My Own ‘Yacht Club’

It’s Hard to Find Such Terrible Service, Awful Bathrooms, and Uneven Picnic Tables Anywhere Else, But I’m Trying

Last weekend, I went to a new bar in my new town looking for an old feeling. Could the Asheville Yacht Club possibly measure up to my beloved Gowanus Yacht Club? I knew the answer would be no. But as a recent transplant from Brooklyn, New York to Asheville, North Carolina, I had no choice but to check out the watering hole that shares a name with my longtime haunt.

When I first patronized the Gowanus Yacht Club (better known to its fans, and by my friends and family, as “the GYC”) in the early summer of 2007, I wasn’t impressed. It’s not impressive. The GYC is an outdoor bar wedged in a small corner of concrete at the intersection of Smith and President Streets, practically on top of a subway exit in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens neighborhood. Customers crowd around uneven picnic tables hoping to catch the attention of the surly bartenders. It’s lit up by haphazardly strung Christmas lights. The menu is scrawled onto a chalkboard; when a keg runs dry, the beer is crossed (or smudged) off the list. The single toilet is down a dank flight of stairs. Visitors to the toilet must wash their hands with pink institutional soap stored in a ketchup bottle. My father declared it the worst bathroom he had seen in 20 years (he obviously doesn’t remember Gladstone, New Mexico). Overall, the GYC aesthetic is more white trash than white privilege—appropriate considering the bar’s namesake canal is a Superfund site.

But that summer of 2007 was incredibly hot. So without air conditioning in my apartment, I started going to the GYC more often. The umbrellas provided shade, and the surly bartenders brought cheap, cold beer to me at my uneven picnic table. Friends came, and we often met new friends chatting while waiting in line for the single toilet. Burgers went for $5, and cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon for $2.50. While still not impressive exactly, the GYC was an outdoor oasis for Brooklyn’s sad apartment dwellers. As fall came, I unhappily realized that the GYC was going to close for the winter. I attempted to stave off the inevitable by wearing progressively thick layers of clothes. Yet in late October, it closed.

I impatiently waited all winter long for the GYC to reopen. After weeks of Internet rumor-mongering, it just opened again one clement spring day—as it did for the next five years. I moved into bigger apartments (trading up from a windowless room to a converted closet with a window and finally to a room where I had a bathroom of my own)—never with any outdoor space—but the GYC remained my backyard. It’s where I went to celebrate taking my LSAT the second time (the first time was too much of a disaster even to drink), and then a few years later after I took the New York Bar Exam. Just before I moved last month, I said my farewells with my best friend there. Mostly, I just went there anytime the weather was good enough and I wanted to be with friends. I eventually discovered that the GYC serves the best PBR in town, and the bartenders aren’t surly at all—as long as you spend at least two years cultivating them.

As I’d expected, the Asheville Yacht Club didn’t measure up on my maiden voyage: it’s inside, open all year round, and the bartenders are attentive. But I think it might eventually. I didn’t use the bathroom while I was there, but judging from the divey tiki vibe, I imagine it’s similar to the GYC’s. So there’s potential.

Elizabeth A. Newman is a native of Ponca City, Oklahoma, and currently resides in Asheville, North Carolina. She really doesn’t spend that much time at bars.

*Photo courtesy of Elizabeth A. Newman.


Send A Letter To the Editors

    Please tell us your thoughts. Include your name and daytime phone number, and a link to the article you’re responding to. We may edit your letter for length and clarity and publish it on our site.

    (Optional) Attach an image to your letter. Jpeg, PNG or GIF accepted, 1MB maximum.