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A month ago, we were putting the finishing touches to our Best of 2020 issue. It was a doozie. The brilliant businesses you had nominated as your favorites are, in the main, now closed indefinitely. But their spirit lives on, and serve as a reminder of this crazy, mixed up, larger-than-life neighborhood we call home.
Today, we talk to Suzy Darling, owner of Pocket Bar and Back Pocket Bar, about wine in the time of corona, and building a business that is about so much more than booze.
“I go through 18 phases in a day. It can change in 12 seconds, then I’ll have a meltdown about tomato sauce or something.”
Suzy sums up what the rest of us are going through as we navigate the emotional minefield of life and work in the last three weeks.
After both bars closed, she reopened Back Pocket to serve take out wine and beer. “It was a big push to secure another month of health insurance for my employees, which it did,” she says. “But, after five days, I was emotionally drained. It’s one percent of what nurses and doctors are going through – I’m not even close – but I just couldn’t take any more. I was absorbing everything from everybody.”
She acknowledges she’s lucky to have amazing landlords at Back Pocket. “They own the deli on W49th St – 10th Ave, and they just said, ‘You guys stay safe. As soon as you open and can pay rent, pay rent.’ That makes all the difference in the world.”
Not to be cheesy, but it makes me realize how important it is for people to feel seen.
And a world of thanks also goes to the army of Pocketeers, who send messages of love and support every day and kind of blow her mind.
“I get goosebumps thinking about it,” she says. “This community is unbelievable.
“Not to be cheesy, but it makes me realize how important it is for people to feel seen, and I think that’s what Pocket Bar was always about. It was never about the alcohol – that just pays the rent. I love when Michelle Obama says her super power is making people feeling seen. Oprah says the same thing. And that’s the beauty of the people who come to Pocket Bar and the people who work there.
“When we’re so isolated, it’s even more apparent and more important. We can have all the virtual shit in the world, but all we want is human contact.”
That came sharply into focus for her last week, after New Yorkers were urged to wear face masks.
“It’s right that we should wear them,” she says, “but when I was out getting groceries, I thought, ‘This is another loss for me.’ Because I was smiling at people and they couldn’t see it.
“We lost hugging – I read that 11 hugs a day is standard minimum. Now we’ve lost one more connection to another human being. I’m like: Duuuuude!!’”
While you’re waiting to be back at the window seat of OG Pocket, belting out Celine Dion, both bars have launched a Go Fund Me page. One hundred per cent of the money raised will pay for staff health insurance (gofundme.com/f/pocket-bar-nyc). Which they need now more than ever.
And here’s Suzy’s pick of neighborhood favorites. Only Anejo remains open for now, for delivery and takeout of all your favorites (including margaritas). And we look forward to seeing the others back, kicking ass, soon.
SUZY’S TOP FIVE
Fine and Dandy, W49th St – 9th/10th Ave
Owners Matt and Enrique were our first fellow small business friends, and we have been besties ever since. There are no words for how magical this place is. That’s why their dapper merchandise is the core of our Sexy Bingo* prizes and their own line of candles are the signature scent of Pocket Bar.
On The Rocks, 10th Ave – 48th/49th St
You want the best Manhattan in Manhattan? Well, here it is. Over 350 different whiskeys from which to choose. The Rat Pack soundtrack, mixed with the elegant lighting, allows you to cozy up and fall in love with the person next to you or cry in your drink over daddy issues. I’ve seen (done) both.
Anejo, 10th Ave – 47th St
I’m a guacamole snob. There, I said it. And when I need my fix I just put my scrunchie around my bicep, walk in, tap the inside of my elbow like Dear Evan Hansen taps on glass, and tell manager DJ: “Put it straight in my veins.”
Flaming Saddles, 9th Ave – 52nd/53rd St
The bad-ass-bitch bar owner Jacqui Squatriglia is an inspiration to me. She is not only a former dancer-turned-bar owner just like me, but she helped pave the way for women in what is traditionally a male-dominated industry. I help support her by “making myself” go watch her charismatic hot male bartenders dance on the bar. #wheredidallmyone$go?
Clinton Community Garden, W48th St – 9th/10th Ave
This is an oasis of Mother Nature right in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen. I come here to reflect and focus. When my favorite regular customer, 92-year-old writer and visionary Ralph Tyler, passed we held his memorial here. Each one of us released a white butterfly in his honor and I get to think of him each time I see one.
Suzy Darling began her NYC residency at the age of 12, when she received a full scholarship to Alvin Ailey dance studio. She went on to perform as a Rockette in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular for eight years. A champion of female empowerment and fair, safe employment practices, she opened Pocket Bar in 2014, followed by Back Pocket in 2018 (pocketbarnyc.com).