In the wee hours of a recent Tuesday morning, Tracy Westmoreland and some pals trashed Siberia Bar, a dive tucked away inside the subway station at 50th Street and Broadway.
“Somebody–I think it was me–threw a bottle against the wall and everybody thought, ‘Oh, what a witty thing to do,’” said the six-foot-tall, 260-pound Mr. Westmoreland. “So we had about five cases of beer, we were just throwing cases, slamming bottles against the wall. Then somebody walks in with, like, 150 dollars’ worth of bacon, like you get in the deli, a foot-and-a-half-tall stack of bacon. That was it. I remember eating a lot of bacon and drinking a lot.” The sun was coming up when he returned to his studio apartment a block away, where he lives with his wife and three young children.
No one threw Mr. Westmoreland out of the bar that night, because it’s his bar.
At least for now. A year ago his landlord, the Mitsubishi Estate Co.-owned Rockefeller Group Development Corporation, decided to evict Siberia and its 44-year-old proprietor, despite several years left on Mr. Westmoreland’s lease. They were tearing down the building, they told him. They turned off his heat and hot water. Mr. Westmoreland says he signed something agreeing to be out by last October. But then he learned that some other tenants–a barbershop, a Blimpie’s–had renewed their leases. He decided the Rockefeller Group was bluffing about razing the building, that they just wanted him out to raise the rent. So he hired a real-estate lawyer.
Vince Silvestri, a spokesman for the Rockefeller Group, disputed Mr. Westmoreland’s account and called the charges that the heat and hot water were turned off “total bullshit.” Mr. Silvestri said that there was a new space available for Siberia in Rockefeller Center. Mr. Westmoreland confirmed that he was thinking about relocating to Rockefeller Center, but that he prefers to stay where he is.
What’s Siberia like? It’s skanky in there. Walking in, you wonder how the place exists. It’s as if Mr. Westmoreland found a big closet, set up a bar and no one ever asked whether he was allowed to be in there. Yes, you feel the rumble of the subway trains. There is graffiti on the walls. It reeks of Manhattan circa 1976, not the new, clean, well-lit version. Look up at the ceiling: all kinds of exposed wires. And a pair of red panties.
Siberia has rules that are strictly enforced. If you curse, you have to leave. If you hit on a girl or bother anyone , you are ejected. If you are a meathead or too loud, you are gone.
The main ingredient of Siberia, according to Mr. Westmoreland, is something intangible. After a recent night of cavorting at the city’s current trendy clubs–Spa,Suite16, Merc Bar, the Park and Lotus–he said, “They’re just nice, clean places. They have no soul . That’s the problem with them–they’re not bad, they’re just soulless. Imagine seeing a person without a soul–how horrible would that be? Every bar in New York that I’ve been to, every club, has no soul, has no life, no love, and they’re all probably going to be closed in six months.”
Mr. Westmoreland has been fighting to save Siberia in court and in the press. He has friends at the New York Post who frequent the bar. The Associated Press, CNN, Fox News and Court TV have run stories about Siberia, like the time Mr. Westmoreland, his wife Melissa, their kids and a priest chained themselves outside of the place for a day.
“If you’re in a fight, you put everything into it,” he said. “These are two of the biggest companies in the world trying to throw me out. We’ve already won. If they throw us out tomorrow, we’ve fought these two multinational corporations for over a year.”
Plus, he says, he has New York’s new junior Senator on his side. Mr. Westmoreland buttonholed Hillary Clinton at a St. Patrick’s Day fund-raiser in the neighborhood and said, “You gotta help me save Siberia.” She looked scared; she thought he meant the region. He explained. Then he said, “Can I call you on that?” She replied that she thought he would be successful. Again, he asked, “Can I call you on that?” With reporters and photographers present, Mrs. Clinton said, “Yes, yes, you may.” Thanks to his friends at the Post , the encounter appeared on Page Six.
“I was given her word, by Hillary Rodham Clinton, that I could call her office and she knew the problem,” he said. “They called me and they told my attorney they were going to help. I have no reason to doubt these people.”
Mr. Westmoreland mocks the Rockefeller Group’s inability to dislodge him. “One of the reasons America is viewed as weak in the world is because a corporation like that can’t get some fat guy in the subway out,” he said.
“I never said they didn’t have a legal right to get me out,” he continued. “I said they have a moral right to keep me in there.”
I first met Mr. Westmoreland a few weeks ago at Bellevue, a bar he co-owns on 40th Street and Ninth Avenue, across the street from the Port Authority. It was very late on a Saturday night; the place was packed. Two women in plaid skirts and T-shirts which read “Go Satan” were running around, spanking people. There were four cops there, friends of Mr. Westmoreland, who was shirtless and had over 20 drinks in him. A pretty bartender was pouring shots down his throat. I motioned that I wanted a drink. From 20 feet away, Mr. Westmoreland heaved a Heineken my way. The wet bottle slid off my hand and shattered. I missed the next two. Then I noticed that my hand was covered in blood. Just before I left for the emergency room, Mr. Westmoreland stood up on the bar and ran the full length of it, breaking glasses and sending stuff flying.
“I had a flashback, playing football when I was in high school,” he told me later. “I just knew I could make that whole thing, full blast, knock everything down on the bar, not hurt anybody, still be standing–and dive, boom, off the bar and crash into two guys and a girl. It was beautiful . Her top fell off when I hit her, which is pretty cool.”
