How to Pivot on a Thursday Night

Lizzie and Kaitlyn try to get into a buzzy art show, but wind up singing Don Henley at a “saloon” instead.

A woman's hands, taking a cell phone photo of another woman singing. Collaged with cut-out images of a cocktail and a cocktail menu.
The Atlantic

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Lizzie: It’s getting hot out there, huh? The weather, the housing market, the trend of eating eggplant parm while wearing a claw clip. Everything costs $32, my lease is up in two weeks, and my landlord won’t respond to any texts or emails. Better get out and let off some steam before we boil over.

Cut to: a recent Thursday night, looking for something to do. Maybe a potentially unsettling eat-while-singing restaurant in Williamsburg? A poker night? A play we’ve been thinking about buying tickets for, but haven’t bought tickets for? Any of these things could potentially be newsletter-worthy; the problem is, you never know until you go.

We landed on going to the opening night of “The Patriot,” a group art show at O’Flaherty’s on Avenue C. The gallery had posted an open call in June allowing anyone to show work, provided they could get it to the gallery somehow. (“If it can hang on the wall, we will show it”). Apparently hundreds of people had submitted work, and now we had the chance to see it, if we could just get inside the building.

Kaitlyn: It sure is steaming. My air conditioner is leaking onto the floor as I write this—my super will deal with it as soon as he is done taking several phone calls inside my closet. I have a peeling sunburn on exactly one-half of my body—split vertically, like a Trix yogurt, the product of a beach-umbrella-geometry miscalculation.

We’ve been moving slowly this month: A week at the lake; a day at the beach; a dinner by the water with Ashley, queen of Greek cuisine. Over beers and saganaki, we talked about how we had missed the Shrek rave, how the shoreline itself isn’t eventful enough to describe, and how the “Calamari & Comedy” shows at Randazzo’s Clam Bar don’t start until 11 p.m. How would we, through our sleepiness, be able to communicate to our readers just how fun and outgoing we really still are? Luckily, we’re on social media … so we saw a few posts about “The Patriot,” the so-called event of the summer. Also, my high-school friend Christina was in town. She’d gone to art school, so she would be able to lend a professional eye.

Christina’s expertise actually came in handy before we even arrived at the show, as she assured me on the subway that there was no way we could be the least cool women there. If the Ohio art world (she lives in Columbus) is full of posturing people without a clue, she reasoned, the New York art world could be only more posturing and less clued-in. I didn’t grasp this logic in the traditional sense, but I did cling to it like a talisman the rest of the way to Manhattan.

After a sweaty jog into CVS to buy Christina a claw clip—we had to get her hair off of her neck!—and then past the dumpling-and-weed-gummy proprietors of St. Mark’s Place, we met Lizzie and Matt at Holiday Cocktail Lounge for a quick pregame and a round of snacks. I had two pineapple daiquiris and five mushroom pierogies, while Christina had one multicolored cocktail with a plastic dinosaur in it and a giant pretzel with a large spot of mossy green mold. When she came back from the bathroom, she whispered to me that her claw clip had fallen out of her hair and into the toilet. When Lizzie came back from the bathroom, she whispered to me with a nervous look: “There was a claw clip in my toilet.”

Christina said if the art show was a dud we could shave her head for content.

Lizzie: It was nice of her to offer!

By the time we made it to Avenue C, it was about 8:45, which apparently was not nearly early enough. We walked into a mass of people standing around outside the gallery and Christina asked the crowd, “Is this where the art is?” One guy told us that the line to get in was around the corner, but that he had already given up on it. We turned the corner and walked past hundreds of people (maybe more?), and just as we made it to the end of the line, tired and gasping for water, the cops pulled up with their flashing lights on. It was kind of a lost cause for us after that, so if you want to read about the show, here’s an article from someone who got inside.

