Wednesday, January 20, 2016

My Shitty Is Gone, by Dava She Wolf, of Star and Dagger

Text © Dava She Wolf, 2010; introduction by Robert Barry Francos
Originally printed in
POPULAR 1 magazine, in Spain
Reprinted with the kind permission of Donna and
Popular 1
Photos © Robert Barry Francos

UPDATED (Originally published on March 5, 2010)

This is the first guest article this blog has ever presented, and when you read this you will know why. It's just too good to be seen only in a magazine from Spain (no disrepect to
Popular 1 intended).

Dava She Wolf was the singer / guitarist in a powerful New York metal-based band, the She Wolves, and is now the guitarist of Star and Dagger. In an earlier incarnation, to which she refers to in the article, she was known as Honey 1%er, a vocalist in the Cycle Sluts From Hell, and wrote what is arguably their most famous number, "I Wish You Were a Beer." Plus, she is as sweet as she is certainly fierce. I am also proud to call her my friend.

As I nod my head in respect, adminration, and affection, I am proud to present her view of life in lower Manhattan in the '80s.

I feel like a ghost.

The New York Shitty I used to know is presently unrecognizable. Most of the original rockers, skinheads, punks and junkies have faded away. Now it’s investment bankers, stylists, trustafarians and hipsters.

All the great clubs and bars, one of a kind record shops, and cheap second hand stores are a dim memory.

Old New York Shitty never had retail chains. I remember when the first Gap landed where the St. Mark’s Cinema used to be. What an affront! Everyone was outraged and bricks were thrown.

Familiar haunts are now Duane Reades, Pottery Barns and slick lobby entrances of overpriced high-rises, where cookie cutter units house cookie cutter people. Mundane crap obliterates sacred spaces where miscreants, fiends and freaks could congregate when New York Shitty was xxxtra special.

Naturally, I don’t miss any of the bad shit, like no heat in the winter, no air-conditioning in the summer, the guns in my face, the knife to my throat, bruises from the occasional bar room brawl, the garden variety muggings on the way home from work, having all my shit stolen. I don’t miss any of that.

I began bartending just so I could live in whatever Lower East Side
shit hole I could afford. I wanted to sleep late, have a good time all the time and escape the norm; not sure want the norm was, but I wanted to escape it. I worked at many different places which, sadly, no longer exist. Places where I saw some strange, incredible shit. Some incredible shit that can’t be written about, I prefer to live out my natural life span.

But some dives, less famous than CBGB, are worth mentioning. New York will never see the likes of them again, no matter how bad the economy craps out.


Sorry if a few details are flawed, it was an agonizingly long time ago, spent mostly under a haze of whatever was being offered.
A few names are dropped. Some are dead, some alive.


My first bartending job was at an after hours club called Berlin, on 21st Street. It had relocated from its Broadway location and it might have been in another spot before that. Berlin was hands down the most freaky, surreal, scary, bizarre bartending gig I have ever had. And that’s saying a lot.
Shit and Corruption were Alive and Well in New York Shitty, which meant if the bagman didn’t get paid, law enforcement would descend to raid the place and arrest all us low-level urchins and misfits just trying to eke out a living to make the rent on our respective, crumbling, pre-war hellholes. These raids were dramatic: bright lights, shoving, screaming, and everyone running like cockroaches for an exit, while guns were being drawn and drugs were being dropped. Good times!

Our clientele consisted of other club workers getting off of work, badasses, musicians, artists, addicts, ne’er-do-wells, tranny-hookers and irregular folks in pursuit of a perpetual narcotic-induced faux sense of well-being. Berlin was a huge loft, painted all black on a derelict floor in a non-descript office building. There was a front bar attached to a back bar, actually an island, which was divided by a wall. The front bar looked out on an elevated DJ booth and a dance floor used for dancing and other activities.

On a good night you could catch a famous celebrity doing very bad things and on a great night you were invited to do very bad things with them. One of my favorite directors, Martin Scorsese, filmed some scenes for his movie After Hours at the club in an attempt to capture the indescribable insanity and ridiculous absurdity that was Berlin. Ha! Forget it. The cinematic version was outlandishly overdone and nowhere near the real thing. Sorry Marty.

After work I’d stash my spoils and head over to another after-hours club for a drink and more what not. In normal person time this would be around 7 a.m. Usually I ended up at the Nursery, or Brownies - “home of the losing slot machine” - on Avenue A and 11th Street. By afternoon if I finally had enough, I’d go home, get a grip and start all over again.

Before starting my glamorous shift at Berlin it was ritual to
fuel up across the street at Danceteria. Easy to do, thanks to something called “club courtesy”. You give me drinks, I give you drinks, and you always tip the bartender. It's pretty hilarious that the word “courtesy” could come into play at either Berlin or Danceteria, but there you have it.

