October 11, 2005

Night Owl

Somehow it is almost 2am again. Try though I might I never seem to be able to get to bed before 3. It has been this way for a very long time. As a kid I would play possum until my parents were safely downstairs, construct a decoy with pillows and read under the bed with a flashlight. Later it was Letterman back in his first seasons. I would watch on a small black and white television set with the volume very very low and stifling my laughs with a pillow, later still I would sneak down to my Apple //e clicking away and connecting to far away BBSes. And there was one of the great joys of my adolescence: the late night listen to the full album (while wearing big headphones of course) in a darkened room. Long evening phone calls with girls came around junior year in high school and made me forget music and computers and everything else for a while...

In college, well it was college... and nobody ever sleeps. I tried to never schedule classes before 11 in the morning to compensate.

Then in those giddy first years in NY it was Elsie's Oke Doke Pub, a speakeasy run by the 80 year old Elsie Rene-an anachronistic little bar where the most recent song on the jukebox was 30 years old. Elsie often wouldn't open her doors until midnight and even then the place wouldn't get going until 2 or 3 (the truth is the doors were never open, she only let you in if she knew you). We would sit at the bar together sipping Jagermeisters ("It's medicinal," she would say, "full of herbs. Sip it.") as she told me stories of New York in the 30's and 40's. The entire geography of her life was contained in just a few blocks of Yorkville and after a few drinks she would always launch into tales too tall to be fiction. I would stop by virtually every night and eventually my picture hung on the wall. One of my great disappointments on moving back to the city last year was walking up 84 street and finding the place shuttered and dark.

Now of course there is a baby who fills so much of the day that many of the things I should be doing do get pushed until he is asleep and the house is quiet. It is very quiet now. I should get back to work.

posted at 01:59 AM by raul

Filed under: personal history

TAGS: 84th Street (1) Elsie Rene (1) Oke Doke Restaurant (1)


10/13/05 09:33 AM

It must be nice to have some place like Elsie´s Oke Doke Pub. Even if it´s gone, memories of places like that and especially people like Elsie stick around forever and that is something great. At least for me.

08/28/08 03:54 PM

I too remember the Oke-Doke well...we often said that you couldn't be a regular until you stayed til closing on a weeknight, helped Elsie (and her friend--what was her name?) clean up (usually until about 5) and then made it to work on time the next morning. Your comment about midnight surprised me...I walked by the Oke-Doke at various times of the morning and afternoon, and always saw a few regulars in various states of repose.

Sadly, our Oke-Doke good times ended suddenly one night when we brought an African-American friend with us. The bar went suddenly quiet and, after a few quietly snide but obvious remarks, we left, never to return. An old-timer I saw on the street some time later told me that Elsie had once been robbed by a black man and had never gotten over it. A sad ending to a great place--I can't hear "Paper Doll" by the Mills Brothers without thinking of it.

03/02/09 04:47 PM

I too used to visit the pub. It was a special place. I had lived on the block 1/2 a year before I realized it existed, simple to miss when walking by, and yes the hours were truly random. Anyone know if its still open?

02/06/10 10:30 PM

I've been looking for online item's about Elsie's bar...was it on 80th or 81st...used to be a good hangout when I lived in the city from '87 to '90...had to knock and get approval to get in; shared more than a few shots of peach schnapps with Elsie and knocked back a few of those little 7 oz. bottles of Bud. She used to show me photos of Hank Bauer of the Yankees back on the day.
Looking for others with Elsie connex

Evan Hammonds

05/12/12 06:52 PM

I loved this bar. Used to go here in the early 90s after a night at The Gaff on 84th b/t 2nd and 3rd. I met my husband at the Gaff during those years. Oh how easy it was without kids!

10/29/14 12:29 PM

I lived nearby... took my Danish au pair girlfriend there one night-she spoke German and Elsie fell in love with her. On our way out 2 big European old guys told me to 'be careful not to piss on your shoes'?!

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