Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Two Lower East Side dive bars are not what they seem

Two of the Lower East Side’s finest bars are shrouded in irony.

Cake Shop and The Library are unpretentiously hip and unique dives, sort of. The Cake Shop is too multi-functional to be classified as a bar, and The Library’s back wall projector of an endless stream of cult movies detracts patrons from the front-counter seating. Speaking of irony, the former has no pastries (but $3 Rolling Rock cans), and the latter has a few novelty rank bookshelves out of arm’s reach.

Upon entering The Library, lasciviously dressed barmaids in low-cut garb serve affordable beer and lowbrow combos like The Pube – a shot of whiskey and a can of Natty Light. The best in punk, post-punk, indie pop and speed metal is blasted through speakers. You’ll hear more Pixies, Metallica and Smiths there than anyone else in the neighborhood. Lady Gaga’s LES hangout, on the other hand, wishes it has this kind of cred.

But the main attraction is the selection of depraved, vile B-movies and grindhouse pics on the big screen in the back. Some films have the awesomely bad quality, prompting you and your date to engage in a do-it-yourself Mystery Science Theater commentary. “Scanners” is a prime example because spontaneous combustion in the third act is still fun.

Other times, it takes it too far. Horror-exploitation classic “Blood Sucking Freaks” is grotesque beyond the realm of camp. The women are either topless or in bikinis while getting their brain sawed into by a Gene Wilder-type gone berserk and his ‘little person’ assistant. This pint-sized henchman is no Tony Cox, Peter Dinklage, elf or smurf; he’s pure evil. Violence is enacted with a skull-crushing vice, a bone saw, a meat cleaver and the goddamn anachronistic presence of a guillotine.

Two women abandoned their table to nestle amid a crowd by the bar up front. It takes both confidence and apathy to play that during peak hours on Saturday night. I don’t frequent this place enough to know how frequently “Videodrome” is played, but it would probably be gilded in a shrine.

Unabashedly plaintive pop and rock numbers, good beer and the unpredictable X-rated cinema pretty much sum up my expectations for a fun night.

Cake Shop is a lot more hands off albeit juggling multiple personalities. This amalgam of a records store, bar, music venue, coffeehouse and speakeasy puts the ball in your court. Their red velvet cake is a cool commodity but never the sole reason to visit. The ragged, vintage furniture situated incongruously always appears to be in a state of quiescence.

It’s a one of the few bars that promotes an interrupted, introspective conversation with friends and applies little-to-no pleasure to drink. No one will bug you if it takes you three hours to finish a design project on your Mac.

The Library - 7 Ave. A.
Apollo's Rating: B+

Cake Shop – 152 Ludlow St.
Apollo's Rating: A-

Photo Credits:
1 - The Library -
2 - Cake Shop -