Lizzie and Kaitlyn Go to Williamsburg

The classic New York bar birthday party is back.

Birthday cake, people taking photos on phones, cardboard cut-out of San Antonio Spurs mascot.
The Atlantic

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Lizzie: For some reason Google Maps was telling us to take the C all the way to Broadway Junction, then get on the L and go back the other way to get to Grand Street. It seemed inefficient. Plus we had to carry a big cake and a nearly life-size cardboard cutout of the San Antonio Spurs mascot, known only as Coyote. I asked Matt why the mascot wouldn’t just be a spur; it seems cleaner from a narrative perspective to keep all the symbols consistent, and I’m sure you could add some eyeballs to a spur if you needed it to be sentient. He didn’t have a good answer. Anyway, all of these things—the L train, the cake, the cardboard Coyote—were coming into play because we had an invite to one of those events that seem to come around every few weeks in New York: the bar birthday party.

It was actually a surprise bar birthday party. A new take on an old standard. The planning happened in a group chat without me, but the gist of the thing was: Frank’s birthday is coming up, but he may or may not be in Texas for his actual birthday. Maybe everyone could show up at a bar, and Susannah would lure Frank there for some made-up reason, and then we would yell “Surprise!” at him, or at least say it with gusto. The chosen bar was the unfortunately named Grimm Artisanal Ales, in Williamsburg. Both the name and the location really should make you think twice before going there on a Saturday night.

Kaitlyn: I don’t want to be rude, but I thought more than twice—probably a thousand times—before going to Grimm Artisanal Ales on Saturday night. I hate Williamsburg. The longest nights of my early 20s were spent forcing myself to find something to do there and then hanging on for dear life until 1 or 2 a.m. just so that I could plausibly claim to be “out,” text the person I was dating that I was “out,” then suggest that I was less than 20 minutes on foot from wherever he happened to be. It was so undignified … and Kellogg’s Diner may be where they filmed one of the best episodes of Girls, but it isn’t a good diner at all.

I was thinking about this as I made my way—at a glacial place—to the party, opting to walk from the first L stop in Brooklyn and to pause for a drink at a cozy-looking bar that smelled like wood chips. I immediately sloshed a bit of vodka gimlet onto my library book, which was the new 832-page one about Watergate. I believe I am the first person to borrow it, so the slosh will be easy to trace! A bunch of 22-year-old girls at the other end of the otherwise empty bar were arguing about who had paid for the last round of shots and who would pay for the next one. They were friends with the bartenders, like on a TV show. I’m sure some of them were texting love interests. I was texting Lizzie saying I was on my way but I was also thinking some dark thoughts, along the lines of, Do I wish I was still that young? And then, unfortunately, Maybe I do, and I’m going to be sick.

I was feeling sorry for myself, like Nixon. But, also like Nixon, I was gonna fight … So I pulled myself together and walked the last few blocks to Grimm. Lizzie was there already, wearing a white button-down with tiny white suspenders and eating a “chopped cheese” taco.

Lizzie: What can we say about Grimm Artisanal Ales? As much as I don’t love the name, I can’t say it’s misleading. If you’re the kind of person who might want to drink something that could be classified as an “artisanal ale,” you’ll find yourself with lots of options here. It’s also big, which is a good thing sometimes, like if you need to hide. There was a cat wandering around, who seemed to belong to the brewery, and lots of dogs who didn’t seem to care that there was a cat.

Kait and I ordered our pét-nats (even though we felt like ordering beer would’ve been more supportive of the establishment) and split a lime weed gummy. Just as we were starting to feel settled, a man walked up to us and leaned over the table, angling his phone toward Coyote like it was Adrian Grenier at the airport. “I need to take a picture of your bunny here,” he said.

Kaitlyn: To be clear, if we haven’t been, the coyote (not bunny!!) was a birthday surprise for Frank, who is from San Antonio. Matt designed it on his computer and had it made by some guy with a huge printer in Manhattan. The coyote’s jersey featured the logo of a Texas grocery-store chain, but Matt had edited it to read Celebrating Frank, 1984–2022. To an onlooker, this might make it seem as though Frank had died. Well, he hadn’t. While we were waiting for him, Matt explained that Frank has “the most goals in soccer,” which turned out to mean that he has the current goal-scoring record in one of the Brooklyn soccer leagues for super-athletic adults. So pretty much the opposite of dead, I would say.

The waiting period of a surprise party is so interesting. We were not more than one or two drinks into it when Lizzie broached the topic of how long she would mourn Matt if he were to be killed in a freak accident. Matt said, “For one day you wouldn’t do the Wordle,” but Lizzie denied that. She didn’t say how many Wordles she felt she would actually skip.

Lizzie: Aren’t we going to run out of Wordles in like a year anyway? This is why when The New York Times spent a bunch of money on it, I thought, Isn’t that like spending a bunch of money on the water inside a humidifier? It’s going to all be gone eventually.

