Elsie’s Oke Doke Bar

When I was in my twenties I used to go to a bar on 84th Street called the Oke Doke. The name was technically the Oke Doke Restaurant, but it wasn’t a restaurant, it was a tiny bar with no tables, (that I remember) a jukebox and a shuffle bowl game. Elsie, the owner, wouldn’t open the door for everyone. You’d knock, she looked you over, and maybe she’d let you in.

Sometime after I turned forty, I went back to the Oke Doke with my friend Chris. Elsie was like the Miss Havisham of bar owners, it turned out. I wrote about the visit in my book, Waiting For My Cats to Die. An abridged version:

“The place was practically unchanged. The same singers were on the jukebox: Frank Sinatra, who is the most represented, Al Jolson, Patsy Cline, Bobby Darin, Marion Lanza, The Ink Spots, and Peggy Lee. I recognized the few knick-knacks behind the bar, like a cheap brandy snifter filled with 20 year old, now smell-less pot-pourri, as well as the shuffle bowl game on the way to the bathroom. Nothing has moved in eighteen years, nothing has been spruced up, nothing has been renovated. It was dingier and less cheerful …

“Elsie was smaller than I remembered, and grayer. “I’ve been running this place since 1950,” she tells me. The guys I used to come in here with—who weren’t exactly the nicest guys in the world—still come around, she told me. She clearly adored them. She called them “my boys” and told me what they are all up to.

“The three of us talked about men and children until she buzzed in a group of six young Eastern European men who, recognizing the honor they had been given, thanked her very politely, and took the stools to our right. A little while later she buzzed in a handsome man roughly my age who walked in with a very lovely young woman in her twenties. They sat to my left. “This is my third time in here this week,” he announced to the room. I liked him at once. Elsie pulled out a guestbook. “Someone gave this to me in 1986,” she said. It listed the dates, names, addresses and, best part, it had a space for comments.

“I scanned for familiar names. I found one of Elsie’s boys, someone I used to come here with. “I will always love you … Your Tallboy.” (He was gigantic, I remember.) I found his brother’s name. He’d written, “When will I be known only for my own good deeds?” A touching question …”

I would do anything to read that guestbook now, slowly and carefully. I couldn’t at the time. It’s just the kind of thing I live for whenever I research and write. The comments created such a perfect picture of the place and the people who used to drink there. The Tallboy was a guy named Ray who I’d dated a few times. Ray had, like, a billion brothers, and I don’t remember which one wrote “When will I be known only for my own good deeds?” but I still think it’s a touching question. I wonder if he ever went on to perform any good deeds.

Sometime after, I went back to the Oke Doke, and there was a sign on the door saying that it was closed and Elsie was in a nursing home. I went to visit her. The place wasn’t bad at all, but it was a terrible visit. Elsie was miserable and angry to be there, and she just fumed the whole time, it was awful. She told me her boys visited her and I believed her. Like I said, they weren’t the nicest people I’ve ever known, but as far as I could tell they had genuine affection for Elsie, so I could see them visiting her.

The site of the former Elsie’s Oke Doke, from Google maps. The orange awning is where Elsie’s used to be. I wished I’d taken a picture at the time. I couldn’t find a picture of it online. She ran it for roughly forty years, there must be a picture somewhere.

Update: Scroll down for a picture of Elsie, sent to me by Kevin Connell. Thank you, Kevin!

Elsie Renee at the Oke Doke Bar

Things I Meant to Post About

– I read an essay by Rebecca Bazell, who lived in the same building as Etan Patz, (the six year old who went missing in 1979). It made me curious about her. She was ten at the time of Etan’s disappearance, who did she grow up to be? An amazing painter, among other things. If I was a rich person I’d buy her paintings. Attention rich people: buy her paintings.

The power of singing. Remember Anders Behring Breivik? The guy who murdered 69 people last year in Norway, mostly kids, in order to halt what he saw as encroaching multi-culturalism? Apparently he hated a song called “Children of the Rainbow.” Well, 40,000 people gathered in Norway to sing it in protest of his anti-immigration views. A lovely response to a terrible, terrible thing.

– A new particle has been discovered. Why isn’t this bigger news? Not that I fully understand what it means, but still. It seems like a big deal.

Someone tied a bunch of daffodils to a railing on 11th Street. Thank you, someone.

Daffodils on 11th Street, New York City

If You Need a Good Cry

Watch this P&G ad for the Olympics. In response, Salon had an interesting essay yesterday titled, Motherhood is not a job.

I’m comfortable with calling motherhood a job. I think I only have a problem with calling it the most important job, as if what the rest of us do, or what else we do, is not as important, as the author of the essay pointed out (Mary Beth Williams). Calling motherhood a job started because for so long being a mom wasn’t considered as important as what the man does. The problem is, calling motherhood a job feels condescending, depending on who is saying it and how. It’s like a pat on the head. Even this ad, which made me sob and sob and sob, is like a really artful pat on the head. The children are the ones who are achieving greatness and getting awards. The mothers are getting a really moving and well-deserved thank you. It’s another version of “behind every great man there’s a great woman.” Yes, it’s pointing out that the woman helped him get there, and that he couldn’t have gotten there without her, but the man did the great thing. It’s another way of saying thank you.

This video makes me sob because the “thank you” feels so genuine. The whole thing is so wonderfully done, from beginning to end. To see the children’s gratitude and acknowledgment for all their mother’s work and sacrifice, and to watch the mothers witnessing the fruits of their labors, I’m tearing up again just writing about it. But what about the dads?


Carole King Loser’s Lounge Tonight

I can’t wait. Carole King has written so many great songs for so many great artists (including herself, of course) over so many decades. Can. Not. Wait. I’ll be back tomorrow with photographs, hopefully. The Loser’s Lounge regularly does tribute shows to various musical artists.

By the way, Carole King was on Piers Morgan recently and she looked absolutely fabulous and beautiful. Better than she did when she was young! She doesn’t look like she’s had work. If she did, she’s the rare star whose work turned out well.

On my way home yesterday, I passed by a mob of young girls crowded around a store window screaming and singing. I asked what they were looking at and was told that inside was a band called The Wanted. I googled them when I got home. (Because I do not have a smart phone. So deprived. Pity me!!) They’re a boy band from the UK.

The Wanted, NYC

The Wanted, NYC

Sad, Horrifying Picture

Yesterday, I mentioned a photograph I saw at the Municipal Archives in 2002 that has haunted me ever since. I decided not to post it, and if you follow this link to see it you’ll probably be shocked that I would even consider posting it.

The caption reads: “Homicide victim (male) undersize, naked bloated man [ship captain murdered by crew].”

With the exception of crime scene photographs involving children, this man is the most vulnerable, saddest, sorriest-looking homicide victim I have ever seen. I’ve come across photographs that are more gruesome, but the combination of his spread-out nakedness, the swelling, the squalid setting, it’s just so pathetic. Perhaps he was a miserable, awful human being and his crew had plenty of reasons to hate him, but still. Who was he? What led to this moment? What was the aftermath?

The photograph comes from a collection of glass plate negatives that are sitting in the basement of One Police Plaza. They sit in piles in a small caged room, cracking anytime someone steps too hard. They’re in bad shape and continually getting worse and eventually there will be nothing left if something isn’t done about them. (And maybe something has been done since the last time I was down there.)

I was going to post a more fun picture, but now that feels inappropriate! So I will post this one instead. I took this yesterday, walking back from the DMV.