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Dardy Bar Doesn’t Want You to Grow Up

In “Dive” Leslie Pariseau explores the bars at far edge of popular nightlife. Up now: Dardy Bar, the Williamsburg dive that falls somewhere between rock ‘n’ roll bar and eighth grade art project.

Dardy Bar Williamsburg NYC

On a sticky July evening, a small crowd is gathered outside of Dardy Bar: a couple of old guys from the neighborhood, a girl named Caroline who has white blonde lashes and curly hair the color of amber and all the guys from the band—Jimmy Keithley, Brian Bisbano and Dave Heffernan. Together, these three are The Dardys, a group of sweetheart skater kids who started a band in 2008 and somehow came to own a bar in Brooklyn.

From the outside, Dardy looks like the bar that came before it and likely the one before that. Sequestered on the rare quiet street in South Williamsburg between a C-Town grocery and a few nondescript residential buildings, it’s easy to miss. But if you’re attuned to spotting diamonds in the rough, its funky vibrations will hit you soon enough. Inside, a few random tables festooned in twinkly fuchsia lights and silk flowers, a curving bar, a dozen barstools and a photo booth are pretty much the only furniture to speak of. The evidence of said booth plasters almost the entirety of one wall—strips of glossy black and white attesting to nights of blackout mischief and revelry. The Dardys appear in more than a few. Out back is a “patio” that looks more like the psychedelic interior of a boxcar, misted with untold layers of spray paint.

It’s only 9:30 p.m. and the Dardys are already pretty far-gone, hugging customers and talking about Dave’s windowpane art displayed on the bar’s walls. “This one’s called The Whitney,” says Jimmy, the Dardys’ keyboardist, as he slides a panini resting in a red plastic basket across the bar for a few hungry friends to try. Anxiously, he awaits a reaction. He needn’t have worried. Three guests deem the combination of smoked mozzarella, tapenade and tomato between slices of ciabatta “very good”; they also endorse his namesake kielbasa-and-swiss sandwich, made spicy and sour with a heap of sauerkraut and giardiniera.

It’s possible the sandwiches will disappear next week. Before there were sandwiches, there was pizza. Before pizza, they served baby back ribs and brisket. Before that, it was Chicago dogs and wings. The bar’s random collection of booze—some inherited from adjacent restaurant and neighborhood stalwart Rye when it closed in February—sits above a massive Pepsi cooler from the 1950s. At one point, a customer gifted the bar a miniature shark complete with an aquarium, which also sat behind the bar for a few days until they put it on Craigslist. And, for a few years, the bathroom walls were adorned in a wild array of magazine cutouts, newspaper and graffiti, until they were painted over with lush roses and blue lilies blooming from a pair of lips.

This constant transformation, all the doing and undoing, is part of the bar’s allure. It’s just a room, but a room suffused with the ephemeral sentience of a collage or canvas in progress. Dardy is a rare breed in the over-designed, over-concepted milieu of New York City restaurants and bars—dive bars included.

Step Inside Dardy Bar

When the sandwiches have been devoured and more than a couple of High Lifes dispatched, the band’s bassist, Brian, ushers the group downstairs for practice. Several customers trudge down a set of steep stairs equipped with fresh beers and shot glasses brimming with Wild Turkey or tequila. The bar’s basement is packed with stuff you’d expect to find in a basement: paint cans, sandwich boards announcing the World Cup, a couple of blue mattresses, a tatted-up walk-in and an old electric organ. At the very back is a small practice room, which is stuffed with instruments and semi-soundproofed with rugs and hanging ceiling tiles.

When the guys settle into their spots—Brian on bass, Dave on guitar and vocals, Jimmy on keys and a regular bar customer on drums—they take requests. Some Beatles, Smashing Pumpkins, half of Fleetwood Mac’s “Never Going Back Again” and a couple of their own songs. For a few minutes, it’s almost magic—everybody in sync, everybody jamming. But then Brian wants to switch to drums and Jimmy insists on guitar. The customer gets rotated to the bass. Dave looks on, alternating between muttering, “Jimmy, man, play softer. It’s too loud, man” and smoking a joint.

Through expressions of consternation, Dave eventually sits down at the keys and pulls everyone together. For a moment, it seems as though Brian has fallen asleep at the drum kit. But then he’s back on it again. “Fucking C-Minor!” Dave yells. “What do you want from me, man?” Jimmy yells back. They take a break, grab more beers from the walk-in, smoke another joint and reposition themselves behind their original instruments. It devolves again soon after. “Dardy!” one of the guys yells. “I love you, man,” Brian answers.

The Dardys’ origin story starts about a thousand miles west. Jimmy says he met Dave in Chicago when he was in the seventh grade; he noticed Dave, then a high school freshman, had the Twisted Sister logo painted on the nose of his skateboard, which he thought was pretty rad. Dave met Brian’s brother, Peter, on the subway in New York; Peter was studying a chord book of The Smiths’ songs, the same band Dave happened to be listening to at that very moment; they exchanged numbers. Eventually, Jimmy, Brian and Dave all worked at the same bygone Vietnamese restaurant in the Flatiron District. Naturally, they started a band. But long before that, they used “Dardy” as a term of endearment, mutated from some other made-up word. If you ask them, “Dardy” can be used in variable ways. As a proper noun it usually refers to Brian. As a common noun with the prefix “my” it means any one of the guys. Jimmy and Brian sometimes even call other people Dardy. Which is all to say, its meaning is not fixed.

There’s a metaphor in here somewhere, a song lyric, maybe. Something about the greater meaning of being a Dardy. Something about the constantly morphing nature of friendship, sculpted by time and place and growing older. Or maybe it’s about the idea of starting a band as an excuse to hang out night after night. Or maybe it’s about opening a bar as an excuse to drink beers, play “Motown basement noise pop” together and experiment with sandwich toppings. Whatever it is, Dardy Bar has been infused with the very essence of Dardy-ness: One epic, never-ending, art-project band practice. One big riff upon a riff upon a riff.

Before everyone departs just shy of 1 a.m., the bartender does some quick mental math to determine what the evening’s groupies owe. The tab is nominal, because, well, they’re with the band. Things are gathered, hugs are shared. “See you tomorrow, Dardy,” someone says. “Later, my Dardy.”

Tip: The Dardy’s Instagram is a delight. It’s worth following for its madcap experimental nature with posts ranging from skater tricks outside the bar to Brian getting his hair highlighted. Some nights Dardy Bar is empty. Other nights, it’s a sea of shot-taking, photo-booth-bombing bodies. Either way, it’s always friendly and all about what you make of it. If you see Jimmy, Brian or Dave, introduce yourself and tell them you’re a fan of The Dardys. They might even invite you to band practice. Dardy Bar | 245 S. 1st Street, Brooklyn, NY

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