At some point, someone got the “We’re 2 minutes away” text from Susannah, meaning the birthday boy’s arrival was imminent. Everyone turned to watch the door.

Frank and Susannah walked in and had to do the ol’ ID and vax card scramble. It was clear Frank hadn’t seen us yet. How exciting for me! I’ve never seen the face of a truly surprised person before, and I had time to prepare for it. I was staring very hard at Frank’s face to make sure I didn’t blink when the surprise registered.

I’ll tell you this: Surprise looks a lot like confusion turning into joy, but that’s based on a single data point.

Kaitlyn: My concern when Frank and Susannah were arriving was that Frank wouldn’t immediately remember who I was, having only met me a few times over the course of five years. I didn’t want him to look at the group and think, Is this a surprise birthday party for me? I don’t want to make an embarrassing assumption … and I don’t know who that person is … so maybe the party is for someone else.

But he did remember who I was! And he grasped what was happening!

Phew. My second or third drink was a beer but it had pinot-noir grapes in it, so it was basically still wine. I loved it. I also loved listening to Lizzie explain the terribly complicated premise and gameplay process of Deal or No Deal to someone who had never seen it, and I loved when Susannah expressed sincere surprise that nobody else at the table had bothered to customize their Reddit aliens to look like themselves. I took a picture of her brandishing her user profile on her phone and put it on my Instagram Story, captioned “All girls are on Reddit!” It’s one of those things that seems like it could be true.

Woman holding up phone displaying Reddit user profile.
Susannah’s Reddit alien. (Courtesy of Kaitlyn Tiffany)

Lizzie: Deal or No Deal and Reddit are alike in a lot of ways, or at least alike in one very significant way: Once you get sucked in, it’s really hard to get out.

Here’s what else we covered, conversationally:

  • Craigslist roommates, and how sometimes they turn out to be really good friends, but most of the time you stop talking to them after your lease ends because you had to dodge them while they did pull-ups in the doorway of the kitchen too many times. Karen told a story about her roommate getting the exact same “really ugly” tattoo as her in the exact same spot years after they stopped living together. This was the same roommate who had previously written about the size of Karen’s breasts in her LiveJournal entries.

  • The former Summer House castmate Hannah Berner and her Irish-comic fiancé, Des Bishop. Someone had spotted them at Gowanus’s Pig Beach a few months prior. Pig Beach is generally the place you go when you can’t find outdoor seating at any other bar but you absolutely must sit at a picnic table and spend $21 on a frozen cocktail. I wonder if the combination of the cornhole and the Virginia Beach meets casual Friday attire that’s so common there took her back to her days in front of the Bravo cameras.

  • The sound a cow makes while being killed by a coyote. This one was from Kaitlyn.

Kaitlyn: Okay, I don’t mean to bring this up all the time, but I’ve become really concerned about the coyotes that live behind my parents’ house. I don’t think it is a good sign that they wander around in daylight now!

The next thing that happened may surprise you ... I was moved by the weed gummy to approach a man at the bar who was reading one of those Library of America books that have a ribbon for keeping track of your page. I felt a powerful curiosity about him because he was having an artisanal beer in a well-lit room while people around him were shout-laughing and breaking glasses, and he didn’t seem to be experiencing any stomach-twisting or dark thoughts. He was reading Wendell Berry, he said. I said, “Oh!” and that I’d started to read the recent New Yorker profile, but had gotten annoyed—not everyone can just own a bunch of land, even if they save money by not having toilets. People are right to live in cities, I said. He was not defensive at all and told me he knew where I was coming from but there were several reasons I might give Berry a try anyway, if I had the time.

I really had to sit down after that. I was like, That was shocking? If an obviously drunk person had come up to me at a bar and asked what I was reading, I would have assumed they were making fun of me. I would have told them to get the hell out of my face. No one else was really dwelling on it, but I felt changed. I ate my cake and listened to a confusing but exhilarating story about how Susannah was blocked on Instagram by the poet Rachel Rabbit White for some reason, but she can still see her Stories by logging in to her dog’s account. This is how she learned that Rachel Rabbit White moved into Caroline Calloway’s apartment, surely a mistake considering Calloway had supposedly painted over all the cabinets and the microwave. (She said.)

Anyway, I waltzed out early on a high note to meet Nathan and his friends Rebecca and Bayne in Bushwick. They said they’d just been to KGB Bar and that someone had taken the Soviet flag off of the wall and ceremoniously torn it in half, in solidarity with Ukraine. I said I didn’t know if people need to be doing all that. Then I spaced out for, like, 90 minutes.

Lizzie: The rest of us stayed at the bar until last call, which at Grimm Artisanal Ales is only midnight. That was our signal to head out. If we learned anything, it was that you can’t fake a surprise, you can’t fake the sound of a coyote getting killed by a cow, and you can’t fake a good time. Luckily, we didn’t have to!

Kaitlyn: In the words of Richard M. Nixon: “Dignity, command, head high, no fear, building a new spirit, drive, act like a President, act like a winner.” In bed by 12:45!