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Nothing throws a neighborhood into relief like death, and nothing organizes a neighborhood like a good bar, preferably one that can sort the locals from the tourists or barhoppers.

don.jpgReading others’ meditations on the death of Holiday Cocktail Lounge’s owner, Stefan Lutak — along with ruminations on the passing of Joe Ades, the peeler man, who’d sold his wares at the northwest corner of the Union Square farmer’s market as long as I’ve been shopping there — reminds me of the death of a good friend and patron saint of the old seaport, Don Taube, a couple summers ago. Don wasn’t the owner of our local bar but he was one of the regulars, even though he had given up drinking years before when he wife died. (The picture above was taken the night I gave a book reading at the Seaport Museum; it meant the world to me that Don made it out that night.)

Losing a neighborhood figure like that leaves a hole, but a productive one in which the loved one lives on and continues to shape lives; I can’t sit at the bar without thinking about Don and I know plenty of other people who can’t either. Most of us wouldn’t even need the brass plate we screwed to the rail with his name on it. I imagine the same will be the same for dozens of Holiday patrons — God willing the place survives its owner’s death.

The folks at the fabulous foundation City Lore, in their not-four-tourists guidebook Hidden New York, reprint a poem by the Brooklyn writer Robert Hershon:

The Driver Said
    boerum hill?
    it used to be
    gowanus
    this ain’t no
    neighborhood
    if ya butcher
    comes to ya funeral
    that’s a
    neighborhood

Not that many of us can still say we have a butcher, unfortunately, but lots of folks have a bartender, or a fellow who regularly occupies the stool next to you. These are the people who, no matter their demeanor, stitch lives together to make communities.

So here’s to all the Dons and Stefans and Peeler Men out there, living, dead, or living on in people’s memories and daily interactions.