Fontana of Youth

By: Marcelo Báez

There’s only a handful of bars left in the Lower East Side—well, Chinatown, to be more specific—where you can still find real grit. I’ve lived in the area for almost eight years (don’t worry: I promise this is not one of those tedious “how things used to be” rants) but yes, lots have changed.

The longevity of businesses in this neighborhood is comical. There’s a new inauguration for a boutique, restaurant or watering hole every other month—all of them in the same spaces. But Fontana’s, located on Eldridge Street between Grand and Broome, keeps standing the test of time.

In NYC, I theorize, it’s all about standing your ground; live and die by the sword, or whatever. And while the rest of the bars in this ’hood had to (or chose to, perhaps) adapt to the area’s new clientele—B&T, Wall Street suits, tourists— Fontana’s is still what it’s always been: a rock-and-roll bar.

I know all of this because, well, I hang out there. Also because I’m a DJ and that’s where I throw parties. But, in all honestly, I’m not praising them just because of my involvement. Having lived in this neighborhood for almost a decade, I’ve gotten to know other bar owners in the area and I’ve seen them gradually switch their programming and bookings from underground electronic music, indie or anything alternative (the kind of music the LES was known to foster, you know) to Top 40 and... nothing else. Adapt or die, I guess?

Sorry, I said this wasn’t going to be one of “those” rants. I’ll stop.

Here’s what I’m saying: you’re still going to find some guidettes or their male counterparts in this surprisingly big bar. At this point—especially on a weekend in Manhattan—there’s just no getting around them. But the music at Fontana’s is always solid. The last two songs I heard there were “The Rat” by the Walkmen and “Jet Boy, Jet Girl” by the Damned. Fontana’s books good bands in the basement; the bartenders are friendly; the bouncers are not dicks; there’s no dress code; and they absolutely refuse to do bottle service.

Marcelo Baéz is a writer, DJ, and musician based in NYC. When he's not producing "Rico Suave" parties, he releases music under P3CULIAR.