T&L Downtown: Manhattan's Barmacy Prescribed
Published: June 2009
Step over the broken glass outside and enter Barmacy. The ultimate recycler, Deb Parker, has taken an old pharmacy and turned it into a hip downtown bar.
The East Village, in spite of long being the bastion of Manhattan hip, has several theme bars -- Lucky Cheng's, where the "waitresses" are all Asian drag queens; Stingy Lulu's, a faux-50s diner with, guess what?, drag queen waitresses several times a week; there's even Burp Castle, a beer bar, where, inexplicably, the employees wear monks' vestments.
Deb Parker, owner of Barmacy, has long been in the vanguard of this downtown theme bar fad. "Babyland," housed in a former children's clothing store, featured over-sized playpens in which patrons could sit and drink from baby bottles and No-Tell Motel was a dark bar with a Western motel motif. More recent creations include the Beauty Bar, a still-functional beauty salon where, if you arrive before 9 p.m., you can still get a manicure, and now, Barmacy.
Barmacy is located in a defunct but mostly intact pharmacy, replete with display cases full of aspirin, trusses, mortars and pestles. The familiar RX symbol is embedded in the terazzo floor and, well, this theme bar has a hip edge.
We gaze inside a glass counter holding a dusty old box of Baby Ruths, and discover that the candy bars weren't named for Babe Ruth, but for an actual baby named Ruth who is related to one of the digerati in attendance. Who knew? For that matter, who knew that there were so many different configurations for athletic supporters? Just look at the vintage display above the bar. The potentially sterile atmosphere of an old pharmacy is tempered by quirky signage and curious, old products like medicated powders, laxatives, and sanitary napkins.
It's 9 p.m. and the bar is pretty quiet and comfortable, but there's a sense of anticipation. Two patrons discuss a snowboarding trip, the bartender is regaling the crowd with a vocal rendition of his favorite drum solo; a woman, locked out of her apartment, nurses a beer as she waits for her landlord to walk by. During the week, the bar is a local scene, heating up around 11 p.m. In the wee hours of the morning, Deb Parker hangs out with her late-night cronies. Every night there's a different deejay in the red-lit back room where there's room to dance or lounge on the banquettes and listen to the mostly retro music (retro-swing, psychobilly, 'sleazy, cheesy, make-out music,' 'forbidden roadhouse,' and 'cha-cha-cha mambo samba' are some of the enticements on the upcoming calendar).
The personable manager, Mike, is the bass player in a local band called Cyn. Before we leave (hey, we've got to work tomorrow), he concocts a special drink for our visit. It's green. We dub it the Nyquil. It's slightly medicinal, awfully sweet, and pretty potent.
1/2 oz. Midori (you thought it was just decorative?)
1 oz. vodka
2 oz. orange juice
Splash sour mix
Shake with ice and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a cherry and a lime.
538 East 14th Street (between Avenues A and B), 212/228-2240