Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Drinking Liberally - What's This All About?

Here and there, we've posted about Drinking Liberally. What is it? Well, here's the latest announcement:

Hello Lovely Liberals!

Please join us this Friday at Queens Drinking Liberally, March 13th from 7:45 pm onwards, at the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden in Astoria, with myself (Stephanie) and Donald Graff as your hosts.

We will likely be meeting at tables in the dining area in the basement, but if the weather is nice, we may be outside.

This week we will have a special guest joining us: Matthew Brunner NYC Program Organizer for the Empire State Pride Agenda, NY's largest gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender advocacy group. This organization does community organizing and outreach surrounding the Marriage Equality Bill, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, and the Dignity For All Students Act. So come meet Matthew, have a pint, get involved.

The Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden is at 29-19 24th Avenue, Astoria, NY. It is closest to the N/W train stop at Astoria Blvd (1 stop before the last). The Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden is the only old-fashioned outdoor beer garden in the city.


Jeff said...

It is stuff like this that is ruining the Beer Garden. It’s not the politics of this event I am referring to; rather, let me make a more general comment on what the Beer Garden has become.

Up until about five years ago, the beer garden provided a relaxing, laid-back atmosphere in which to have a good beer and enjoy the company of friends. It was a haven, a unique place to step outside the hustle and bustle and get away from it all. It was peaceful. Beer gardens used to be quite common in NYC, but have diminished in quantity with only a few left. This was only one of the things that made the Beer Garden unique.

After a few write-ups in Time Out NY, and other such publications it has become a loud, raucous, un-enjoyable place to be.

The irony couldn’t be more apt. Transplants to NYC who are looking to experience that which makes NYC “real and authentic” found it in the Beer Garden and transformed it in two summer’s time into a Czech version of every other club in the city, complete with rude, loud, drunken patrons who get into fights with one another. What was once a peaceful haven for friends and family is now inhospitable and laden with garbage and broken glass mugs. There never used be a security staff watching your every move and there were no large outdoor lights invading every corner of the garden and destroying the peaceful ambience. There was no need.

The real, authentic NYC experience is our mentality. It is a state of mind and comes from a way of life. People may think going to some old place and drinking a Czech beer they can’t get at the average Irish pub is the real and authentic NY, but it’s not.

What made the Beer Garden authentic was the people who lived and worked and raised their families in the neighborhood. It was derived from a common heritage that brought people together and which was lovingly bestowed on friends from different backgrounds. Those experiences are rooted in generations of lives and run deep into the collective conscious of New Yorkers. It cannot be replicated by drinking a Staropramen and getting hammered with your friends.

I cannot tell you how disheartening it is that families like mine who have enjoyed the garden for generations (it’s been there for 100 years) have been pushed out overnight by such ignorant and self-centered patrons. The beer garden of today would be unrecognizable to someone who had not been there for ten years. I realize that things change and am not trying to over idealize the establishment or the city, but I hate seeing real tradition replaced with emptiness and wanted to share my insight.

J said...

Pardon me, Jeff, but to cite Drinking Liberally as an example of "transplants to NYC" ruining authentic NYC institutions is just plain inaccurate:

1. Drinking Liberally is a group started in NYC, by New Yorkers, several years back, with a focus on local politics; it has for a long time now had chapters in all five boroughs, including Queens. It's just not accurate to say this is some recent project started by out-of-NY yuppie transplants that is loading itself into Queens and changing a local scene - this is a scene that's been in the borough for a while now, and changed venues within Queens to the Beer Garden a few months back.

2. The current organizers of this particular chapter are Astoria residents who've been involved in NY politics for quite a while - to (falsely) infer so much about them, their origins and intentions (much less say they're dedicated to "drinking a Staropramen and getting hammered with your friends") all from the simple line "The Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden is the only old-fashioned outdoor beer garden in the city" is offensive and inappropriate.

Sorry to hear that you feel that way about the institutions in Astoria, but to single out a small group of Astorians that meets in bars every so often to talk local politics as the culprit is 100% out of line. Do some elementary research before you play angry villager with a torch.

