The benefits of being a regular are worth finding and cultivating your local hangout

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post wishing we had a regular local hangout but lamenting that it didn’t seem meant to be.

I thought we didn’t go out often enough to cultivate regular status, and that on those occasions we did go out, we were inclined to try someplace new instead of returning someplace.

Turns out we just hadn’t clicked with our places yet.

We’d tried to cultivate a few spots as our go-to, but we never agreed on a place. John rejected one bar because it was too stiff, another because it smelled bad. I vetoed one because it felt dark and dank. Actually maybe more than one. And a few we nixed because we just didn’t feel like we fit with the clientele.

Then my artist husband, John Tebeau, started a series he calls Great Good Places, celebrating quality hangout bars. We began to talk a lot about the characteristics of a good bar and good bartender, and to gravitate toward bars that met those standards.

My artist husband, John Tebeau, did this artwork celebrating one of our favorite bars, the Long Island.

My artist husband, John Tebeau, did this artwork celebrating one of our favorite bars, the Long Island.

Right about that time, a beautifully restored stevedore diner turned craft cocktail bar called Long Island Bar opened a block from our apartment.

We were so grateful the long-shuttered space reopened after sitting empty for years that we committed to supporting it. We felt welcomed by owners Joel and Toby immediately, and the drinks were transcendent.

Now the Long Island is an extension of our living room. We celebrated New Year’s Eve and our anniversary there. We cried there when a close friend died. My collaborator, Amanda, and I taught a marketing workshop in the backroom one Sunday. After each spaghetti night, John and I load the dishwasher and go have a nightcap while the dishes run.

We don’t go nightly. We don’t even go weekly. But when it doubt, that’s where we gravitate if we want to go out.

One of the many things I love about the Long Island is that the skilled bartenders know my tastes. They know I’m not into the bitter amaro flavors that are so popular these days, and I’m not afraid of sweet, as so many people are. I don’t drink the same thing every time, one suggestion I’d often heard helps in becoming a regular, but here it gives me a reason to talk to the fellas about my mood and what they feel like making.

I thought maybe in their capable hands, I could learn to love a proper martini. One of my favorite bartenders, Tristan, served up three different variations of gin martinis, with an explanation of what made each one special. I tried, but gin still doesn’t speak to me. So the last martini variation he prepared was a Manhattan. Made exactly the way he knew I love them.

And that’s not the only place where we’re regulars these days.

A tiny new coffee shop opened near us, and while we didn’t often go out for coffee, now we go to Key & Cup maybe once a week because we love what the owner, Matthew, has created with a sweet little place, a friendly staff and excellent java.

John loves the fish and chips and I dream about mushroom macaroni and cheese at Chip Shop. They run crazy bargain lunch deals during the week so John loves to go there by himself for a weekday break. The bartenders aren’t chatty but they’re welcoming and attentive, perfect in a place where many patrons are more focused on watching soccer than conversation.

Brooklyn Inn is such a stately old place, sitting smack in the middle of a Brooklyn neighborhood.

Brooklyn Inn is such a stately old place, sitting smack in the middle of a Brooklyn neighborhood.

Brooklyn Inn, one of John’s Great Good Places and possibly the oldest bar in Brooklyn, is a stately place with big front windows and dark wood everywhere. Our favorite bartender, Heather, is from New Orleans so we talk NOLA and the Saints with her while she takes friendly, unfussy care of us. We followed her from another place we’d attempted to make our local, Sample, which was smaller so we often couldn’t get a seat.

We’re still mourning the closure of Pete’s Waterfront Alehouse, a burger and beer institution around the corner from us, but much of the same staff is working at its replacement, a pizza place called Brado now owned by a Manhattan restaurant group. Our fave Waterfront bartender, Mary, is heading the bar so it already feels welcoming.

The Long Island and Key & Cup opening a block away helped entice us to go deep with regular spots instead of bouncing from place to place.

Considering what made a bar a great good place helped us appreciate returning to those kinds of bars, savoring their special qualities. For us, it’s about atmosphere and friendliness, since John makes a damned good drink at home for a lot less than we pay going out.

It helps that we’ve now been in New York nine years. For our first few years, I felt an obligation to explore, to get to know this incredibly dense city, to check out iconic old places and exciting new places. Now I feel content to mostly stay within about a 15-minute walk of our apartment, which makes New York feel more manageable and boosts the likelihood of running into a friend or neighbor, which I love. Having friends stroll by and spontaneously pop in to join us makes New York feel less like a big city and more like our hometown.

Getting to know the bartenders and patrons at our places has helped connect us to our neighborhood. Even if we aren’t going out for a meal or a drink or a coffee, we wave as we walk by. We bump into staff and regulars on the sidewalks and when we’re grocery shopping. It’s a small thing that keeps me from feeling anonymous as we go about our days in a city of 8 million people.

I’m glad we finally found our elusive regular status.

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