Attack of the Santas

It wasn’t the optimum day to kick around and trawl the pubs – the crowds in town for the holiday trappings was approaching overkill. But I realized I had a bigger problem when I tooled into New York and started seeing marauding gangs of young people dressed in Santa costumes, bent on nothing more than their own pub crawls.

I’m not one to deny any group their reason to drink a day, but they must have shocked more than one tiny believer in their sheer force of numbers. And the number of groups started to feel like there was a big college activity to which one has not been invited.

Immediately, this made for some very uncomfortably crowded bars – and garish ones, too, with all those pointy topped red hats. Not at every bar. The reliably empty dive (and a favorite stop) the Holland only had a few guys in there Saturday afternoon, none in Santa garb (the jukebox had been polluted though with some odd soft rock before I got up there to give it the cure with a Stones-Van-Replacements-Kinks fix).

Later, McSorely’s, always packed on weekends, was virtually impassable. And seeing the waiters approaching, holding 16 of their little mugs of beer by the handle, you realized it wouldn’t be too long before everybody would be soaked.

So out the door and down East 7th Street, found the great oddball bar called Burp Castle.

Inside, much more classy than the joint’s name, it was a small room with inlaid wood and strange murals of monks on big adventures, some involving naked women. The several kinds of Belgian beers on tap are accompanied by several brands of wine and that’s it. There’s no jukebox or pop music pulsing. Instead, classical sounds if anything. There’s just one bartender in a monk’s robe to serve and maintain the one odd rule: You must be quiet.

Not because of zoning or upstairs neighbors apparently. Or because the place is in a vestibule of a church, which it looks like it might be. No, it’s just part of the vibe there. Get a little unruly and loud and you’ll likely get a shush, if not from the monk/barkeep from the other patrons upkeeping the tradition.

It makes for an unusual but, it seemed obvious very quickly, very appealing place to drink. And yet, not immune from the wanderings of groups of Santa either.

So inside the place, we grilled the Santas as if they were from a cult from out of the North Pole. Mostly they played along (they had been drinking for many more hours than we had). And when they started to argue, they were shushed by those surrounding us. It was beautiful.

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