On a Bus From Brooklyn, the Party Rolls (Published 2010) – The New York Times

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Tales of a Winter’s Night

WE were somewhere around Manhattan on the edge of the river when the beers began to take hold.
“There’s no sitting on the party bus!” screamed a bearded man sporting a neck tattoo and glistening in sweat. He was stomping up the aisle of a pulsating bus — part of a crowd of about 30, drinking free Budweisers and catching a free ride from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to the Rusty Knot, a campy nautical-themed bar in the West Village.
It takes about 60 minutes to drive from Brooklyn to the bar, on West Street, with one extended stop in the East Village. But unlike most trips winding through the city, this does not seem like the longest hour of the riders’ lives — not in a bus tricked out with a dance floor, moody lighting, a D.J. and free alcohol. Not with Judas Priest blasting and cigarette smoke billowing.
Begun last month by the Rusty Knot’s owners, Taavo Somer and Ken Friedman, this shuttle was at first nothing more than a way to fill their bar on Monday nights in winter. Williamsburg seemed the perfect place to start, especially since many friends and regulars already lived there.
But what started as a means to an end is now a destination in its own right. With its minimal supervision (you must be at least 21), the ride is a reminder of when New York night life seemed to have no rules.
“This bus is a little bit like going back to the New York of the ’70s or ’80s, when it wasn’t about the money, it was about the spirit,” said Richard Mark Jordan, an actor from Bushwick who was gyrating in the aisle with friends and high-fiving strangers.
His revelry, while enthusiastic, seemed tame when compared with the crazed riders chanting “Party bus! Party bus!” while pounding their palms on the bus’s windows. Two guys in skateboard sneakers leaped onto a vinyl-upholstered seat, jerking their heads to the metal anthem “Hell Bent for Leather,” air guitars apparently cranked up to 11.
A woman in preppyish attire who in another context might be mistaken for a Congressional aide tried to crawl through a roof hatch, but her progress was blocked by a bolted cover. She had to settle for another form of misbehavior — pouring a can of Bud over a male friend’s head. He didn’t seem to mind.
“This is raging!” said Ryan McGaffigan, a 32-year-old sales manager in a wool cap, plaid shirt and ’50s-style glasses. He had just polished off two Buds “shotgun” — puncturing the can and finishing it in one long swig.
How could it be boring? The bus runs on irony as much as diesel. The basic premise is a cultural inversion: Manhattan tastemakers once sneered at the “bridge and tunnel” crowd overrunning their night spots. Now, they haul them in by the busload.
“It has the novelty of being a little field trip,” said Chrysanthe Tenentes, the managing editor of a local-events Web site, Brooklyn Based. “It’s so far on the West Side, it’s almost Jersey.”
This is not to say that the owners of the Rusty Knot, two years old this week, don’t know how to whip up a scene. Mr. Friedman is an owner of the Spotted Pig, the West Village gastro-pub known for its celebrity patrons, ricotta gnudi and two-hour waits. Mr. Somer is an owner of the thriving, taxidermy-filled Freemans restaurant on the Lower East Side, and designs his Freemans Sporting Club fashion label, which has put a generation of young men in plaid shirts and navy watch caps.
Riding along last Monday night, Mr. Somer said he liked the escape. He usually spends his days haggling with landlords, complaining neighbors and city bureaucrats.
“You can’t dance in a bar — that’s illegal — you can’t smoke in a bar,” Mr. Somer said. “You can still drink in a bar. But it’s getting to the point where we’re not the city that doesn’t sleep.”
On the bus, no one seems too concerned about rules (except for the driver, who cannot drink and is largely unseen). It’s a cocoon of debauchery. But even with music that can be punk-club loud, on the sidewalk nothing is heard but a muffled rumble.
It is of New York, but separate from New York.
“It’s sort of like international waters,” Mr. Somer said. “We’ve actually joked about having full nudity and gambling.”
The loose attitude seems to extend to the business model, as well. Giving away beer, with no cover charges, doesn’t seem like a moneymaking venture. But Mr. Friedman explained that the bus rental costs about $500 a night, and pays for itself as long as it brings in 50 people who spend at least $10 on drinks or food.
If not? Oh well, it’s a party.
“If it makes money and it’s fun, that’s terrific,” Mr. Friedman said. “If it loses money and it’s fun, that’s O.K. It’s only not O.K. if it loses money and it’s not fun.”


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