Apparently there’s a pillow in there which may or may not be “on loan from The Morgan Library.” The Morgan Library! Nothing could be funnier. We’re planning to go back at some point, on a less event-of-the-season kind of night.

A bunch of people standing in line outside in Manhattan at nighttime.
About one-tenth of the line. (Courtesy of Kaitlyn Tiffany)

Kaitlyn: I also find it very funny that someone at the show was reportedly telling people that the pillow was specifically “Lincoln’s death pillow,” but because The Atlantic is a facts-oriented institution, I feel like I should point out that the real Lincoln death pillow is on display at the scene of the crime, in Washington, D.C. The blood-stained flag that Lincoln’s head was wrapped up in is held elsewhere, but it was loaned to my hometown’s historical society for no apparent reason in 2008. We had a parade with a Lincoln impersonator and everything. This was a different time in American life. If someone suggested that event today, there would undoubtedly be some faction of the population who would challenge the idea on the grounds that mentioning the outcome of the Civil War constitutes critical race theory.

Anyway, speaking of patriotism—back to “The Patriot.” As Lizzie mentioned, there were hundreds or thousands of people in the street. “I guess the line kind of is the party,” they were telling one another. “This is part of the true experience, I think,” someone offered. I admit I didn’t want to stay, but I understood what was seductive about an opportunity to be out on a summer night holding an open container and looking around at half of the hot 24-year-olds in America, plus a professional contortionist, two email-newsletter reporters, and Juiceboxxx, a musician that Lizzie likes. I caught the energy for five minutes. I heard someone say “iconic,” and I thought, Could be! I turned to see some downtown boy who is famous on Instagram and who was dressed like James Spader in Pretty in Pink—I shrieked against my will. Then I laughed to cover it up. When the cops came, Matt was calm. “Art is now illegal,” he told us.

We didn’t leave because of the police presence, though. We left because, as we said, there was no way we were getting to the art. I became frantic about the evening turning into a disappointment and texted Stephanie, “Famous People emergency!” Minutes later, a black Suburban whisked us away to brownstone Brooklyn. We were headed to Branded Saloon, where Stephanie has attended a karaoke night almost every Thursday for the entire time I’ve known her. Part two!

Lizzie: If there’s anything people working in marketing will tell you, it’s that you have to be ready to pivot at any time. So karaoke it was! I hadn’t been to this karaoke night before, despite its somewhat legendary reputation in the friend group, because I tend to avoid activities that require public singing.

I’ll preempt any anticipation now; I didn’t sing. I’m sorry! I know the point of karaoke is singing. It’s like going to an amusement park and not riding any rides. But the problem is I can’t sing. Anytime I say that, people are like, “Oh, that doesn’t matter.” And for most of the population, it doesn’t. But the truth is that nothing I can do even comes close to singing. I have enough trouble pronouncing vowels in a normal way. I literally think it’s kind of hard to say my full name. My tongue always feels too big for my mouth when I say it. I can’t sing!

It’s not like I have zero karaoke experience. I’ve been known to do an uncomfortably sad Daniel Johnston song if that’s on the menu, but usually it’s not. When I volunteered at Bonnaroo one year in college, I was stationed at the Garnier Fructis salon, where there was also a karaoke stage. In exchange for a festival pass and a meal token, I had to spend hours applying Garnier Fructis–branded temporary tattoos onto the body of any salon-goer who wanted one, generally wherever they wanted it applied (usually shirtless men, usually on their chests). And the only distraction from my nipple-tattoo apprenticeship was watching the people who had decided to do karaoke at the Garnier Fructis salon during a music festival. One woman wanted to sing “Rehab,” but the Garnier Fructis salon didn’t have that song, so, undeterred, she sang it a cappella. You can see how I’ve been burned before.

Kaitlyn: I badly wanted Lizzie to sing, but I understand that you can’t just berate someone into doing a “fun” activity in public. (We learned this from the episode of Vanderpump Rules in which Stassi almost breaks up with her boyfriend because he pressures her to dance on a bar even after she explains that she’s wearing Spanx under her dress and doesn’t feel sexy.)

