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Here comes a regular

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"You say tomato, I say f*** you." [Asterisks added.]

            Welcome to the Park Bench. I read that little (micro, really) witticism on a bumper sticker stuck beneath one of the TVs above the bar of "The Bench," as the regulars refer to it. I reprint it here, concerned reader/advertiser/Wegman, because it's an enlightening example of the atmosphere at the place: fairly crude, but friendly.

            Think about it: Under what circumstances would you let that little gem slip from your lips (assuming, of course, it would ever occur to you to say such a thing)? You'd have to be in company as easily entertained, jaded, or drunk as you, and that's the company you'll find at The Bench.

            Located in an alley behind Pontillo's, The Bench is Park Avenue's neighborhood bar. It earns this distinction over Prepps, its preppy neighbor across the alley, because it draws a more diverse clientele --- and contrary to popular perception, there are poor people in the Park Ave. area who don't tuck in their shirts.

            Being a neighborhood bar, the Park Bench must meet one crucial requirement: It has to be a better place to hang out than your own smoky, booze-stocked domicile. At least in this neighbor's case, The Bench succeeds, albeit barely.

            For one thing, The Bench has several large gaming apparatuses most Park Ave. residents either can't afford to have, would rather not have, or can't fit in their dwellings (in my case, all three circumstances apply). There are two pool tables, two electronic dart machines, and two stand-up video games. The latter consist of Golden Tee 2003 and the arcade antique Burger Time, featuring Peter Pepper, Mr. Hot Dog, Mr. Egg, and Mr. Pickle. Both are located in the dim, dingy basement of The Bench, near the bathrooms and the $7 cigarette machine.

            A word about the men's room: disintegration. On recent visits, I noticed the floor had been corroded by what I can only conclude is an acidic mix of water and pee. Standing at the urinal, you sway as your right foot sinks into the soggy flooring --- an interesting marketing move that makes male customers think they're drunker than they are. Apparently, it's working for the owners of The Bench.

            The other thing The Bench has going for it: people who are neither yourself nor, necessarily, your housemate. The scene may be shallow, coarse, and sports-oriented, but it's welcoming, even comfortable after awhile. New neighbors and other outsiders will soon note that the bar is primarily peopled with regulars. It's a place where everyone knows each other's name, but no one knows yours, yet.

            Fear not. No one will turn on you and screech "Ich bin einAuslander!" --- unless prompted by one of the angry alt-rock songs usually blaring from the bar's CD sound system. And the bartenders are just as attentive to strangers as they are to the barflies they've been bullshitting with for years. No one's going to give you abruzzi, but unless you hit too hard on the wrong regular, no one's going to bruise your ass, either.

            To fully appreciate this neighborhood establishment, go to The Bench on a Sunday afternoon. The Bloody Marys are spicy and cheap, and pints of tongue-soothing Guinness are just $2.50. But best of all, the gas grill stored in the basement is brought outside, and for 50 cents, you can cook your own industrial-grade burger in the alley. (Buns and a modest array of condiments, including tomatoes, are available inside.)

            It's a special kind of business that trusts its customers enough to let them light a gas grill beside the building when they've been drinking vodka and stout. Cheers to The Bench.

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