Whatever the cause: Is it the weekend invasion of bone-heads from the suburbs? The annoying clumps of back-slapping frat boys? Perhaps it's the "mean girl" posses of vapid females who only respond to bad-boy types or guys with money? The end result of this banal mix is a bar scene nightmare of cliquish conformity, unfriendliness, and rude behavior so bad that if you blinked - you'd be right back in high school.
I had two mediocre relationships with women I met in Hoboken bars. Actually, it was the same bar - I'm embarrassed to admit - the Cadillac Bar (don't be embarrassed, the Cadillac Bar used to have power hour. Dollar drinks, man! -Ed.) Now I find it ironic that the building this bar is in, where I once romped innocently in my wide-eyed search for love - has been condemned because it's....falling apart! Really, how perfect. The place where my love life hopes once glowed brightly, only to be dashed, is itself slowly collapsing - its structure bulging and cracking from its crumbling, rotten core. The image of decrepitude and decay this former playground of my erotic dreams now presents to the world, has become a metaphor for the romance-stagnation I suffered due to the women I met there. "Bring on the wrecking ball!"
Around the time I was derailing my love life with the Cadillac girls, I had a conversation with a bright, attractive young student teacher from NYU - at a high school in lower Manhattan where I taught English at the time. She was from Jersey too, Bergen County, and was appalled when I told her I hung out at the Cadillac Bar. She said she'd been there once, for a brief second, before the "skanky, sleazy crowd" (her words) sent her running out. (Power hour. You should have told her about power hour. - Ed.) When I asked her where she went to meet people, this Jersey girl 10 years my junior rattled off the names of half a dozen sophisticated Manhattan bars and lounges I had never heard of. You wanna meet quality people....duh, you have to go to quality places. What a revelation.
It's a Saturday night as I write this piece, alone in my apartment, half a block from three so-called Hoboken hot spots: The Madison, The Liberty, and City Bistro. Should I or shouldn't I? Yes, there's the fantasy of hooking up with a hot chick for a one-night stand, or perhaps a quality woman for a longer-term relationship: maybe a week. Then there's the reality of walking into a place by myself that seems designed on purpose, by some masochistic architecture firm, to make people alone feel like losers! Squirming past the deadly cliques of hyper-connected friendsters - who rarely glance beyond their privileged coterie to acknowledge a passing stranger - I'll search in vain for a comfortable place to stand. Will the people in that cozy pack-o-pals think I belong to this buddy-group over here if I move a little closer?
As my embarrassment grows at being the only truly "single" person at a bar that - hey, I thought this place is supposed to be for singles? - my paranoia will start buying me drinks! I'll interpret the jutting jawlines of these happy friends of the world, turning away from me in hostility, as confirmation of my banishment. Their laughter will grow more mocking - clearly directed at me - when I'm in their presence. As I slither through the primordial slime in search of a nondescript corner or pole to lean against, smarmy faces flash before me in full-Felliniesque horror. Suddenly I'm in a tooth-and-claw Darwinian theme park, or video game: 1,000 points if you kill the loser single guy who's all by himself! When Satre said "Hell is other people," he was probably having a bad night in a Hoboken bar.
Better idea: Stay home, write this piece, publish it. Show it to a woman I meet at.....ummmm, a bus stop maybe? But do people really meet in Hoboken bars? Well, I'll wager there's been a lovely secretary or two from Secaucus who's met her "dream man" telemarketer from Belleville - yo, like right here in Hoboken! And don't think I'm being sarcastic because I really do think this is wonderful. They can honeymoon in Disneyworld, buy a dream house in Nutley, and live boringly ever after for all I care.
And when it comes time for a boys or girls night out to clean out the cobwebs, where the hell else: HOBOKEN! As for those of us who crave conversation a tad more stimulating than updates about the latest reality show: "what are those desperate housewives up to now?" unless there's a sudden magic flowering of intelligent bars and lounges in this mile-square city (I'll settle for at least one), first on my Christmas list this year is the 2005 Zagats guide to, you got it, New York City nightspots. - John Bredin
The author lives in Hoboken and teaches writing at Essex County College in Newark. Comments/reactions to the essay are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact John at email@example.com.