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The Last of the Friday Morning Drinkers

New York Press

August 22, 2007

A seaport tradition lingers though the fish guts are gone

An unread Daily News lies folded in half on the bar. I slide into a seat, order a coffee from the bartender, pick up the paper and flip through it, but not with the same Yankee-loving, Lotto-playing gusto as the guys it’s really for.
When it opened in 2004 on Beekman Street, Fresh Salt entered into a tradition as old as the seaport itself.
In October of 2004, recalls Sara Williams, the bar’s co-owner, some guys came in one morning at 8 a.m. for coffee. Then they noticed that “I was standing in front of a lot of liquor.” They ended up asking sheepishly for margaritas. Thus was born the Friday morning happy hour, a celebration of the end of the fish market’s nocturnal workweek.
There was a time, affectionately recorded in a photo album behind the bar, when twenty guys would pack in, grappling hooks over shoulders, some already on their third vodka-soda as suits headed to work on nearby Wall Street.
That was almost two years ago now. When the 180-year-old Fulton Fish Market was booted from its waterfront site in the fall of 2005 and relocated to a new facility in the Bronx, Friday mornings at the seaport got a lot tamer. “We don’t do that anymore,” says Sara, of the extra-early happy hour. Now Fresh Salt opens at 10 a.m. every day of the week. “Not too long after they moved, we were like, alright, ten o’clock.”
Which is not to say that Friday mornings at Fresh Salt are suddenly sober. It turned out that the move to the Bronx was quite a buzz kill for the guys who liked to jumpstart their weekend with the unfailing combination of many drinks on no sleep. While the new $85 million, 400,000-square-foot indoor facility is spacious and climate controlled, Hunts Point lacks any sort of early morning drinking infrastructure. As one fish guy put it: “Where can I get a margarita at 8 a.m.?”
So while it goes without saying that the numbers of early morning drinkers at Fresh Salt are of course nothing like what they used to be, it is a testament to something – perhaps the strength of friendships forged over decades, or the lure of alcohol, or both – that there is still a core that makes the weekly pilgrimage from the heart of the Bronx to the lower tip of Manhattan every week, or just about.
“Vinny’s been coming, kinda,” says Sara. “Shadow, I haven’t seen in awhile. And Bobby usually gets here around eleven.”
It may be a sign of the beginning of the end that last Friday morning, not a single one of the regulars showed up. All the patrons at Fresh Salt had clearly been to bed the night before. All were utilizing the café, none the bar, and many were typing away industriously on laptops hooked up wirelessly.
But Sara’s not concerned. It’s summertime, she says, and the guys are probably spending their weekends away at the beach or somewhere.
On a rainy Friday morning a few months ago, the scene was similar – Sara running around accepting keg deliveries and setting out muffins – but the clientele, different:
“Where’s the Daily News?” asks Bobby Lobster, as Sara pours him a glass of red wine. “I forgot it,” Sara confesses, for the second time this morning. (Shadow had wanted it, too.) Like many things, this causes Bobby to groan good naturedly. Sarah offers to go out in the rain to pick it up, but she knows they don’t want her to go anywhere. It’s clear they all enjoy each other’s company.
Shadow throws Bobby Lobster – a lobster wholesaler – the Post. Bobby Lobster turns it toward Sarah and shows her “your boyfriend,” Yankee Johnny Damon. He’s heckling her, as Yankee fans tend to do to Red Sox aficionados: Sarah is from Boston originally.
Shadow, or Spider, or Michael (but no one really calls him by his Christian name) has been at the fish market since he was 20, which was about twenty years ago. He hoists fish from 10 p.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Thursday, and on Sunday from 7 p.m. to 9 a.m. He looks wan after his 11-hour shift loading and unloading fish, half of which was spent outdoors in the rain. Mostly, though, he looks happy to be here, sipping his second Bud Light.
He’s still got the second leg of his commute home to Marine Park, Brooklyn in front of him, but he couldn’t care less. “Don’t have to be back at work ‘til Sunday,” Shadow smiles.
“Friday,” he says, sipping his second Bud Lite, “there is no bedtime.”