This is Disease

I first moved to New York in 1982, and I stayed at what was then the George Washington Hotel, on Lexington Avenue at 23rd Street. I don’t remember how I found the place — I’m sure it was from a guide book I must have bought before moving here. That hotel converted into apartments in 1983 or 1984. I wasn’t still staying there when it happened though. I just know this because I looked at a studio apartment there at the time it was converted and it was exceptionally small.

It was a cheap hotel room. They’re not too big.

Anyway, like all good hotels, the George Washington had a bar. This one was called (if I remember correctly) The Cherry Lounge. And like all good guide books, mine told me how to eat cheaply, and one of the ways was to go into bars around happy hour. I don’t know if bars still do this, but back then they served buffet-style food during happy hour. So you could go into a place, mill about a bit, then fill up a plate with enough food that you wouldn’t have to spend any money that night. And the next night you would go somewhere else.

So I went into the Cherry Lounge. I don’t know if this photo gives you any indication, but this place was small and dark. There were maybe three people at the bar, and they didn’t look like they were there for happy hour. They looked as if they might have still been there from the night before.

I sat down at the bar and ordered a beer, waiting for the food to be brought out. An older (than me at that time) Trinidadian woman sat down next to me and asked solemnly “What are you doing in here?”

“I’m waiting for the food,” I said.

“There is no food here,” she said. “Why are you here? Look at these people. This is disease.”

I was 23 years old, just moved to New York. I knew no one and was just trying to scam some dinner. She completely freaked me out. She sat there a little longer then got up to go to the restroom. I took a quick drink from my beer, got out of there, and never went back.

Today, the Cherry Lounge is gone. So are those diseased souls who were there that day, no doubt. Now it’s been gutted and what occupies that space today seems to require awnings and an over-abundance of signage to lure its customers.

But in 1982, neither awnings, nor signage, nor even food were necessary.

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