David Colon/Brick Underground
You might know the Alligator Lounge as the Brooklyn bar with free pizza that you always confuse with its Manhattan sister establishment, the Crocodile Lounge. And if you're at all familiar with the Williamsburg dive, you would probably think twice before moving in next door to it. If you don't already have a mental picture of what that might be like, E.'s stories from the heady, Pabst-soaked late-2000s should give you an idea. For three years, E. put up with the what you might expect from living next to a bar (people sitting and puking on her stoop) when pockets of pre-gentrified and post-gentrified Williamsburg existed side-by-side. This is her story.
I lived on Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg next door to the Alligator Lounge, the bar where you can get a free pizza with every beer, from the end of 2006 to the end of 2009. As you’d expect from living next door to a bar that was a magnet for drunk and hungry young people in gentrified but not quite over-the-moon, extreme-bulls--- gentrified Williamsburg, it was loud and there were a lot of 311 calls. But there were some positives about it, including all the Erotic Photo Hunt I could handle.
The place I lived in was a two-bedroom on the ground floor. I really liked the building. It was an ancient wooden place from like the 1890s that was falling apart. The entire floor was kind of a railroad, and the dog toys I had would roll to the middle of the apartment in a long line because the floor was so warped. It was also great, because I lived just a mile away from where I grew up, which was on Greenpoint Avenue in Sunnyside, right above the cemeteries and the Newtown Creek.
[Editor's Note: Brick Underground's series “Living Next to” features first-person accounts of what it’s like to have an iconic or unusual New York City neighbor. Have a story to share? Drop us an email. We respect all requests for anonymity. This article first ran in April 2018. We are presenting it again in case you missed it.]
Since it was so close to where I grew up, my mom would come and drop off Costco loads of croissants and toilet paper and laundry soap at my house when she'd go shopping, which was pretty helpful. It turned out that my grandfather used to drive the MTA bus that went by my place. When my parents saw the house, they told me they knew the building from seeing it when they were kids on the bus.
I moved into the apartment when I was a sophomore at college, so I could just bike to school. I got there when the buildings in Williamsburg were still shorter and the dogs at the dog park were way cooler. One of the first signs the rent started getting really high was you stopped seeing the people who’d go to the dog park at the crack of 11, because they were getting priced out.
311, the old-fashioned way
Find Your Next Home
I didn’t love living next to the Alligator Lounge though. For one thing, there was obviously the noise. I had a first-floor apartment with a window right on the street, and people always sat on our stoop. So until 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. every single night, it was nothing but cigarettes and puke and talking and drunk and stupid. 311, the way Bloomberg set it up, was a new thing, so instead of calling it I'd just yell at people through my window, polite things like "Shut the f--- up!" And then when I got wind that 311 existed and I would threaten to call 311 on the bar so they’d at least pretend like they were doing something.
I tried to make signs that said "Don't sit on the stoop." But instead of honoring the signs, people would just write responses back on them, which is really f---ing obnoxious. That resulted in me calling the bar, probably weekly, telling them things like "I'm definitely calling the cops if you don't get this drunk couple off my stoop, which is next to my bedroom window. It's Tuesday, I have a test in the morning." And they'd be like, "Okay, okay, okay."
I also had tons of plants on our stoop because I love plants, but also because I was already a cranky old lady from Queens when I was 20. So another way I tried to stop people from coming to sit on the stoop was I would “water the plants” at night. Which really meant I would soak the stoop with water to keep people away. If they were already there I would just do it anyway because I was just like "F--- it, I'm a cranky old lady."
It worked for a little while, but then these teenagers took up residence on the stoop, and they'd get newspapers from the free newspaper boxes like The L Magazine—and Vice—and they’d cover the stoop with the magazines and eat an endless amount of sunflower seeds. And I think they were having sex in our vestibule, because we also didn't have a lock or a doorknob on it.
We had this big backyard that was perfect for having parties and barbecues and stuff (it’s also where my cat, that I still have today, was living when I found her). The only thing was, we were between an Italian bakery on one side and the Alligator Lounge on the other. So if we were out there during the day, every day at 3:30 in the afternoon on the dot, the Alligator Lounge’s pizza ovens would start up. We’d have to come inside and close all the windows because of the most horrible acrid smoke from those ovens. And on the other hand, if we were all out in the backyard at 2 a.m., you’d have to go inside because the bakery’s ovens would start up with their smoke.
The junkies next door
Also, not that many people know this, but there's an apartment above the Alligator Lounge. My friend and roommate who was also a college student eventually couldn't even afford our rent anymore. She saw a sign up there and thought, "Oh this apartment next door has a room for like $350." But what she didn't know is that everyone in this apartment was a severe drug addict. They were all on heroin.
She just kind of slept there. She'd shower at our place and we'd do our homework together, but there would always be something happening there. Like somebody puked in the sink and the junkies forgot, and they'd argue about it.
Once I left my apartment to go to class and the people next door were on my stoop, and they had a kitten. One of them said they were going to sell it, and I just gently took it from them without saying anything and adopted the cat out to a friend of mine.
Remembering the good times
I will say there were some positives living next to the Alligator Lounge. Number one, since this was before smartphones or Netflix or anything fun we have now, my friend and I would go next door and play Erotic Photo Hunt for hours. I would go there for pizza, but I didn't drink much there at all. I did a lot of my drinking and smoking weed in like freshman year of high school, and I was pretty satiated with that. They didn't want underage me in the bar after midnight, but it seemed all right otherwise.
When I turned 21 and realized it was midnight, I just went in wearing pajamas and a robe. The bouncer, who I’d been fighting with for like a year and a half said, "You can't come in." And then I showed him my ID and said, "Read it again," and he got excited and said, "Oh shit it's your birthday! Free beer and pizza!" Everyone was nice to me, even though I was in my pajamas.
Also, I got to throw a beer in someone's face there once. That was awesome. My ex-boyfriend, who I'd originally moved to the apartment with, disappeared on me, the dog, and the cat, and just left us in the lurch shortly after moving in. One day out of nowhere, he showed up from Boston where he was going to school and tried to drunkenly break into our house while I was doing a crossword. After the dog almost killed him, I told him to go down and I'd meet him in the bar, since I hadn't seen him in like a year. I went next door to talk to him and he was there with all these friends of his.
It was all very rude. I said something like, "This isn't fun or ironic. You can't just show up here out of nowhere." A very drunk MIT friend of his said, "Ironic? This isn't an Alanis Morissette album." And that was my breaking point. I threw a beer in his face and of course got kicked out, but I just went next door to go back to my crossword puzzle.
End of an era
The worst thing though, and the thing that finally made me decide to leave, was the condo going up next door. The one good building on the block that wasn't falling apart got bought, and also happened to be what was holding up our building. I fully gave up on the apartment after that. When they ripped down the building next door to build the condos, all of our doorways became rhombuses instead of rectangles, so we couldn't open or close our doors anymore, and the ceiling would cave in all the time. And the landlord accepted money to build all this scaffolding for the project next door, so I couldn’t even hang out in the backyard anymore.
It was cool though while it lasted. I had my own little universe there that kind of straddled old and new Williamsburg. There was a 100-year-old Italian lady across the street from me who’d make mozzarella. The McCarren Park pool parties were still happening, which was awesome, and there was a delicious pizzeria near us, but it was run by terrible racist people who either were mob connected or wanted you to think they were.
I kind of miss it (or maybe I miss being young and a size three), but I think even more than pre-super gentrified Williamsburg, I miss pre-smartphone America, and all these esoteric things that will never return. We had a video store on the corner. I liked that. It was before everybody was just, like, a bougie a--hole.
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