Has New York City's downtown underground entertainment scene tapped out for good? In recent years, it seems so... CBGBs is a snotty designer retailer, Continental is a "bro" bar and Luna Lounge is long gone. So, what's left on the Lower East Side that's dangerous, cheap and fun? Thanks to the recent rise of martini boutiques, tourists and artisanal hotels, not much.
But luckily Gorgeous Ladies of Bloodwrestling (or G.L.O.B.) are trying to turn the sanitized tides. Part spectator sport/part self-indulgent performance art, these ladies (and several "lads") spend their weekends rolling around on dive bar floors, splattered with Karo-based blood and trying to pin down their fellow "alcoholic athletes in their prime." Will this league of amateur grapplers prove to be another ironic hipster sport, mainstream hit or post-feminist public statement? Frankly, it's too early to tell. It's still too disorganized, do-it-yourself and self-aware.
Based on one woman's opinion (mine), let's say there was a scale of things that are concurrently punk rock and female. Further let's say that the scale runs from a Wendy O. Williams being beat up by the cops for "indecency" (10 -- totally punk rock) to Avril Lavigne for Kohl's (zero --complete absence of punk rockness); Gorgeous Ladies of Bloodwrestling rates around a 3.2 (or, Grace Jones hula hoops at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee). That is, it might once have been edgy and a statement, but now it seems more like harmless fun and good exercise.
Still off-the-beaten-path enough to have avoided the polish of other subculture staples-turned-pop culture hits, such as roller derby and burlesque, a recent Friday night saw annual Easter versus Passover bout entitled the "Smackdown at Sundown." Held at the Double Down Saloon, on recently-gentrified Avenue A (a rock 'n' roll dive in a sports bar world), this night spot has, in just a few short years at this location, managed to miraculously acquire several generations of grime and graffiti. The establishment offers its patrons scant amenities, save for "Puke Insurance" (a mere $20), nonstop, sketchy porn on the TVs and themed cocktails with names like "Ass Juice." Pre-gaming -- there's no sense that the scant audience was out for flesh or blood -- but more of a general curiosity of what the stained foam mats are for, what time the fun gets under way and should they risk trying the bacon martini?
Last year's championship was dubbed "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" and the league itself was particularly freewheeling in its approach to the sport with the first bout starting an hour and half late kicking off, due to troubles with the kiddy pool that comprised their ring. However, what the combatants lack in professionalism, they certainly make up for in enthusiasm. As they waited, the wrestlers wandered about the bar tugging at their skimpy homespun costumes, moving their props around and adjusting their fake beards in order to enjoy their drinks. The mics were also broken, so by the time the referees/announcers/combatants/producers, Our Lady of Perpetual PMS and Mike SOS, proclaim they're ready to rumble, they had to stand on a pool table and shout the rules (i.e., three-second pin takes it, no shivs in the pool, no audience members in the ring) to onlookers.
At the sound of the whistle, it was on. The audience seemed game though, if a little bit confused and welcomes the opening gambit with hoots and shouts of encouragement. The small, but attentive crowd was a mix of rockabilly greasers, NYU kids, hipsters and suburban adventure seekers. It's also not entirely clear if any attendees had come in specifically for the wrestling, were friends of the performer-athletes or just wandered in the door looking for Jager shots.
The first pairing on the particular evening pitted the pin-up-pretty blonde Heidi Hüha and against the "hirsute" Hairy Helga. They kneel back-to-back while the ring person (a male, inexplicably clad in a plaid tutu, luchador mask and deer horns) drizzled them in blood. The title "bloodwrestling" will also prove to be something of a misnomer, too -- with a limited supply of Party City-type prop blood, the application was more IHop than The Shining, the combatants being drizzled with, rather than swimming in, the stuff. Sure, the contestants emerge red and sticky and a few drops splash on the audience, but it provides more of a wet t-shirt contest look than a slippery obstacle.
Seconds in, Helga was stripped of her signature prop beard but barrels ahead. Over the course of the next couple minutes they clinched, tussled and disengaged. The round ended with the blonde and her signature catchphrase "Fear my Hüha!" coming out on top. Meanwhile, contestants mill about poolside, shouting encouragement to their teammates and occasionally moving out of the way for bar patrons who need to get to the bathrooms. While the vibe is similar to the DIY, Riot Grrl toughness of early roller derby, it lacks the organized league play that has let the roller girls evolve into a national pastime.
Mike SOS and Our Lady of Perpetual PMS seemed to be marginally running the show, but only by virtue of the fact that they have the loudest voices and control of the whistle, but beyond that, it was party-time anarchy set to a punk soundtrack. Little attention is paid to the soap opera aspects of "heels" (bad guys) and "faces" (good guys) that mark more mainstream wrestling. Over the rest of the evening there will be matches, rematches and, in a nod to Andy Kaufman, an inter-gender match or two. Our Lady later refers to herself as a "militant feminist," but seems not to have any issue with putting her ladies out there with the constant risk of wardrobe malfunction provided by skimpy bikinis and blood-soaked t-shirts in front of the non-paying, mostly male crowd. If there's some greater statement being made, it's not entirely clear.
Eventually, the "Crown of Tampons" was passed to a new winner, the reasons a successor is chosen are not obvious to lay viewer. Perhaps they've run out of opponents or blood or the athletes needed a smoke break, but whatever the cause, the evening must come to a close. Some grapplers head to the bathrooms to scrub off the red mess before it stains their skin and hair. While some onlookers mingled with the remaining sticky athletes, congratulating them on their performances, while others straggled out the door looking for the night's next thrill. Even in New York famed East Village, whatever it is, it probably won't have a splash zone.