Bushwick Bartenders Dress Down For Pin Ups

Matt Fink

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Bushwick has its own calendar, and it’s nothing like your aunt Sheila’s copy of “Pat Nixon’s Christmas Outfits, 1959-60.”

The facts are these: several bartenders at Bushwick-area bars, including Pine Box Rock Shop, Pink Metal, Abe’s Pagoda, 101 Wilson, Bootleg Bar, The Cobra Club, Forrest Point and Heavy Woods, recently lent their scruffy, inked pulchritude to the photographic project of Leslie Hong, floor manager at jack-of-all-trades bar Our Wicked Lady.

The result, an affectionate ode to Bushwick’s raw, wild bar scene, is a “Bushwick Bar Babes of 2021.” It features both men and women, shot by photographers Jeanette D. Moses and Michelle Ma, arranged in various poses among the paraphernalia and characteristic furnishings of their chosen profession: bar tops, stools, liquor bottles and a few mutilated barbies.

Hong is far from some Johnny-come-lately hospitality dilettante. Her first job, when still a teenager, was at a Pizza Hut, and since then she’s worked both in casual fine-dining and at places like the Brooklyn Bowl, where she met the people who would come to own Our Wicked Lady; when she moved back to New York City last year, they hired her.

The new gig has since afforded her the acquaintance of several counterparts on Bushwick’s bar scene, and she made ample use of those connections when reaching out to gauge interest in the calendar.

“Danny from All Night Skate was the first person to say, ‘Yes, we are so in,’” Hong related via email. “That affirmation was so crucial in feeling like this project was worth pursuing. Some others were a bit slipperier to nail down but, ultimately, I think everyone was stoked to take part.”

A pin up shot taken by Jeanette D. Moses at Abe’s Pagoda. . 

The aforementioned mutilated barbies belong to calendar participants at Boobie Trap, a local bar that has thus far proved too tenacious a barnacle to be dislodged by the COVID tidal wave. During a phone interview with owner Paul King, something like a picture of a close-knit local bar community started to emerge.

“I used to bartend with the Our Wicked Lady guys, at Hope Lounge in the early 00s,” said the gregarious, fast-talking King.

“So they called and said, ‘We’re doing a photo shoot for all the Bushwick bartenders, to help out. Everyone is broke. Bars are broke. Do you want to do a shoot?’ And we were like, ‘100 percent!.’”

In the calendar, King and Kristine North pose together in their bar’s nacreous, nightmarish (in a good way) pink interior. North is perched on the bar itself and clad in her characteristic cheerleading outfit (she rarely wears anything else on the job), with a more prim King shamelessly promoting his business via a company t-shirt. (While his lower half was concealed by the bar top, it is assumed he was wearing pants?)

“The [other participants] are all our friends,” continued King. “We have nothing but love for them. Bootleg Bar is our neighbor and we love them to death. The guys at Pine Box Rock Shop are from Seattle and so am I.”

You’re correct in thinking that two subjects fully clad for a sexy calendar doesn’t necessarily scream “risqué”; actually, Hong’s calendar isn’t particularly revealing of its subjects, especially compared to its spiritual predecessor in light, calendaric bawdry, “Babes of Bushwick.” 

The work of photographer Michelle Ma,  “Babes of Bushwick” drips with sculpted, tattoo’d latissimi dorsi, tantalizing happy trails framed by shredded abdominal V muscles, and a lot of cooly aloof eye-fuckery above impeccably trimmed beards. Where those images might conjure an evening soundtracked to, say, Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Games,” the current project is pure “Cherry Bomb.”

An outtake from the session at Old Timers (Jeanette D. Moses)

Another “Bar Babes of Bushwick 2021” participant was Bria Noone, a young Connecticut-raised bartender currently furloughed from her job at Echo Bravo, which in late 2019 took over the space formerly occupied by Hard Times, across the street from the headquarters of the Bushwick Collective. In terms of the quotient of flesh exposed, her and her co-workers’ participation in the calendar upped the ante a bit on King and North.

“I was the first to be like, ‘I’m so in – whatever it is, I’m totally down,’” laughed Noone from her apartment.

“I actually live with two of the other bartenders at Echo Bravo; we were all sitting in our kitchen and I said, ‘We should do this!!’ We went to Friends NYC to shop for some cute tops, showed up at Echo, stripped down and went outside for the shoot. We have a beautiful patio, and we still had our Christmas decorations up. Leslie was like, ‘We can definitely work with this.’”

“So, we made some pretty looking hot chocolates and lounged on the patio in our underwear in 30 degree weather.”

While handily serving as a visual celebration of the endearing incestuousness of the neighborhood’s bar community, the key impetus for Hong’s smutty calendar is to generate currency for local bar staff. As Bushwick Daily reported last week, much of the neighborhood’s nightlife is currently in a state of suspended animation due to pandemic.

Bushwick’s bar industry has suffered deep lacerations at the hands of the ongoing COVID pandemic, and the next few months will bear out whether some of that scarring is permanent. But despite her industrious money-raising efforts on behalf of her own industry, calendar creator Leslie Hong is, in the way of bartenders everywhere, an unblinking realist.

“I’ve definitely seen some bars/restaurants go through individual hiccups and tragedies, but usually they have just been crowdfunded to get through tough times,” Hong wrote. “There surely is not enough money in our ‘crowd’ to get bars through this crisis.”

The bartending staff at Pine Box Rock pose (Jeanette D. Moses).

“But so many people were excited to be a part of [the calendar] this year that I think it might become a recurring Bushwick thing. And I definitely encourage folks to take on their own fundraising projects in different neighborhoods. Because Bushwick certainly isn’t alone in its struggle.”

To order your own copy of “Bushwick Bar Babes of 2021,” click here. In addition, the calendar’s sponsor, Fernet Branca, is throwing a launch party, Wednesday, February 3, on the roof of Our Wicked Lady, reservations only.

Cover photo taken by Jeanette D. Moses at Boobie Trap.

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