhood and masculinity. Though inactive sexually, I am still considered masculine.
My loss of libido has not prevented me from holding a good job, eating and dressing
well, maintaining a cordial and comfortable social life. I am, in fact, far
more comfortable now than before, when a woman’s presence turned up my
thermostat.


An added
benefit is that I am no longer subject to the sexmongers–the corporate
entities that use eroticism to manipulate our behavior and spending. To estimate
how profoundly they influence your life, make a list of goods and services you
buy that have some erotic connection, from clothing and magazines to dinners
and drinks. Add up the prices. Pretty soon, you are looking at enough money
to buy a cozy home.


If you are
a man, there is a reasonably high likelihood that diabetes, heart trouble or
some other condition will do to you what it did to me. If that happens, you
may spend thousands of dollars on medication, surgery or whatever else you imagine
will "correct" the problem.


Or, you
may realize that problems are in the eye of the beholder. Why not view this
one from a different perspective? You could do worse than take the path of least
resistance and just accept the loss. As the urge subsides, you may discover
that you have lost nothing of lasting value. Life is not confined to the bedroom.
It offers rewards other than orgasms.


If you already
have lost the ability, be glad. The dangling sword, so to speak, can no longer
threaten your security and peace of mind. Take my word for it. Every time a
new monument is built, a new skyscraper is thrust into the sky, I am happy to
live in a world where such a tower, to paraphrase Freud, is just a tower.




..