I’m on autopilot; music blasts into my ears, and although my head is nodding to the beat, I don’t hear it. My thoughts delve into the deepest, darkest nooks of my brain, making me loose all perception of the world around me. Walking from 84th to 97th street is habitual; somehow my body has timed this walk so well that when I leave my apartment I am able to take the same route without stopping once for a crosswalk signal. Yet when I round the corner on 97th street, the bright neon pink sign is like a beacon for my thoughts. A jolt reverberates through my body, pushing me to abandon the depths of my mind and swim towards the surface.
I pull open the door and immediately I am enveloped by a warm, familiar aura. An eclectic mix of pop, classics, and show tunes mix with loud laughter and rhythmic conversation. Tables and benches, built by Bobby and Mike, squished full with people enjoying rich, brown-hued beers greet me as I enter the bar. I look around, instinctively searching for someone I know. The scenes of forests spotted with deer, painted on the walls, come to life under the dim yellow ceiling lights. I walk towards the cramped bar with the beer chalk board hanging over a wall full of climbing, surf, and brewery stickers that regulars have plastered there. I immediately see Sabino hulking over the taps pouring a beer; he fist bumps me and we share a few climbing stories. Our reminiscence is interrupted by an eager customer, so I slither through the narrow space between the bar and the wall, getting closer to the people standing there than you do to strangers on the subway. The room immediately opens up; my eyes flutter between the colorful Christmas lights that hang year round, precarious Jenga towers, and rustic deer heads. Finally, they lock on friendly faces; Hunter, Bryan, and Zach laughing at some stupid dad joke Hunter just told or maybe Bryan’s self-deprecation. It’s picturesque. Time stands still and in that moment it’s not the liveliness of the people that I feel, but the life that they have imbued into the unique physicality of the space that gives it a true sense of being.
The obscure bar falls in the limbo between the top of the Upper East Side and the bottom of East Harlem. Hidden from those who don’t seek it, the usual crowd consists of climbers, medical school students, and people over the age of fifty. The proprietor, Mike, also owns the rock climbing gym, Steep Rock Bouldering, around the corner. My connection with Earl’s began when I got hooked on rock climbing at Steep Rock, creating a special connection between me and the bar that gives it a strong sense of place in my mind. I associate the joy of completing a hard project at the gym with celebrating at Earl’s with my friends afterwards; it’s where the party is held after a climbing competition; and it’s where I can always find good company on a weekend night. The rough exposed brick walls are soaked with fond memories; the space has the uncanny ability to attract rich experiences, good and bad, acting as a beacon to individuals with powerful souls.
Earl’s has a strong spirit because of the people who care for it and its eclectic style. Sitting in the middle of a cosmopolitan nexus, the bar has the overpowering will to remind me of the town I grew up in, Poughkeepsie, New York: hunting paraphernalia, craft beer, and good cheese are staples at Earl’s and upstate. Earl’s is thus the physical embodiment of my multifaceted rootedness: it reminds me of my first home, but it also reminds me of the community of people that I have come to love and cherish in New York City.