One late night at Siberia, I met Amesia Doles, a 24-year-old travel agent who said she would like to be a midwife specializing in Chinese medicine. Last Halloween–the day the Rockefeller Group wanted Siberia to fold up shop–she and three friends dressed up as Kiss. They were in Siberia’s photo booth at 2 a.m.
“We were like, ‘We gotta get our pictures as Kiss,’” said Ms. Doles. “My girls and I are always taking our shirts off because we love to be naked, because we’re from California.
“I have not had sex in Siberia,” she said. “Tops off, bottoms–you know, a little this and that. A little good lovin’ . Till I sobered up enough to get in a cab and go home.
“Pretty much if you hang out here, you’ll probably see any one of us naked,” she said, gesturing to her friends.
A cute girl was humping the jukebox as “Louie, Louie” played.
Over by the Addams Family pinball machine, Lisa Russell, a 31-year-old journalist, said that the first time she was at Siberia, Mr. Westmoreland hoisted her up to dance on the bar. She fell and got a gash on her leg. Mr. Westmoreland poured beer on it. On the subway back to Brooklyn, Ms. Russell got sick in her handbag, fell asleep and woke up far from her stop. She hailed a cab and when they got to her place, the driver wanted $7.50. “I have to dig into my bag to get the money,” she said. “It’s absolutely soaking wet and I only have $6.
“Everyone who comes to Siberia has these kind of stories,” she said. “This is not just me. It’s such a Siberia story. You can’t come here and mingle. You’ve got to come here and be really belligerent and kind of obnoxious, and not really have a purpose of why you’re here, but you soak it in. It’s a dysfunctional family.”
It was after 3 a.m., and there were a dozen dudes Mr. Westmoreland wasn’t happy about. “They’re meatheads,” he said. He turned down the music and announced that the bar was closing. “It’s a purging,” he told me. “They’re not bad people, they just don’t belong . We’re weeding out the riffraff; now the real party begins.”
So Siberia “closed”–and then, five minutes later, Siberia reopened.
“It’s such a scam,” said Ms. Russell. “People leave here thinking, ‘Oh, I had a great time!’ They walk out, like, ‘Yeah!’ Little do they know, they’ve been booted and they didn’t even know it.”
Tracy Westmoreland was born in Wheeling, W.Va. His father was a truck driver and state heavyweight boxing champion who spent 18 years in prison for armed robbery and transporting liquor across state lines. Tracy’s family moved to Rockaway Beach when his mother got a job preparing food for United Airlines flights. He said he had the “best” childhood: His dad had a Cadillac convertible and an Aristocraft boat. At 6, Tracy got into his first fight. “I was scared to go home,” he said. “My father said, ‘What happened?’ I said, ‘The kid was bothering my friend. Then he hit me. Then I think I broke his nose.’ He said, ‘That’s really good. As long as someone’s not bothering you, never touch them. People are bothering you, hurt them.’”
At Far Rockaway High School, he was captain of the football team. “We would drink in the morning, be drunk out of our minds all day, practice drunk–it was great!” he said. After graduation, he became a lifeguard at Rockaway Beach. In the winter he would work for two weeks at Macy’s so he’d be able to collect unemployment. He also worked as a bouncer at a bar called the Paddy Wagon. “Babes, babes,” he said. “I used to have a bungalow outside the bar, 10 feet away from the back door. This is right after free love, before AIDS–it was tremendous. Every weekend I would do two girls on Friday and two on Saturday, and I always did two minimum. Dude, I’m 260 pounds now. I was 197 pounds, had hair this long. I had a reputation as a nice guy who kept his mouth shut and gave you great sex.”
He worked security at Studio 54. “It was great, man, everybody wanted to be my friend,” he said. In 1991, he snagged 20 percent of a bar in the East Village called KGB. He got to know an old-timer named Yuri, who was dying of liver cancer. Yuri told Mr. Westmoreland that he used to work for Soviet intelligence and said, “One day I’m going to give you a gift.” In 1994, the two men went up to the space that is now Siberia, which was then a kung-fu video store. Mr. Westmoreland loved it, but he was on welfare and about to be evicted from his apartment. He got a job as a waiter at the New York Hilton and saved some money. He opened Siberia, named in honor of Yuri, who was half-Siberian. One day he found some Soviet documents, passports and rubles behind a wall. It turned out that during the Cold War, Siberia was a K.G.B. drop-off place. The New York Post ran a story. The next three years were very good. Celebrities like David Spade, Chloë Sevigny and Conan O’Brien came in. Wynona Ryder guest-bartended. R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe came, but ….
“For the record, Michael Stipe is barred,” Mr. Westmoreland said. “He’s not allowed in the building because he’s a fucking asshole weirdo. He doesn’t relate to anybody. He just stands around, introverted and rude .”
One recent night Siberia was too crowded, so Mr. Westmoreland and I went to Bellevue. Carolina Starin, a long-legged producer at CNN, was there. She said she was a regular at Siberia.
“You can just walk in and have a beer and everybody wants you there, and you can go by yourself and drink, and magical things are always happening,” she said. “It’s haunted.”
Mr. Westmoreland came over and started massaging her legs.
“Tracy, you look so good. I miss you–I’m so happy you’re here tonight,” she said.
At around 4 a.m., Mr. Westmoreland asked the bartender, a brunette in a cowboy hat named Felicia, to show her breasts. She obliged. Then she laid down on the bar and began pouring shots of bourbon into her navel, which male patrons slurped out. Above her, a movie called Edward Penishands was playing.
That’s all I remember.