A couple of weeks ago, one my favorite (local) community Web sites posted a story about a bar in Park Slope. (For those living outside of NYC and Brooklyn, Park Slope is an area that many well-off, new parents have annexed. It’s relatively safe, it’s unbelievably expensive, and it’s the most impossible place on the planet to find a parking spot. I read once that 40% of traffic in Park Slope is people looking for parking).
This particular bar had become a place where some mothers met on some afternoons for a drink. One day, the bar owner put up a sign that read, “NO STROLLERS PLEASE”. He no longer wanted toddlers in his bar. At all. Well, the community went nuts. Some of the Park Slope mommy bloggers freaked out, calling it unfair since they visit the bar during the day when it’s relatively empty. But even more noise came from those who took sides with the bar. Insults began flying! People began calling the mothers degenerates, drunks, and questioning their parenting skills. One guy wrote, “See? If you could still smoke in bars here, this wouldn’t be happening.” (I suppose secondhand smoke is better than secondhand baby?)
The point is, I hadn’t seen that kind of intolerance and animosity take place online in years. And it has haunted me every since.
One supporter of the bar suggested mothers visit Chuck E. Cheese, a children’s theme restaurant beloved by hipsters seeking a dose of irony. (Oh, the irony.) Another person suggested a coffee shop, and many others lamented, “If you have to booze it up with your kid, stay home!”
I’m a new parent so of course this one hit home. And TobyJoe and I have taken Emory to a few local Wiliamsburg bars. Granted, we always go for food and we’re always out of there before any mating rituals begin or it gets too loud (ie. before 9 PM). As far as I know, we’ve never annoyed anyone and if Emory were to cry or fuss, I’d leave in a second. But he doesn’t. The last time we went out for dinner and a drink in the neighborhood, this is what happened:
But ever since I read that article and watched the backlash surface because of it, I can’t relax. Now, all I do whenever we go out is try and read the waiter’s expression or stick whatever object I can into Emory’s mouth to avoid any (God forbid) baby sounds. I am not one to call attention to myself. But I do like to get out every now and again.
I won’t even go into the whole “boozing it up” accusation because I don’t feel that most of these mothers are bringing their babies to bars in order to tie one on. But in America, we tend to hold a less than positive view of booze and bars. At the same time, we put a lot of stock in the magical drinking age of 21 and all those under said age don’t belong. You have to gain the right to drink here in America. I think the culture surrounding alcohol in America is sensationalized.
I live in a city that is anything but family friendly. I feel that the general vibe of New York City is the following: If you’re elderly, move to Florida already. If you’re a child, get the hell out of town. If you’re a mother or father with a baby and you use a stroller or slow everyone else down as you climb the subway stairs with your 20-pound baby strapped to your chest, you belong in the suburbs. Move.
New York City is not friendly to families. The stair-heavy subway system has very few elevators, and the few we’re given are often out of order or patronized by the obese (another group that has no right living here). Since I became a mother, I feel very out of place here and it’s getting worse the older Emory gets and the more we venture out.
More and more I find myself asking, “Where is safe? What’s OK? Where will I not annoy anyone?”
I assume that mothers go to bars because patrons and bar owners are usually pretty tolerant of the occasional raised voice and therefore a few baby squeals will most likely be overlooked. Plus, they are open during the day, you’re not required to order food to “pay rent” on the table, and they’re warm. But some Brooklyn moms are met with fierce resistance from other Brooklynites when it comes to bringing their baby to a bar even if said bar is empty and it’s the middle of the afternoon.
It leaves me wondering, for many people, the issue for them isn’t about babies being around booze, it’s that babies are in bars. It’s not babies in public… but bars. The question I have is, what part of a person is threatened by the shattering of their image of a bar as some sort of special place?