Branded Saloon is an unassuming but not underground institution. Stephanie recently saw Kid Cudi there, and I believe the place has appeared in a New York Magazine spread or two. On this night, when we arrived, there was almost nobody in the vaguely antler-themed back room. This was odd because Stephanie was just about to do “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” which she absolutely killed, and you would think they could have been selling tickets. Speaking again of patriots, she was wearing jean shorts and a red T-shirt and red lipstick and drinking a Bud Light—I must have taken 400 photos. Later she did “Only the Good Die Young,” with a little preamble about her identity as a Catholic. I took a video of that and put it on my Instagram Story, captioned, “Not in a trad way!”

At some point after that, I wrote down in my iPhone notes: “All girls are carrying around the free VOTE NYC pens.” Supposedly this is something I observed. By that point, the room was filling up and I’d had a couple of rum and Diet Cokes, bracing myself to take the stage.

A karaoke screen showing lyrics from Billy Joel's "Only the Good Die Young."
A Catholic hit. (Courtesy of Kaitlyn Tiffany)

Lizzie: I think karaoke requires you to be pretty vulnerable, because if there are a lot of unexpected oohs in your song choice, or lengthy instrumental breaks that you forgot about, or if you sing, for example, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but realize mid-song that you can’t quite match the cocaine cadence of Anthony Kiedis (few can!), you need the crowd to go along with you for the ride anyway. You can’t get off the Scrambler just because you feel like you might barf.

But the group at Branded Saloon defied karaoke expectations. There were some impressive singers, as there almost always are at these places, but no hierarchy. It was kind of like, as soon as you got behind the mic, the crowd became your parents and they were proud of you no matter what. It wasn’t hard to understand why people go there every week.

I hesitate to even mention this other thing, but I will for the sake of transparency. When Matt took the stage to sing “Dreams” by the Cranberries, someone, a confident and vocally blessed opera-type singer, probably one of the best singers in the room, sang along loudly enough to totally drown out Matt, even though he had a microphone. Matt was kind of salty after that, because no one could hear his Irish accent. Stephanie confirmed that it was not good “karaoke etiquette” to sing louder than the song-picker. Them’s the breaks!

Kaitlyn: Lizzie’s right; that stank. I tried to make a big show of putting my hand behind my ear and inclining my body toward the stage, to indicate that I could not hear the person who was standing on it, but to no avail. I guess this is how a great rivalry is born …

As a group, we got a lot of singing in, even though you couldn’t hear all of it all of the time. Christina did Paramore because we went to Warped Tour together as children. She got the crowd on their feet and screaming for “That’s What You Get,” a song that reverberates in my bones because of how many times I blasted it in my grandma’s Chevy Malibu on my way to work at the mall. Stephanie did Jo Dee Messina’s “Heads Carolina, Tails California,” literally the best song ever written or performed, also for me. How did this become about me? I don’t know, but I loved it! I sang “Boys of Summer” and then “Mama’s Broken Heart.” Those are my two karaoke songs.

Lizzie: Here’s where we say something about finding art in unexpected places—just kidding! The truth is, karaoke was fun and there were no cops there. That’s all we really wanted. Plus it’s almost better that we couldn’t get into “The Patriot.” For the story!

Kaitlyn: I was proud of us because we executed a pivot and survived flagging energy to “make a night of it”—that’s called New York acrobatics. We even closed the place down: Stephanie and Christina and I went up together for the final song, Faith Hill’s (actually iconic) “This Kiss.” I was really pleased that the karaoke DJ, Jared, gave us this spot of honor in the lineup. He does choose, you know.

I guess I was dizzier and drunker than I thought during the back half of the night, because almost none of the notes I took for this newsletter made any sense. The last one was “Biden ’24.” I truly can’t imagine why I would have written that.