STILL, THE BENCH ISN'T AN ELABORATE inside joke for everyone who stops by. At a moment when the clubs seem particularly awful—absurd entrance fees, played-out party ideas (80’s jams? The MisShapes? Yawn), an ever-tiring rotation of the same three Beyoncé songs—The Bench seems like a pretty good idea.
Jay McCarroll, the boisterous first-season winner of Bravo’s Project Runway and regular Bench-goer, was there last week, sporting colossal sunglasses (yes, at night). “The weekends around here are really shitty and the people you meet [in the bars and clubs] are really bad,” he said, swaying his paper cup filled with a margarita concoction in the air. “Here, you don’t even have to move. I’ve been here for four hours and I’ve met so many people. And they brought me drinks [from a to-go margarita spot down the street].” (Earlier, he’d led a gaggle of teenage girls garbed in huge hoop earrings and neon-bright Air Jordan sneakers in heckling the Urban Outfitters–clad hordes parading on Houston: “Deep V-neck! Deep V-neck!” “Beards! Beards! Beards!” “Will-iams-burg!”)
Instead of waving down moody bartenders to order maddeningly overpriced drinks, Bench visitors can help themselves to Jones Soda, San Pellegrino mineral water, Snickers bars, DOTS jellied candies and lollipops provided by Mr. Goias from a homely cooler. (None of the four organizers drink alcohol, and The Bench is partially an attempt to provide an alternative Saturday night activity for the sober and underage.)
There’s no entry fee or dress code (although a crispy pair of sneakers might get you a prime spot on The Bench). There’s no velvet rope or boulder-sized bouncer guarding entry and assessing the rich guy/hot chick ratio. Even a homeless man sitting on the edge of The Bench was welcomed last weekend, despite the string of drool that spaghettied from his bottom lip. Bench visitors put a Snickers bar into his plastic cup with “God Bless America” scrawled onto it. He ate half of the candy, and then left around 11 p.m. to find a quieter place to snooze.
Although The Bench promotes a “come as you are” atmosphere, those who don’t D.J., write for small urban magazines or know about the latest sneaker designs would likely feel a little awkward trying to mingle with Bench regulars, especially if they’re being teased about their fashion choices by Mr. McCarroll. Those on the inside, however, can’t quite see it that way.
“It’s ill, that’s the thing about it. Nobody is excluded,” chirped Arkah Lacharles, a 16-year-old wearing a nose ring and a bright orange, tiger-striped knitted aNYthing cap. She called herself an “O.G.” (or Original Gangster) of The Bench.
Ms. Lacharles was grounded last week for staying out too late and her mother made her perform a PowerPoint presentation on why she should be allowed to come to The Bench. She included the fact that she got scouted for a modeling job while hanging out there. “This is what is going to get you a house in New Jersey with a front yard,” she told her mother on the phone, calling to confirm where she was.
“It’s totally a family affair,” D.J. Max Glazer told The Observer. “I mean, we have candy in the cooler for the kids. Not in a pervy way, not in an R. Kelly way.”
“You don’t have to be relegated to your own age group. How would kids learn anything?” added Mr. Forman, 38, while passing out Life Saver candies from a tin. “Depending on where you came from, everyone hung out at a corner, young and old guys. … We were learning from those guys the rules; the things that I took from them I take through life, with me today. This is sort of the same idea. We’ve had debates here about 80’s music.”
“Where would you be if you weren’t at The Bench?” he asked Ms. Lacharles, who was sitting on top of one of the newsstands across from The Bench.
“I would be in a project, drinking a 40, smoking weed and graffiti-ing something. I would be getting fucked up.”
“See what I’m saying?,” asked Mr. Forman.