Danceteria was a Mecca for all who were cutting edge and trendy. There were several floors with elevators. In case you got bored on one floor you could go to another and dance, or eat, or drink, and you could hang out on the roof if the weather was nice. Lots of options for the jaded and easily disinterested. The staff there even had their own lingo. If something was very cool they’d say it was either Fierce or Ruling, sometimes both. “Your hair is really Ruling tonight” “The way you threw that drink in her face was so
fucking Fierce”, etc.

All the girls that operated the elevators and tended bar at Danceteria were Fierce and Ruling. Despite all efforts I could not score a gig there. I had Fierce down, but was not yet Ruling. Still, it was a fascinating place where one could behold a pudgy, though no less self–absorbed Madonna, monopolizing the dance floor.
Always one to push an envelope, it is alleged the Material Girl was beaten over the head with a shoe (I’m guessing a Doc Marten) after pissing off a certain Fierce and Ruling bartendress, notorious for not taking shit from anyone, which includes Madonna. Legend has it that Madge was abusing her free drink privileges, repeatedly shuttling cocktails to an elite herd of mystery drinkers without ever leaving a dime and paying only lip service - which culminated in an immediate Zen response. If accurate, this story is of historical significance, because it details the only comeuppance Madonna has ever received in her entire life.
The World

The World was a huge old venue (a former Polish or Ukrainian chapel, I think) on East 3rd Street and Ave C. I can vaguely remember a motif of ornate wrought iron in garish surroundings. I got to bartend here, on and off. My bar-back would later go on to become the ill-famed club kid Michael Alig (Party Monster).
Long after we’d worked together I watched his rise, decked out in
over-the-top drag, on television and in the papers - and then watched his tragic fall exploited throughout the media. It was utterly shocking. When he had bar-backed for me, which was often at many different clubs, he was a hard-working, totally sweet kid. I don’t know what happened in the time that lapsed but I was sad to see his fate take such a wrong turn.

The World was run by legendary club impresario, Arthur Weinstein, and his partners. Arthur was responsible directly, and sometimes indirectly, for the success of some of Manhattan’s best clubs: Hurrah’s, The Jefferson, The Continental, The Milkbar, The Limelight… I can’t remember them all. I found him intimidating, but loved working for him. He was sharply dressed, fond of sarcasm, and had a genius for ambience and lighting, transforming any space into a destination where everyone felt important. Even if they sucked. Someone should make a movie about Arthur Weinstein.

Parts of Talking Heads video: “Burning Down The House,” featuring the ubiquitous comedian/performance artist/actor Rockets Redglare, were shot at The World. Rockets, a gargantuan persona in myth and in girth, was a real character who is remembered for some very infamous things, none of which will be mentioned here. Even though we were probably about the same age, he looked like a big goofy kid, sporting eyeglasses with retro frames, like the ones in news clips from the Kennedy assassination. Rockets made many cameos in several movies. But that pales compared to the amount of cameos he’s made at every bar I’ve ever worked at, especially at The Aztec Lounge during “Happy Hour” (if you want to call it that). Rockets would belly up to the bar as if he was the only customer, since usually he was, and regale me with fantastic Tales of Bullshit and Real Shit while sucking down vodka cranberries faster than I could pour them. Had I not been going toe to toe with him I probably could remember one or two of his incredible stories.

The Aztec Lounge

The Aztec was on 9th Street, between 1st and A, and it was truly a dump. At the time, I was very down and out, but had a nice friend there who hooked me up as my survival depended on it. I started out with day shifts, which were very depressing. At first my only “regular” was this old guy with real bad shakes, always buttoned up in his dirty, worn out, tweed coat. He’d always show up right after I opened. He reminded me of Ray Milland in Lost Weekend, only way older and way, way worse, and he’d only order Blackberry Brandy. I never charged him cause it was the crappy Mr. Boston kind and nobody else drank that shit anyway. Plus it was obvious he was flat broke. I figured he must have been a regular from when it was still The Park Inn, before it became a skinhead romper room. Poor fellow.

A little later, after noontime, all the snotty little squatter kids would show up: aspiring shit-starters and budding skinhead ‘tweens and teens that had no money, and no place to go if it was cold out.

At the time there was thriving hardcore scene. The energy around that part of the East Village was nothing at all like it is now. It was like a powder keg could explode at any minute. Lots of beefing going around over dumb shit, but when you have nothing, dumb shit is important. Sleeping in squats or in the park was not easy and these kids had steam to blow off. Of course they couldn’t drink at my bar. There was no quicker way to get arrested and lose the liquor license than to serve a minor a drink, unlike when I was their age and going to bars and clubs. Back then all you needed was some bullshit I.D. from Times Square and an attitude. Haha. Those were amazing times.

