News You Can Use: The El Retorno Report
Filed under: 11206, 11211, East Williamsburg, East Williamsburg Brooklyn, Williamsburg, Williamsburg Brooklyn
As many of you are aware yours truly frequently attends meetings conducted by our local Community Board. The reasons for this are manifold, but I will list the two most important ones below:
- Said meetings are an excellent way to learn about what is going on in north Brooklyn.
- The public speaking segment at the end is often illuminating and downright entertaining.
This month’s meeting was no exception. After a rather lengthy evening a citizen named “John” spoke about an eating and drinking establishment in (what I would presume to be) his neighborhood: El Retorno. His speech started as follows:
If you are looking for a liquor license to turn down, this is the one.
and then he proceeded to tender some rather unsavory details about this business to back up his assertion. This included— but was by no means limited to—- the following:
- While described as an “eating and drinking establishment” El Retorno was in reality a place for men to get drunk.
- The waitresses at said establishment solicit the clientele to buy drinks for them.
- The aforementioned ladies also “taxi dance” (Read: they will dance with men for money).
“John” concluded his speech (one of the finest yours truly has ever beheld at a Community Board meeting, I will add) with a bang by pointing out this establishment has been cited by the Department of Health for harboring roaches, rats and flying insects. These he described as being “the perfect trifecta”. Suffice it to say yours truly and a few buddies were very impressed. So much so we broke into raucous applause which netted us confused and mildly annoyed looks by a number of people present.
In the following weeks we could not stop thinking about this alleged den of iniquity. Was this chap “John” merely exaggerating or was El Retorno as vile and repulsive as described? This was the question we kept asking each other. Finally, we decided to find out for ourselves and to this end invited ~23 of our best friends to embark upon a fact-finding mission. Six stepped up to the plate. We established guidelines/rules for this endeavor. These were as follows:
- We would visit this establishment under the pretext of one of us having a birthday.
- Our panel would be constituted of women only. The Mister was rather disheartened to learn this but I had his best interests at heart; you do not send in a Boy Scout for a task better suited for the Marines.
- This mission would come to pass March 26, 2011 at 8:00 p.m.
And come to pass it did. Follows is a report of our findings. WARNING/CAVEAT: the following content is not for the squeamish.
Yours truly was the first to arrive. Noting this establishment seemed to be patronized exclusively by men, I called one of my fellow conspirators, Christine:
Where are you? I am NOT going into this place by myself.
She replied that she and a friend, Alison, were catching a car service and should be on site soon. I took a walk around the block and sure enough when I got back they were waiting for me. We entered and took a table.
The first thing we noticed was a solitary crutch propped against a wall next to the front door. We later concluded this was kept on hand in the event of an emergency. A very nice waitress came over and gave us menus. Remembering the “trifecta” as mentioned by our (unwitting) tipster regarding the food, we decided to stick to beverages.
We made a toast to our endeavor.
- The lady waitstaff of this establishment were drinking along with the clients.
- There was an older gentleman sitting in the back wearing sunglasses. Mind you, this was well after dark. We deduced this chap was the owner and/or “management” of this establishment.
- We noted this eating and drinking establishment has nary a single Yelp review or page on Facebook. We vowed to change this egregious oversight.
- We really liked the “cravats” made from paper napkins on the beer we were being served.
8:39 P.M.: Upon noticing buckets of beer are offered for $20.00 a pop we ordered one.
We noted that said bucket had a rather nifty bottle opener attached to the handle.
We were quite impressed by this bit of ingenuity. However, this gizmo proved to be problematic/less than user-friendly— as you will soon see.
- A woman arrived with two small children. They hung around and talked to the man wearing sunglasses. After about fifteen minutes, they left.
- Upon noticing we were having some difficulty using the bottle opener attached to our bucket (READ: We were spraying beer on ourselves trying to use it), our waitress (who was really friendly) offered us a more conventional one. We declined. We were dead set on learning how to use this device properly. We would not be defeated!
- Yours truly perused the jukebox. Freebird was not offered.
As is usually the case when consuming beer, yours truly found herself in need of a privy and in so doing made the first of a series interesting discoveries.
- The signs gracing the lavatories are in English, Spanish and Polish.
- Our Greenpoint gal, Sherry, notes the Polish being employed is grammatically incorrect: kobieta means “woman”. The correct plural tense is “kobiety”.
1. There is some interesting graffiti to be found in the ladies’ lavatory.
2. Someone has a bone to pick with a chap named Gerry. Among other things.
Yours truly attempts to use the bottle opener attached to our beer bucket. Hilarity ensues.
My notes were fortuitously unharmed.
(SIDE NOTE: Yours truly initially had trepidations about going home reeking of beer— but then remembered that as a Greenpoint resident this “perfume” would be in no way be construed as unusual. Our kindly waitress provided napkins and I proceeded to clean up my mess.)
9:00 P.M.: We noted that men were starting to show up in significant numbers.
9:25 P.M.: We have another beer opening mishap— but endeavor to persevere!
9:36 P.M.: Another bucket of beer is ordered and another member of our fact-finding mission, Juliet, arrives.
