This week Picador is publishing Bill Loehfelm’s The Devil She Knows, a “gritty and lyrical” crime novel set in the seedy underbelly of Staten Island. To celebrate we’ll be featuring the book here on the Tumblr for the next three days. Below, Bill describes Bay Street, a small strip of Staten Island bars that inspired the world his heroine, Maureen Coughlin, calls home.
A walk down Maureen Coughlin’s Bay Street (my Bay Street, really) is indeed a walk down memory lane. Not much of the Staten Island strip of bars and clubs that I knew remains. The nightlife lives on there, I’m sure, but the names of the guilty have changed, and I’m sure the innocent remain few and far between. I will say that I had a better time out there than Maureen did.
The Haunted Café, site of one of Maureen’s first Bay Street jobs, was a true hole in the wall whose enormous tuxedo-wearing bouncer inspired the Narrows dapper enforcer, Clarence. I used to see the guy at the gym. He lifted all the weights. The Haunted burned down some years ago, though I hear the site is still haunted. What haunted the café in the first place, I never knew. I’m pretty sure I never asked. It is, after all, a place where I willingly participated in karaoke. Lucky for the other patrons, I counted several musicians among my friends and I was wise enough to stick to singing back up.
The Dock of the Bay was both a favorite hangout of mine and is one of the key inspirations for the dark and nefarious Narrows. It has been any number of other venues these past years – including an all-ages thrash metal club. Not a band has played there, though, that can touch Full House & the Brooklyn Horns, Maureen’s main moneymaker and the first band to really school me on R&B and funk. A friend and I found the place by accident, looking for someplace “classy” while out on a double date at the Choir Loft. In those days, table seating and cocktail waitresses were our idea of classy and the Dock had both. The girls weren’t impressed, but the boys and I became regulars. It was one of those special places that if you’re lucky you find in your twenties. One of those places you’ll always tell stories about.
Even the Cargo Café, a real place that sponsored our Sunday morning beer league softball team, and site of much conspiring and commiserating in The Devil She Knows, has finally succumbed to the ravages of time and change and capitalism, re-emerging briefly as a similar café under another name and a new paint job before going under once again.
Even the old all-night White Castle is gone, which is probably for the best.
One of the glories of fiction, though, is it lets you keep the past alive, in any you want it to be.
For more of Bill Loehfelm’s memories of things past (and future), head over to his Tumblr.