Jeff said...

I knew I would get this response.

I know all about Drinking Liberally and have attended their events in Manhattan. This is why I said I wanted to make a more general comment about what has happened to the Beer Garden in the last five years.

And I maintain that despite what events are being held and by who, there is a completely different element in the Beer Garden today.

Can I ask J how long you've been going there? I'm not trying to prove you wrong if you've only been going there a year or so. I really would like to know from Astorians who have been going there for many years if they appreciate the change. If it bothers them. If you've been going there for less than five years you will not be aware of the stark change.

I wasn't trying to offend Drinking Liberally members. And I did not single them out. My comments were clearly referring to the overall change that has occurred in the past five years and I did preface them by saying that I wanted to make a more general comment on what has changed there in the last five years.

If I remove the line "It's stuff like this..." - and do not refer to the DL event then do my comments have any truth for people? I am eager for both long time and recent Astorians to comment, both those who were born here and those who weren't.

J said...

You were right to expect it. When you scapegoat locals, and demonstrate that you have absolutely no idea what you're talking about (what's a local doing in Manhattan when there's a perfectly good Queens chapter for ages, so long as you're in the business of asking about local credentials?), people will react unkindly.

Good general rule: if you begin a mini-essay with "It is stuff like this that is ruining [thing I love]", and then describe all about how the thing you love is being ruined, then it's a bad idea to claim later on that you did not mean to single out "stuff like this."

I mean, duh.

So the answer to your question is that of course there's nothing wrong with the essay if you remove the line "It's stuff like this." Just as there's nothing absurd about saying "This street is really going downhill..." so long as I don't follow it up with "...and it's the area book club's fault."

There's nothing wrong with writing an essay on how you don't like the ways in which a neighborhood institution is changing. There's everything wrong with pegging it on an independent group of residents, and then scurrying away when someone points out that, wait, actually, we ARE talking about a NYC-grown group, that HAS been in this area for a while now.

Finally, I'm not a member of the Queens chapter - I'm someone who lived in the area for quite a while, used to attend, recently moved and reads this blog on occasion for nostalgia. But nice way to change the subject - it doesn't matter if the person saying it lives on Astoria Boulevard or Rodeo Drive, your behavior here is abhorrent. Post your essay elsewhere, but don't act surprised when the first sentence offends people who find finger-pointing disgusting. It's certainly no way to build a sense of community, that's for sure.

Jeff said...

Is there anyone reading who would actually like to discuss the heart of my post? I addressed J's concerns and admit that starting with "it's stuff like this" was not specific enough and mislead my intended point. It's obvious I'm not going to get a response to the heart of the matter from J who is not a member of the club and is taking on an insult on their behalf when none was intended.

I went to Rudy's because I work a couple blocks from there and it was in that bar that I was introduced to Drinking Liberally. It was happenstance and I went back a few times. I have nothing against the organization itself and can assure J that I left no garbage in Rudy's, didn't break any glasses, tipped well, did not urinate on the street outside, did not vandalize anyone's car outside Rudy's and did not pick a fight with anyone - all of which are becoming more and more commonplace at the Beer Garden and these are types of behavior I find so offensive. No matter which group you are a member of or if you just show up with a couple friends, it is everyone's responsibility to curb their freedom where their brothers' begins.

I do have something against people who turn a nice establishment into a garbage strewn place where people get into fights with one another.

If J has nothing more to contribute to the heart of the matter, I'll pose the question again to other readers: Do they appreciate the change the Beer Garden has undergone and do others in the neighborhood appreciate the degradation of a local institution by outsiders? When people come into our neighborhood and degrade it, they degrade us. This is what I am saying. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that the Beer Garden is a symbol of the type of community that has always made Astoria a great place to live. When I see people disrespect that, I know that the neighborhood will lose that quality.


Lee said...

What's happened to the beer garden is a shame. On weekends, it's intolerable. But it's still great on a weekday afternoon