Stacy and I were lucky enough to get an interview with Brian Michels, author of “The Last Bar in NYC.” See our reviews on the book and interview below.
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Thank heaven for New York City bartenders. They satisfy your boozy thirst in a strife filled life and a good one will listen to anything on your mind when no one else will. Our barman/narrator is one of the good ones. He’s been disposed under chins and elbows and cocktail napkins and ashtrays and spilled drinks for decades in New York City for countless drinkers willing to confess anything to a bar top. From one bar stool to another our barman’s raw and soulful voice delivers a metropolitan story of good times, struggle, regret and salvation – a story put together with well-known real life places, countless celebrity faces and amazing characters only found in New York City. Maybe you live in New York or simply wondered about living there. Maybe you’ve dreamed of tending a bar or owning a bar or sitting in a bar in New York City. Maybe you’ve always wanted to meet a bartender from the prohibition era who pissed into Al Capone’s beer or a horse-betting Rabbi that can explain the world order or see Mickey Mantle fall down drunk with his face buried in a filthy barroom toilet. Maybe you’re interested in a wine and beer stained, cigarette burned oak top metamorphism that will add some hardened experience to your teetotaler life. Or maybe you just have a tiny sadistic stripe and you’d like to witness what a big city, countless smokes and lots of drugs, liquor, sex, and bearing witness to the eternal under the neon glare of Times Square can do to somebody, to anybody. From 1966 and his first job in a South Bronx bar at 4 years old opening cans of beer to shining shoes in bars across the Bronx to serving booze in iconic bars and restaurants all over Manhattan our Barman spars with the life force of New York City for fifty years until last call when he’s faced with an unforeseen betrayal and is left almost broke, without a plan and nearly a hollow man. That is until he learns to forgive and luckily realize that life without warning has just begun.
Stacy’s Review: **** stars!
This novel encompassed a range of emotions throughout the book. At times gritty, heartbreaking, happy, exuberant… the reader is taken on a roller-coaster ride through a man’s life, from youth to mid-aged engaged in the profession of bartending in some of the trendiest places in NYC, all the while in search of meaning in his life…. a vision, a purpose, and he comes to some conclusions about what is important, and what isn’t. I enjoyed this book, journeying with the main character from his tough childhood, through his wild party days, ending with some resolutions about life and what he wants out of it.
I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Mr. Michels.
The Last Bar in NYC by Brian Michels is a novel memoir that reads like a wild and exciting adventure and takes the reader on an exploration of electrifying New York City nightlife. His writing style makes it a great read. The characters are so well described and the people and places are definitely intriguing.
I was really happy with the book. Even in the end, the drama, especially in closing with how everything evolved, remained interesting.
This lifestyle almost seems surreal. My mom was a bartender for many years and I’ve heard some stories, certainly none as thrilling as these. Welcome to NYC!
I’m looking forward to future books by this author. A big thanks to Brian for sharing a copy of the book. I’m so glad to have read it.
Interview with Brian Michels: (Updated 3/28/2017)
Twogalsandabook: Did you always want to be an author?
Brian Michels: I always wanted to be a bartender. As I grew up in the business I developed a strong passion for satisfying customers and dreamed of opening my own bar. I did that. Tending bar and owning a bar has been a priceless and slippery experience. Thank goodness I landed on my feet. Many others I met on the same path did not do as well. Drugs and alcohol are serious substances that should not be dealt with lightly. They can be fun but they also can disable and destroy both the consumer and the lives of others that don’t party at all but unfortunately are associated with the boozer or druggie. Fortunately, I’ve reached a mature level of moderation with drinking. Drugs are not a part of my life anymore. Having a clearer head is part of what has helped me see all the things I can do with my time here on Earth.
Twogalsandabook: What inspired you to write this book?
Brian Michels: Partying and serving in NYC bars over the years allowed me to be involved in countless conversations with very interesting people. This broadened my horizon, got me thinking about my full potential. As with so many of us, reading was also a major part of my learning. The older I became I seemed to need more than a bar and creative expression became unstoppable. I took up painting and truly loved it, especially when I got into photo-realism. That period taught me the value of focus and the serious input of time that goes into producing a work of art. The only thing that painting was lacking was the chance to deliver a bigger load of customer satisfaction. At some point I became acquainted with the writer, Nick Tosches (that’s an entire story in itself). The more I got to know him and his shoddy background and what it takes to write, I realized I had something else to offer. I dropped the paint brush and buried myself in the practice of writing (BTW, my portrait of Nick hangs over his desk in his apartment). I wrote many short stories and a novella. After my heartbreaking end to my bar-owner life, it became very clear, I would write The Last Bar In NYC. Now I’m working on my next book – a novel.
Twogalsandabook: Are there any specific authors that inspire you?
