Finding Home in a Dive Bar

Astor Bar on Montgomery in Jersey City. Mitch Traphagen Photo

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

On our second visit to New York City, my wife and I knew that we wanted to live there. Coming from the insane sprawl of Florida where everything is a 20 to 45 minute drive in hot traffic away, actually walking to a store felt like freedom.

On our first two visits, we stayed at the Grand Hyatt, a nice enough place that, at the time, we had no clue to its history, and not exactly cheap. So when AirBnB just started emerging, we took advantage of it, flying up every month or so, trying out different neighborhoods. Our first AirBnB place was a studio in a brownstone just steps from Central Park West in the upper 80s. We paid $130 a night for that.

From there we tried other places in Manhattan and then moved out into Brooklyn and then Queens. AirBnB started to be…difficult in the city. So in a crazy move, we tried a place in Jersey City, not far from Journal Square.

We loved it. We felt like we had come home.

And not long after, we did come home to our first apartment in the Heights. On the very first day we learned a lot: 1) normal furniture won’t necessarily fit into a city apartment door and 2) don’t leave the elephant-ear-like rearview mirror of a U-Haul sticking out into traffic on Summit Avenue, just waiting for a passing ambulance to take it out (which one did — the EMTs and two JCPD officers were among the first we met in Jersey City — all needlessly apologetic about the mirror, and all offering us a sincere welcome to the city).

After that we met our neighbor who tried taking our door frame apart to smush a couch through — we had to stop him before that went too far.

Unfortunately we somehow got pulled back to Florida. But not for long. Which resulted in our second apartment in the Heights.

Unfortunately, we got pulled back to Florida. But really not for long. Which has now resulted in our third apartment — in a very cool Victorian in McGinley Square.

During our first stay at the AirBnB rental near JSQ, we walked the neighborhood ending up at what a lot of people might call a local dive bar. The Astor Bar on Montgomery was dark and cool and the prices were right. The people were friendly. We asked about food and first heard of “bar pies.” We talked with the bartender and tried to have a little cred when I explained that one of my relatives was actually once the mayor of Jersey City.

“What’s his name?” she asked.

“Henry Traphagen,” I replied.

“Never heard of him.”

Yeah, no one has because he’s dead. He was the mayor around 1870. Some people probably can’t remember the mayor before Steven Fulop.

Regardless, it was nice. And again, we felt like we had found ourselves a home. Even while living in the Heights we’d occasionally hop the buses to get to Astor Bar. It’s still a great place.

So now the Astor Bar will just be down the street. They won’t remember us, just as Henry isn’t remembered but we remember them. They helped to show us the way home.