A DAY OUT IN BOGOTA
March 22, 2009
By ROBERT BIESELIN,
"A Day Out" is an occasional series from Robert Bieselin that tells you what it's really like to spend a few hours, a day or a night in a North Jersey town.
Next up: Little Falls.
In the Roaring '20s, they looked like run-of-the-mill main street storefronts: caf pet stores, barber shops. In some cases they looked abandoned, pressboard and newspaper covering the windows and blotting out all signs of life.
If you were in the know, though, you knew otherwise. You knew exactly where to go, how to knock and, when the little slot in the steel door opened to a pair of guarded eyes, you knew the password. The door opened just wide enough to slide a single body through. You were in, and, like that, Prohibition became a punch line and the storefronts became speakeasies.
During a recent jaunt through Bogota it felt almost as if the 18th Amendment had never been repealed.
Sure, alcohol is readily available in the small borough between Hackensack and Teaneck. Still, Prohibition is all I could think of when I drove past the quiet shop-lined streets. They looked like run-of-the-mill main street storefronts: caf pet stores, barber shops.
The town gave off an impression of humdrum lifelessness. As it turned out, I just wasn't in the know. Luckily, Joe Wilson was.
"Bogota's not really a destination for a lot of people more a place they drive through getting to one town or another," the Bogota-born musician said, meeting me at the bar of 101 Pub, a comfortable family spot on a chilled main street.
See, the original plan was to set up shop in a park or street corner and have the talented guitarist busk with his guitar case on the sidewalk, so I could get an idea of the town in motion and he could make some coin. Temperatures in the teens and a stiff wind said otherwise.
So, we went on an impromptu pub crawl.
After a salad and pasta at the homey tavern, we cut over to Andy's Corner Bar, where the beer is exceptional and everyone literally knows everyone. During our visit, co-owner George Gray inaugurated us into the beer club, which challenges regulars to drink 100 different beers from the revolving list of microbrews in a year's time. We didn't complete the challenge that night, but we did manage to knock off a few, emptying glasses of Ommegang, Dogfish Head and seasonal brews from Defiant Brewery in Pearl River, N.Y., while noshing on complimentary popcorn and the toasted Bavarian pretzel that comes with each beer.
On another visit a couple weeks later, Gray revealed that you don't need a secret knock to get into his and his wife Barbara's inner circle the whole bar is their inner circle.
"Big guy on the end, he's the police chief up at William Paterson [University]. Joanie works for a supply company out on Long Island. Charlie runs the IT department for Heinz," Gray said, pointing up and down the bar, giving the name of EVERY patron, their job and, in some cases, their hometown and other biographical info.
He must have named 20 people, in a style reminiscent of both "Piano Man" and "Cheers."
"Paul is a real estate novelist who never had time for a wife/ And he's talkin' with Davy who's still in the Navy and probably will be for life"
For other signs of life, Wilson recommended Lola's Tattoos, a spot whose reputation was corroborated by Debbie, an Andy's patron who had some ink done in the Main Street tattoo studio.
Now, Andy's was just about the most welcoming place I'd been to in Bergen County or any other county for that matter. But Lola's about blew it out of the water.
Approaching closing time, business was trickling down, and while one artist inked up a customer's leg, the rest of the staff, led by another memorable team the wild and wise Lola Esperian and her kind and Zen-like partner/manager Dean "Deano" Carnecchia held down a central couch area in an alt-"Friends"-ish way.
From there, they shared a meal, made fun of each other, commented on the sex lives of oceanic animals as described in a coffee table book being passed around, pondered whether different color M&M's tasted different and cracked jokes about my hair, which I let my friend cut the previous night to poor results.
"The whole idea behind a real tattoo studio not just the ones that want your money is to give a person besides their ink, give them a sense of 'you're accepted the moment you walk in the door and we like you,' " Esperian said. "It's a place not like the outside world, where you're stressed and have to battle the judgments of other people what you're wearing and what you look like here it's just like, God made you, we like you."
It may sound New Age-y on paper, but it's warm and sincere in person; an edgy form of acceptance, where "welcoming" means ribbing you at first, then trying to set you up with the receptionist.
If you hang out at Lola's long enough, you start to feel like one of the "family," and that's what Esperian and Carnecchia want not what they always wanted though. Esperian was going to be a surgeon. Carnecchia was going to be a psychiatrist. Plans changed, but the end result wasn't that far off.
Sit in the chair and you can alter your skin with some ink.
Sit on the couch and you can alter your mind with the staff.
Wilson's last pick which we couldn't hit, as he was heading out of town on a tour was a "fun bagel shop by the river" where the owners are playful apparently a trend in Bogota and crowds pack in for conversations and hand-rolled bagels, rich and warm.
I got up early to give Boxcar Bagel & Deli a spin.
When I popped in, Linda was running the show behind the counter and having what seemed like three simultaneous conversations with customers: one about dogs, another about skiing and a third about the treacherous weather. And she was prepping orders pouring coffee and taking an order over the phone, stopping at one point to clarify what constituted a "drippy egg."
"Hey, you're eating it, not me," she chuckled at whoever ordered what turned out to be a soft-boiled egg.
"We love to joke around," said Michele DeCarlo, who co-owns the shop with fellow DeCarlos, her sister Linda and their mother, Dolores. "We know all these people. We see some of these people every day."
People like "Barbara and Jim" they're part of "the crew" that opens every morning at Boxcar, according to Michele. "Ross, for instance, when we see him pull into the parking lot, we yell back and start making his sandwich, which has been the same for the past 14 years."
I spent about 15 minutes watching a commuter crowd of EMTs, telephone workers and other Village People-castoffs, soaking in the caffeinated conversation between the Barbaras and Jims of the world, the Joanies and Charlies, the Toms, Dicks and Harrys all extras in this Anytown, U.S.A. (where the political documentary "Anytown, USA" was actually filmed).
The sun was still low in the sky as I watched commuters pass obliviously along River Road, using Bogota as a passage en route to Teaneck, Hackensack, New York and farther destinations, no doubt.
I felt like I got away with something; like I knew something they didn't about a town where the bartenders throw popcorn at you, the shop owners make fun of your hair and the deli workers cringe at your culinary tastes.
I felt in the know.
Where we were
101 Queen Anne Road
Andy’s Corner Bar
257 Queen Anne Road
121 E. Main St.
Boxcar Bagel & Deli
10 River Road
Where Joe is
Singer-songwriter/gracious tour guide Joe Wilson will be playing with his new band, We’re All Broken, in support of its soon-to-be-released album, "Blacktop Cry."
7 p.m. next Sunday, Hackensack Elks Lodge, 37 Linden St. ($10)
8 p.m. April 17, Maxwell’s, 1039 Washington St., Hoboken. (Album release show: $10)
Bogota fun facts
* As of 2007, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates the town’s population at 7,991. (When founded in 1894, the population was estimated to be around 250, according to town historian Henry Komorowski.)
* According to Komorowski, "Bogota’s first official names were the ‘Colony of Myndert Myndertsen van Karen’ and the ‘Colony of the Lord of Nederhorst.’" The name "Bogota" came later, likely as a combination of "Bogert" and "Banta," the surnames of two prosperous local families.
* The town’s 2003 mayoral race between Steve Lonegan, Fred Pesce and Dave Musikant was the subject of the 2005 documentary "Anytown, USA" by Juan Dominguez and Kristian Fraga.
* Notable residents include Vin Scully, longtime Dodgers play-by-play announcer.
For more on Bogota’s history, visit bogota.nj.us.
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