So I had to listen to these youngsters whine, complain and threaten me until their will was completely broken and they finally just gave up. Still they’d come in every day to drink from “the bottomless soda mug”. They were a tough bunch; some were miniature motherfuckers, really, and I’d get to listen to their assorted little stories while I wiped their falafel debris or greasy pizza mess off my bar.
Until “Happy Hour” arrived, I was less like a bartender and more like a warden at a juvenile detention hall.

Once in a while I’d have to bust open a bathroom door to throw out the occasional junkie trying to shoot up. The kids loved that.

One cool thing about those days was that I could bring my dog to work with me. He was a stray named Jack, and was part coyote. He was very protective, but he and the kids got along well and kept each other occupied. It worked out pretty good until one smartass decapitated his Snoopy squeaky toy. Back then I was so fucking broke that even an idiotic rubber squeaky toy was a luxury item. Plus this was a really disrespectful act so I threw all them rotten kids out and 86’d them for a few days. That showed ‘em. They promised to behave again after that and everything was fine, more or less. I always knew I didn’t want kids but my time at Aztec sealed the deal.

Another good thing about having the day shift was that I could play whatever music I wanted. I had cassette tapes that made up a well rounded mix of new stuff from bands that I knew, like Sea Hags and Jane’s Addiction (I had gotten hold of their first demo, which was excellent), the usual ‘70s stuff, predictable punk standards, hardcore for the kids, and a smattering of Sinatra for the few old timers that were left. I liked to keep everyone happy.

After a spell, I had a somewhat disheveled but animated little following and my numbers increased, so I was rewarded with some coveted evening shifts. All the patrons at my bar were awesome. It should have been great, but I didn’t share the same musical tastes as the management. I was making more money but I was also subjected to long, insufferable nights of Pet Shop Boys, Simple Minds, Malcolm McLaren, Bananarama, and other sonic atrocities that made me want to put a staple gun to my ears. It was the final straw.
The Lismar Lounge

Several blocks south and one block east of The Aztec was the Lismar Lounge. I liked going there because they played music that I loved, and there was a pool table. They even had a downstairs area where bands played; to call it a stage would be pushing it. Although owned by a miserable, crooked, Chinese slumlord, Lismar was now being run by a very magnetic guy, Glen Benson, who I knew from Danceteria. Glen was an absolute sweetheart and had all sorts of people flocking to him, including myself. I had no idea how radically my life would change thanks to Glen. He was sweet enough to throw me a bone with some bartending shifts and for that I was grateful, and then things just snowballed from there.

Lismar had a highly charged atmosphere, different than all the other East Village dives. It was an exciting place, full of gorgeous women and cute guys in bands who were always drunk, mostly on themselves. Turns out, this little scum hole would go on to establish an entirely new era in the New York rock scene. Bands like White Zombie, Circus of Power, Warrior Soul, Raging Slab, The Throbs, Cycle Sluts from Hell, and others were all spawned at Lismar Lounge. Joey Ramone frequented the place, and impromptu performances by Joe Walsh and Jane’s Addiction just added to the bar’s status. There were also performances by great local bands like The Skulls, Freaks, and a particularly disgusting shit-drenched spectacle by G.G. Allin. It wasn’t long before every A&R guy in the city was drinking at Lismar, looking for the “next big thing.” If you were hanging out regularly at Lismar and your band didn’t get signed, it must really have sucked.

Glen was dynamic at turning an average night into an event. He came up with something called Cycle Slut Thursdays. All the girls who bartended there were now dubbed Cycle Sluts, and someone eventually tagged on the “From Hell”, probably Glen. We put on a little show during one of those Thursday nights. One thing led to another and then my life changed dramatically.
The next six years would provide a folly of a different sort.

A lot can be said for being in the right place at the right time.

Those places and those times are gone for good.


  1. Thanks for this article! Your posting some cool stuff. I remember the "gap brick" night well! Peace!

  2. I'm glad you're enjoying it. It's nice to relive to days. I also remember when it was the St. Mark's Cinema, and saw "Wrath of Kahn" and the next Star Trek film there. The audience was very vocal and funny. I have never stepped into it since it became a Gap because, well, I don't give a damn about the chain. Manic Panic was a the back of that wall, and when they left, St. Mark's Place began to die it's slow death towards Asian restaurants and gentrification. Hi, Tish and Snooky!

  3. Great piece! Brings back a lot of memories of the "good ol' days", very accurate and funny!

  4. I like her and I like her attittude. I hope to meet her some day !