On Halloween, we want to indulge our spooky side. We want to eat organ meat, cakes shaped like brains and drink cocktails that follow the same line of thinking. This year for Halloween, we've decided our drink of choice will be absinthe -- that mysterious green spirit that everyone still thinks is illegal (it's not anymore, guys, go buy some). As we discussed the perfect place to learn how to drink absinthe, I realized I'd already been there -- Brooklyn's Lucky 13 Saloon.
There is a lot to like about Lucky 13. It is dark, covered from floor to ceiling in creepy stuff, plays home to a host of girls who dance on the bar, blasts black metal well into the wee morning hours, serves absinthe the right way and is located in the heart of the gentrified baby-boom capital of Park Slope. It is anachronistic, brazen and (seriously) one of the most welcoming places I've ever been. Owner Melody Henry is always behind the bar on Friday and Saturday nights, and I asked if she'd be willing to give us all a little absinthe how-to. So let's class up our Halloween boozing and let Lucky 13 show us how Halloween absinthe is done.
Here's an important fun fact you can use to impress your friends: you should never light absinthe on fire, despite what you've seen in movies and fancy NYC cocktail bars. I asked Henry why, and she actually really knew the answer.
It’s smart to do it [in a bar], because it calls people's attention to it, and other people order it, so you wind up selling a bunch of absinthe. However, I’m an absinthe purist. During the ban, only a couple of countries continued to make absinthe, and the Czech Republic was one of them. Czech absinthe is horrible. It’s not refined at all, it’s very badly made. But because it was one of the few that was still being manufactured after the US ban in 1912, Czech absinthes became the ones that people were getting underground -- because you could go there and get it, but you couldn’t import it. They discovered that if you light the sugar cube on fire, when you drop it in, it creates a smoky flavor that kinda kills the nasty taste of the Czech absinthe. So if you do it with a fine absinthe, it actually ruins the flavor.
After the absinthe was made, Melody sat down with us to talk bar life in Brooklyn, the worst and best kind of bar patron and the changing neighborhood.
Huffington Post: You've been open ten years, and your lease is up. What's next?
Melody Henry: I’m probably going to try to renew the lease here and turn it into something else, because I want Lucky 13 to be bigger. The neighbors right here don’t like this bar, so I would need to make it something kind of Park Slope friendly (but not really). But not loud, like where bikers are pulling up all summer long. Something with a little bit more acceptable noise level. This is not the block for a metal bar anymore. When it opened it was. When we opened people were like, ‘wow, you kinda chased some of the drug dealers away.’ So, we actually helped gentrify this neighborhood, but now it’s become so gentrified that these new people hate us. They don’t realize that we helped them.
What’s your favorite kind of customer that walks into Lucky 13?
One that understands bar etiquette. Some people are just so clueless. People come in here and think that they can just hang out and not buy a drink. “Oh, I don’t want anything, I’m fine.” You’re in a fucking bar, you’re not fine. “I’m not drinking tonight.” Well, buy a soda. Because you can’t just sit at the bar, taking up prime retail. Some people will also come in an order one PBR and sit here for four hours. There’s nothing I can do about that.
Are those people tipping the dancers?
Sometimes. If they’re sitting here and raining money on the dancers, then I’m all for it. If that’s what they’re here for. And they’re actually spending money on that? That’s fine with me. Some of them come in just to gawk, they don’t buy drinks and they don’t tip. It drives me insane. So really, anyone that just has a feel for like -- I come in, I’m polite, I know what I want to drink, I’m not like, asking my friends “Hey, what should I get?” [Shortly after Henry explained this, a man walked into the bar and sat down. She asked him what he'd like to drink. He said, "I'll have a water." She said, "You can buy water at 7-11. What do you want to drink?"]
I was going to ask what your least favorite kind of patron is, but I think you already told me.
That and people that are just disrespectful. Generally this place gets pretty friendly people. I’m lucky, there haven’t been a lot of fights here -- SURPRISINGLY when you look around at the people here. A lot of people have told me that this is a bar they feel like they can come to by themselves. Which is, you know, rare. Even girls, like Maria at the end of the bar [points to Maria, I swear], she comes in here all the time. I love that. I love feeling like -- if you look at us, we look like freaks or not friendly, but people come here and they feel like it’s a friendly place.
What do you think fosters that kind of atmosphere in a metal bar?
I believe that all of us were complete outcasts in junior high and high school. We were all freaks, we were all picked on by the popular people, and now we all kind of bonded together as adults. I feel like we’re the outcasts and we’ve all come together, like the Isle of Misfit Toys. That’s kind of what this place is.
Were the girls on the bar built into the plan for Lucky 13 from the very beginning?
No. I used to be a dancer, I put myself through college by being a dancer. No student loans, Masters degree. Because of men. [Laughs and turns to a patron.] How you doin? I haven’t seen you in a long time. If you were in jail, I don’t want to know what you did. [Laughs and returns to us.] So, anyway, I wanted to put a pole on the bar, my partner was like uh-uh. I said, “No, I think it will be fun!”
I just thought, “wow this place is a sausage-fest, and sometimes I’m the only girl in here.” So, what can we do to make these guys happy and not make me feel like a pork chop? So, we got the pole. Home Depot. I love when girls are like, “oh my God, where’d you get the stripper pole?” I’m like, you think there’s a stripper pole store? Home Depot, dude. When it first started we paid girls to do it because they were scared. Now, sometimes they make more money than I do.
They audition for you, right?
Yes. Girls usually come in and ask if we’re hiring dancers, or sometimes random girls come in with friends and see these girls filled with money and ask how they get a job here. I’m like well, if you’d like you can just get up there and take your clothes off right now.
Will you let girls who are just here drinking get up on the bar if they want to?
Yes, absolutely. I shout “CIVILIAN ON THE BAR” and everyone goes fucking crazy. For some reason it’s more exciting to the guys to see, like, a girl in jeans just take off her shirt than these girls in a thong. Because it’s like this random girl who’s gone wild. Guys love that shit.
Have you ever danced on the bar here?
I don’t, because I’m busy. I have a couple times, by special request, for a birthday party or something. I’m so retired. It’s very rare. Maybe five times in ten years? I’m half naked here anyway, it’s not really a big deal.
What do you wish that people knew before they walked in this bar?
That I won’t tolerate them being rude to women. To female customers, or to the dancers. I feel like I’m the mom, or the den mother around here. I like to take care of everybody that comes in here.
Do you like that feeling?
No, it makes me feel old. But I feel like I was always like that.
Do you have a favorite place in the bar that you want us to get a picture of?
You see that Pope photo? The Pope painting. When I was at Hunter College, this guy -- I was in the Wiccan and Pagan Coalition. This guy came up to me and he was like, I have something I have to bring you. He said, we moved into this apartment in Stuy-Town where an old lady died. And he was, like, really creeped out. He was like, when we moved in, we moved all our stuff in and we found, in the back of a closet, that painting like that. It was already like that. He was like, “So, I would like to give this to you, because I want it out of my apartment, and I couldn’t imagine who else would want it.” It was hanging in my apartment for years, I love that thing. I wish I knew what happened.
You can enjoy three full nights of Halloween fun at Lucky 13 Saloon, if you're in New York. Thursday, October 31st, they'll host a post-Halloween-parade party. Friday, November 1st, Girls and Corpses Magazine is hosting their first ever Day of the Dead party. On Saturday, November 2nd, Lucky 13 will throw their 10th Annual Halloween Extravaganza, complete with a midnight costume contest.
Lucky 13 Saloon
273 13th Street
Brooklyn, New York 11215