Brian Michels: One of them is Raymond Carver. I wasn’t sure about the writing craft until I read his work. Everything before him had a sheen of uber importance, something beyond my reach, far from my stature, something only highly respected individuals from the right sort of background could do well. Carver made it seem so easy. Writing is not easy. A lot of work goes into a book. Carver simply opened my eyes to something I could do, pulled down the curtain of pretense. I don’t think we have the same style. But I think we have similar goals with the type of stories we tell, sensitive character driven stories with real life drama.
I’m also impressed with Kurt Vonnegut. So smart, entertaining, strange at times, comical and unique. An amazing sense of “where the f#ck are we going?” is in his storytelling. His books stay with you. I could read his novels cover to cover, take a bathroom break, and then read them again. He’s just great.
Twogalsandabook: Have you written anything else?
Brian Michels: I’ve written a hundred page novella and about forty short stories before The Last Bar In NYC. One of my short stories was published in a CUNY Literary Journal and turned into an independent short film. I also have an ambitious historical novel that was never completed from 10 years ago; a story I’ll likely never go back to despite a few hundred pages of hard work that went into it. It was a wild-eyed dream that is better left sleeping.
Twogalsandabook: Is there anything you’re working on now?
Brian Michels: I’m writing a Romance novel, sort of. It’s a love story, for sure. There are other interesting themes in the underlay that will compete with the love story; identity; child abuse; war; global finance; dogs and cats; opposing generations; espionage and murder; cultural critique; baking. It’s not finished yet. It could end up being something altogether different.
Twogalsandabook: What are your ambitions for your writing career?
Brian Michels: One day to have a small room with an open window and lot’s of fresh air, and one of those handy little push-button espresso/coffee machines that make a light brown frothy top up to the brim. Hopefully, I’ll be working on my 12th novel.
Twogalsandabook: Do you read a lot? Who are some of your favorite authors?
Brian Michels: I read as much as I can whenever I can. Nowadays, with a family, job, extended family responsibilities, community service, promoting The Last Bar In NYC, and the work going into my new book, the only reading I seem to have time for is research material for my coming novel. It wasn’t always like that. It would be amazing to have time again to read anything on a whim. My favorite thing in the world is to read a book in one sitting; it makes for an intense read. That usually requires a block of serious time that I never have. No matter how fast I can read, getting through cover to cover in a half an hour is just not going to happen. I’ve come to the realization that reading is a luxurious privilege. I appreciate time spent reading more than ever.
Favorite Authors? I like all Authors. I’m not being overtly gracious. I just love those who put an effort into telling a story. Some stories might be better than others. But often with less successful stories what shines through more is the writer behind the story. It’s a glimpse of a real person opening their mind and sometimes their heart. I easily imagine the person at their keyboard. Their story could be far from a perfect read yet still be amazing and enjoyable… Though to be completely truthful, I don’t enjoy authors that are driven by disturbing self indulgence with porn, child abuse, blasphemy, or over the top graphic violence.
Twogalsandabook: What was the most difficult part about writing The Last Bar in NYC?
Brian Michels:R e-living the experiences.
Twogalsandabook: Have you ever experienced writers block? If so, how do you deal with it?
Brian Michels: No. I experience something worse: long spells of crappy writing. Whenever I sense that I’ve slipped into crap mode, I try to increase the output and the speed of writing. Somehow it gets out of my system. I absolutely love, love, love looking over thirty or forty pages of shite, then highlight the entire block, and hit delete. Oooooh! The power! The thrill!
Twogalsandabook: Where is your favorite place to write? Do you have a favorite “writing” atmosphere?
Brian Michels: At my desk that sits mostly in my kitchen. Yeah, I know, embarrassing. For the poor, NYC apartments are usually small. At least coffee is easily accessible.
Twogalsandabook: Do you have any advice for novice or aspiring writers?
Brian Michels: Notebook. Comfortable chair. One page at a time. If you can, get an in-house editor. Oh yeah, revision.
Twogalsandabook: Who would you recommend to read this book?
Brian Michels: Anyone interested in NYC or a Big City life experience. Nightlife enthusiasts will surely get a kick out of it. As will bartenders and waitresses, and all those who have ever worked in a bar or restaurant. If colorful real life characters are your thing, then you’ll do good to read my book. It’s an epic, fifty year story with roller coaster styled ups and downs, lot’s of parties, lots of crashes, betrayal, broken hearts, a dose of hope. There’s honesty and pure heart on the pages along with some well crafted storytelling. Bottom line, it’s a great read.
Twogalsandabook: Is there anything you would like to add that we have not inquired?
Brian Michels: Reading is fundamental.
Twogalsandabook: Is the main character really as fearless as he is portrayed in the book?
Brian Michels: Interesting. I never thought of my character as being fearless. There is one scene at my bar where I face off with 100 thugs and get pummeled and tossed to the curb. The night that occurred I remember being filled with fear to the point where and when I had no alternative other than going toe-to-toe with the bunch of them. Fearless? More like a cornered rat.
Twogalsandabook: Early in the book, the main character is exposed, it appears, to frequent domestic violence. Do you think the main character was impacted by that? If so, how?
