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The Charm of a Bar That Offers Nothing Special At All

What does the bar by which we judge all other bars look like today? In “Deep Dive,” we send writers back to their college haunts to find out what treasures they still hold. Up now: Jamie Feldmar on the Williamsburg neighborhood dive that became her college haunt, Daddy's.

I was 17 when I moved to New York City, young for my class and too scared to use my fake ID at the handful of unofficial NYU bars dotting the East Village. They weren’t really my scene, anyway.

It wasn’t until I moved to Williamsburg during my junior year that I frequented anything resembling a college bar. I was 19 and eager to separate from the strictly regulated, ultra-expensive NYU dorms. The neighborhood already had a not-entirely-positive reputation as a gentrifying hipster enclave, but it was still far from polished—and, most importantly, it was still relatively cheap.

Like most NYU students, I had little interest in the typical college experience. I was anxious to exit my Midwestern adolescence and emerge as a fully formed adult in New York City. (An actual entry in my eighth-grade diary revolved around my fantasy future career as a celebrated rock critic for Rolling Stone.) I craved autonomy and independence, and in my new Brooklyn home, I felt like I was beginning to develop an identity that went beyond “student.” The fact that Daddy’s wasn’t on what negligible campus we had at NYU only made it more appealing—look at me, I would think, I’m just a New Yorker getting a drink at my neighborhood bar.

That bar was a place called Daddy’s—a nondescript storefront on the corner of Graham Ave and Frost St. next to an Italian butcher shop that was once busted for Mafia ties. Daddy’s was divey, but not explicitly a dive—the kind of unflashy, dimly lit place you stop into on a whim. It had opened just a few years before I moved to Williamsburg, and attracted a crowd that reflected the changing demographics of the neighborhood—young (but not college-y), creatively employed, slightly rough around the edges. The scruffy staff made a few specialty drinks behind the horseshoe-shaped bar, like the Margaveza (Dos Equis with a key lime-flavored frozen Margarita topper), and the owners had shoved a few vintage arcade games in the corner next to the comfortably sagging banquettes. They’d occasionally bring in a DJ to spin funk music and sometimes you’d get lucky with a stranger, but mostly, Daddy’s was a reliable, middle-of-the-road option for cheap beer.

But as all New Yorkers know, the only constant in this city is change, and eventually, everything did. A few years after I moved to the neighborhood, the real estate bubble began to inflate after years of recession. Long-dormant luxury condos began filling out, like late bloomers who’d finally hit puberty. Small businesses along the neighborhood’s main drag started to close, only to be replaced by chain stores. (My favorite independent pharmacy closed up shop after a Duane Reade opened across the street.) New bars opened that tried to look like they were old, and old bars disappeared. Residential rents went up, and many of my friends started moving out, following in the footsteps of the previous tenants, who we’d played a large role in pricing out a few years prior.

The changes weren’t all external. I was getting older, too, and suddenly the adult life I had so desperately craved was crashing down around me. I had graduated college in the midst of a recession and scraped together a series of part-time jobs to pay rent on the same apartment I’d moved into as a student. Eventually, I got a job in my field, only to learn—surprise, surprise—I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would, which sent me down a long and convoluted professional path. My college roommate moved out to be with the man she would eventually marry, and my boyfriend moved in for a brief and ill-fated spell. I still went out occasionally, but I was getting cranky about everything—the crowds, the noise, the scene. By the time the building I’d lived in for almost eight years was bought—and I was politely kicked out by the new landlord’s rent demands—I was pretty much ready to go.

Daddy’s stood through it all, though, its resilience a combination of location—on a not-quite-prime corner of Graham Avenue—and its relative lack of doing anything special. I continued to go there occasionally, even after I’d moved away, because I always knew what I would get. There is comfort in a bar that consistently offers nothing much, particularly when other things in your life are in flux. Daddy’s, and the thousands of other bars like it in the city, offer familiar relief from the stresses of the unknown, and ask for very little in return.

Eventually, the inevitable occurred. If a New York dive as iconic as Mars Bars can’t stand the test of time, there’s no way a low-key local joint in a neighborhood that’s rapidly becoming one of the most expensive zip codes in the country could, either. Last December, Daddy’s announced that it would be closing for good on New Year’s Eve, with a heartfelt note thanking patrons for 15 years of business that ended with, “Times change, neighborhoods change, and this is our time to move on to other achievements.”

I wasn’t a regular in the traditional sense, and the frequency of my visits had declined precipitously, but the news hit me hard. I went back for one last round in December; it felt exactly like it always did, which is to say, it didn’t feel like anything special at all.

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