Fans of James Joyce — and fans of open bars — flocked to Ulysses Folk House yesterday to celebrate Bloomsday with traditional Irish food, pints of Guinness, plenty of Jameson, Irish dancing, readings from Ulysses and piles of oyster shooters served, for some reason, through an ice luge with a Guinness logo.
Bloomsday has always driven bibliophiles to drink excessively before the sun goes down. It celebrates June 16, 1904, which everyone knows is the day chronicled in Joyce’s most famous (and famously challenging) book, Ulysses. An extra reason to get drunk and ponder whether history is a nightmare from which you are trying to awake: like in 1904, June 16, 2011 happened to be on a Thursday. Another round of Guinness!
Outside of the tavern, on the hidden-away cobble-stoned section of Pearl Street, people dressed in period costumes and shirts recalling Bloomsdays past.
Christie Mannion, a woman that The Observer thought was dressed as Molly Bloom, turned out to be an upright bass player who dresses in Edwardian era outfits every day. She ran from the West Village after hearing word of an open bar and the appropriateness of her outfit to the occasion. When tourists asked to take her picture, she very obligingly hid her cigarette.
“This is my casual wear,” said Christie Mannion. “I just love the Edwardian era. Everything was beautiful, it was decadent, it was rich. Women looked like women.”
And what’s with the pendant around your neck, Ms. Mannion? With the silhouette of a man’s face? An important symbol from a long-lost past?
“Oh,” she responded. “That’s Tom Waits.”
Not exactly Edwardian…
“You can’t beat Tom Waits!”
A few feet over Michael Quinn stood polishing off the bloody mary shooter. His shirt was emblazoned with the iconic final words of Ulysses — “Yes I said yes I will yes” — and he announced that he teaches high school in Bay Ridge, but took the day off to stop by the Bloomsday festivities.
“I asked the head of the English Department if I could have a senior elective course, the whole year, for Ulysses,” he said. “But there’d probably only be four kids who’d want to do it!”
Things were getting rowdy. Towards the end of the open bar, The Observer took a nearby seat at the center of the promenade, to enjoy a smoke and finish our Guinness. But the chairs belonged to another shop’s owner, and he was none too pleased. After he kicked us out, a local Irishman, beer in hand, offered some friendly advice.
“Did that guy just take your chairs?” he bellowed over from a table, dog-eared copies of Ulysses nestled next to glassware licked with only a few specks of Guinness foam. “You shoulda put that cigarette out on his forehead and thrown the beer in his face!”
Tempting, but no thanks.
Of course, not everyone was taken with the literary spirit.
“What day?” asked a fresh-faced and fresh-suited J.P. Morgan trainee after The Observer asked if he was celebrating Bloomsday.
“Ulysses? So it’s the namesake of the bar and they are celebrating?” asked another flummoxed young banker.
With that the JP Morgan trainees went elsewhere. For some reason the lure of intelligent conversation on Joyce — even if it came with free beer — could not persuade them to stay.