Brian Michels: The main character was severely impacted by domestic violence. I believe it led to many bad decisions in life and a twisted sense of self confidence. But childhood is only a small part of life. You eventually reach a point when you have to take responsibility for what is going right or wrong in your adult life. I’ve come to understand where domestic violence most commonly comes from – financial stress. I guess the old saying is true, Money Is The Root Of All Evil. I try my best to not get attached to money. It seems to be working as I don’t have much.
Twogalsandabook: Tommy Saloon and Rabbi Odds On seemed to be two characters that I would liked to have met. They seemed to be wellsprings of knowledge and wisdom, and even if you talked to them all the time, the conversation would never get old. Do you think that those two men influenced your main character in anyway?
Brian Michels: You said it best, “…even if you talked to them all the time, the conversation would never get old,” Those two were remarkable men. Rabbi Odds On was a very special person, along with his brother. Unfortunately I didn’t get to know them outside of the bar. Tommy Saloon was a great friend. I think of him often. Incredibly generous, smart, fun loving, and tough. A ferocious book reader. I wish more people could have gotten to know all of them. I’m glad I was able to include them in my book.
YES! They were a major influence. They taught me the value of using your brain to help yourself and others.
Twogalsandabook: When the Rabbi is taken away, what happened to him? Was he institutionalized or did he die?
Brian Michels: The day he was taken away in an ambulance it turned out to be food poisoning, not anything to do with his mental outburst other than the timing of his lunchtime tirade. I don’t know what happened to him after I left the bar. He might have been institutionalized. If so, I can’t imagine him staying there long. Anyone trying to set his mind straight would likely go bonkers themselves. Jokes aside, he was smart enough to avoid mental institutions and could talk circles around any psychologist. My best hopes for him are a long life and a peaceful death in his sleep.
Twogalsandabook: Did the main character and Carina ever reconnect? Did the main character ever regret not going on the adventure to the Amazon with her?
Brian Michels: Yes, we reconnected about five years ago when she was visiting NYC. With the Internet and a NY Times Article she tracked me down . She stopped in my bar and we reminisced nicely. She was still beautiful, maybe more beautiful. She was married with five grown children, had settled in South Africa for awhile and eventually moved to Indonesia where she and her husband have a small farm for plants used in perfumes and essential oils.
Did I regret not going on the adventure with her? Wouldn’t any sensible man? I wasn’t too sensible at the time. Life goes on, I suppose.
Twogalsandabook: Throughout the main character’s career, he had the opportunity to meet a lot of “celebrities”. In your imagination, who do you think he found the most interesting among them and why? The least?
Brian Michels: Uhhmmn? The most interesting? It’s too hard to answer. So many of them were mostly ordinary. I can tell you Bill Murray was the most down to earth and genuinely as funny in person as he is in the movies, and he loves bars. Muhammad Ali was amazing to see interacting with a crowd of people, an ultra-charismatic individual. I really liked super model Carmen Kass; she is a very bright, professional level chess player, so nice with everyone at the bar, totally unpretentious and, of course, very easy on the eyes. Getting to chill out with Willie Nelson was totally cool, a one of kind type of musician. Ben Kingsley was a very friendly guy. I could go on; there is no shortage of celebrities in Downtown NYC bars.
My least favorite celebrity to serve is one of the characters in the book so I don’t want to spoil it for any readers. Aside from celebrity characters mentioned in the book, I despised having to serve Jeffrey Epstein and Scooter Libby. Epstein is the now famous billionaire-convicted-pedophile famous for running a child-sex island in the Caribbean used by many of Washington DC’s political elite. Scooter Libby was the criminal Chief of Staff for VP Dick Cheney and Assistant to President Bush (also a novelist that subjected a child character to being caged and raped by a bear – WTF?). Though I did not actually serve drinks to the two of them. I went to their table and asked for their order but I didn’t bother returning with their drinks. When they eventually flagged me down, I told them that I forgot their order. I didn’t bother returning to their table and after 10 minute they gave up waiting and left the bar.
Twogalsandabook: At the end of the book, did your main character get his settlement and justice in regards to Circa Tabac?
Brian Michels: Settlement $$ ? I cannot answer that question. Did I get justice? Not sure. I did get something better. I learned to forgive, forget and move on from a rotten situation.
Twogalsandabook: What do you see your main character doing now?
Brian Michels: Uuuhmmn? Typing. Lot’s of typing. And, of course, more typing. And some reading. And if the NYC real estate market ends this era of irrational exuberance and store front rents come back down to earth, opening another bar would be great.
Twogalsandabook: Throughout the book, the main character doesn’t seem to have a lot of interaction with the large family he grew up in. Was he estranged from them?
Brian Michels: My father passed away soon after I left the nest and two of my siblings have been laid to rest. I had a long period of semi-detachment. I will say that a violent and stressed out family household can create lifelong consequences and it should be avoided at all costs.