Standings, the Sports Bar that Survived a Gas Explosion

After a gas pipe explosion, the denizens of a New York sports bar are forced to relocate an opening day tradition.

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Apr 16 2015, 2:10pm

Creative Commons via Moacir

Opening Day is especially heavy with metaphor: the springtime, the politicians lobbing or one-hopping their first pitches, the scream of Blue Angels over green fields. Standings, a postage stamp-sized East Village bar located near the corner of Second Avenue and 7th Street, has long been part of this American tradition for myself and many others. But this year it almost wasn't.

It is a miracle, or something like it, that Standings is still standing at all. In late March, an illegal gas hook-up in the basement of 121 Second Avenue resulted in a seven-alarm fire that destroyed the entire building and two others; two people were killed. Half a city block is strewn with rubble and otherwise empty. Standings is in the building immediately next door to 121 Second Avenue. It is still closed, but it is safe, if by the narrowest of margins.

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The term "sports bar" conjures negative images of weak beer served in towers, wing sauce-stained bar stools, and testosterone fueled tryhards who are ready to "throw down" for their team, bro. This is not necessarily inaccurate, but it is a shame. Sports are a great excuse for people to come together, cheer, commiserate, and talk trash, which is a fine way to spend time; sports bars, at their best, are places where the sports faithful can come together in worship.

This confluence of sports and community is why Standings matters so much. Televisions cover most of the bar's wall real estate, and whatever room is left is tacked with various sports memorabilia and bric-a-brac—not the wholesale crap jazzing up the average Applebees, but a curated collection of sports junk proudly given to the bar by Standings' many regulars. A large chalkboard on the west-facing wall is updated everyday with the latest team standings of the major sports. If people come to Standings to watch games, these loving details are why the bar's diehard fan base keeps coming back.

But as April 6 drew closer and Standings was still not getting the okay to open for business, it was hard to know where and what we'd come back to. There were plenty of places in the five boroughs that would be showing baseball games and serving beer, but for those of us that made Opening Day at Standings a thing, there really was no other option but to take the bar with us.

Creative Commons via Moacir

And so "Standings in Exile" had to find a home, somewhere. We were offered refuge at Finnerty's, on 14th and Second Avenue. Finnerty's usually caters to fans of Bay Area sports teams; this caused some trouble for a friend of mine and, a fellow Standings regular and true blue Dodgers fan who refused to kick off the baseball season in a Giants bar. Finnerty's made the best of things by giving its back room a temporary Standings sign in the same font and agreeing to play the Mets game with sound.

The Standings crew arrived as the first batch of games started, seeking safe haven and finding it. There was beer, and familiar faces not seen since October, there were many screens filled with much baseball, and there was Gary. Gary is the owner of Standings and can usually be found perched at the end of his bar focusing on the nearest TV, which will invariably be showing his beloved Mets. While Standings as a whole is team agnostic, Gary is one hundred percent Mets; his trusty cowbell rings out every time the Mets score.

Gary arrived to warm greetings, filling everyone in on the latest news, or lack thereof, surrounding the aftermath of the explosion. He seemed in good spirits, except he had forgotten to grab his cowbell from Standings the last time officials had allowed him back to his bar. As all good baseball fans are with superstitions, Gary was worried this would be the reason the Mets would lose their opener to the World Series favorites, the Washington Nationals.

More regulars arrived after the first pitches were thrown, smiles on faces and heads adorned with caps of the teams they were stuck with for better or worse. The Twins, the Tigers, the Giants, the Rays, the Orioles, the Rockies—it was a gathering of tribes, as always, but it was also more than that this year. It was a coming together to support a place, even as it took refuge in another place. It was a different, deeper hope in a day already thick with the burden of hope—that we could bring this other home with us, and bring it back to life.

It was mainly just copious amounts of baseball and beer, which is not at all a bad thing. As pints emptied, the actual moments of the game mattered less and less compared to conversation and catching up. Highlights caught out of the corner of eyes were relayed to those who missed them. A woman walking by in a leopard-print coat and a neck brace asked me how Alex was doing and I was able to say he went 1 for 2 with a walk, which brought her much happiness.

And after being no-hit for six innings by Max Scherzer, the Mets won. It happened in the sort of improbable way that baseball things happen, but in a time and a place that made it all seem somehow more auspicious.

On Friday, April 10th, Standings was given the OK to resume business. Baseball's Opening Day had come and gone, but this re-opening day felt equal reassuring; a return to the comfort of routine. The only thing missing were a few of the jerseys that hang from the ceiling, which had to be sent to the cleaners because of the smoky smell they retained from the fire. The Mets lost to the Braves that night. Maybe Gary will reconsider his lucky cowbell. I hope not.