10:00 P.M.: We notice that the men sitting at a table behind us are smiling at us. We return the favor.
10:04 P.M.: The lights are dimmed and our intrepid Christine attempts to locate a wireless network.
Amusingly enough we learned that “Vagina” was locked. This discovery elicited peals of laughter from our panel.
10:05 P.M.: We noted the music is becoming, really, seriously, INCREDIBLY loud.
10:10 P.M.: A fellow patron comes over. The dialogue which follows gets somewhat convoluted, so I will give a general outline.
- He offers to buy us a bucket of Coronas. I offer to buy him a Coors if he’ll buy me one. He says he does not like Coors. I tell him I do not like Corona. However, if it is free I will drink it. This confuses him so I clarify that I am from Greenpoint and this is how we roll. This confuses him even more.
- He asks if we are married. Christine replies that some of us are. He is nonplussed and continues to press the matter.
- We give him a beer.
- He gets a call from his wife. This bothers him. He then confides in us that he has a girlfriend as well. He continues to ask if we’re married. We ask him why, if he has a wife and a girlfriend, this is so important to him. We do not get an answer.
- He concludes that we are married and changes his line of questioning to (and I quote): If you are married why are you here? We ask him why, if he is married, is he here? Once again, we do not get an answer.
- He asks how we know about this place. We tell him a guy named John told us about it.
10:15 P.M.: His cousin comes over. He explains that our new friend is from New Jersey. Our new friend asks our party:
Who is the leader?
Everyone pointed to yours truly. He tells me he’d like to me to go outside with him so he can show me something. This did not strike me as an offer I cared to take up and I told him so. He persisted so I went to “Plan B”.
We do not have a “leader” per se. We are anarcho-syndicalists. We take turns as an acting executive officer on our outings. This evening I am the “leader” but next time this sinecure be assumed by another person in our party.
He said he had never heard a story like that. I assured him this is exactly why I told it. (ASIDE: It has been yours truly’s observation that nothing will stop a man from pitching a tent like a woman talking about politics.) We then noticed that a sound system was being fired up in the backroom. We asked our new friend if they were preparing to do karaoke. He answered to the affirmative and proceeded to solicit recommendations from us: Lady Gaga or Britney Spears— or as he put the latter: “Whoops, I did it again”.
We agreed unanimously upon Britney. He was visibly disappointed and said he likes Lady Gaga better. We assured him our panel’s suggestions were merely advisory and therefore non-binding. In other words: if he wants to sing Lady Gaga, he is perfectly entitled to do so.
10:20 P.M.: He begins to ask one member of our panel to dance with him. Repeatedly. She was clearly uncomfortable and we took this is as an indication it was time to go. We endeavored to clear our tab. I go to the bathroom. I opened the woman’s lavatory to discover a man urinating. I elected to patronize the men’s bathroom instead.
ASIDE: Earlier in the evening a member of our party voiced concerns about the cleanliness of the toilet seat in the women’s bathroom. I am pleased to note there was no such issue manifest in the men’s lavatory! I came to this conclusion because all the urine I saw was located on the floor.
As I am using said privy I noticed evidence of someone trying to kick the door open from the inside. I am certain the story behind this is a good one. A story, I imagine, I am much happier not knowing.
10:29 P.M.: We gathered up our materials and commence to leave. Our waitress for the evening thanked us for coming and told us she hopes we will come back. We thanked her for a memorable evening and Christine tips one of the hostesses $5.00 and apologized for us “stepping on her game”. She was genuinely grateful and welcomed us to come back anytime.
Sherry was selected from our party by our new friend as his “best girl”. Lucky her. We leave and on the way to the subway we exchanged notes/drew conclusions:
- A motion was brought forward by Christine that this was the best $20.00 she has ever spent. This was enthusiastically ratified by our panel.
- I brought forward a motion to congratulate Sherry as being deemed the “Best Girl”. This too was enthusiastically ratified.
- Most importantly, we decided that “John’s” testimony regarding this establishment was, by all appearances, startlingly accurate.
At the corner of Metropolitan Avenue and Graham Avenue our panel disbanded. Juliet and I headed to the G train at Metropolitan Avenue. As we were walking something really strange happened: a building started talking to us.
It was at this point yours truly realized that three beers on an empty stomach— or the “trifecta”— was working its magic. I had been RETORNO-ED. We made double-time to the nearest subway station and in an act of nothing short of divine providence, the G train arrived as Juliet and I hit the platform.
Upon exiting the G train in Greenpoint I spied a text message in my inbox. It was from the Mister.
I thought to myself. No, I am not okay. Yours truly had one of the most fun evenings she has had in YEARS!
Thank you, El Retorno!
Post Script, March 27, 2011: Our sleuth Sherry made a fascinating discovery about our new favorite eating and drinking establishment. It DOES have a page on Yelp after all…
albeit as a hotel. Fascinating. On a lark I pulled up 191 Graham Avenue’s latest Certificate of Occupancy. Follows is what I found:
I perused the ECB violations for this address and quickly learned the aforementioned “ordinary” cellar is anything but.