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Jacket 21 — February 2003   |   # 21  Contents   |   Homepage   |  Catalog   |

Jacob Burckhardt

Martens Bar

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Disorder, mental, strikes me; I
Slip from my pocket Dante to
Chance hit a word, a friend’s reply
In this bar; bare, dark avenue
The lunge of headlights, then bare dark
Cross on red, two blocks home, old Sixth
The alive, the dead, answer, ask
Miracle consciousness I’m with
At home cat chirps, Norwegian sweater
Slumped in the bar, I mind Dante
As dawn enters the sunk city
Answer a one can understand
Actual events are obscure
Though the observers appear clear

— Edwin Denby

Martens Bar by Jacob Burckhardt

Still from Jacob Burckhardt’s Martens Bar

Jacob Burckhardt:

“Edwin lived at 145 west 21st street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, from the 1930s until he died in 1983.  When I was a kid we lived at 116 West 21, half a block away on the other side of the street.  In the 1960s and then again from the Eighties on, my father Rudy Burckhardt and Yvonne Burckhardt lived on 29th street between Sixth avenue and Broadway, a ten or fifteen minute walk away.  Edwin would often have dinner with them, and then late in the evening walk home, down Sixth avenue.  At the corner of 24th street and Sixth Avenue (actually, three blocks home) was Martens Bar, a traditional New York Irish workingman's bar, where they served soggy corned beef and sauerkraut from the steam table, Rheingold and Schaefer beer on tap.  On cold winter nights Edwin would often stop there to warm up (most likely with some scotch - I never saw him drink beer).
      It would be quiet then, only a few serious or lonely drinkers.  The "table service" was Puerto Rican guys in linen service uniforms.  Outside the sidewalks were pretty empty, the traffic light enough that the cars, mostly taxis, could rush uptown as fast as the lights changed, about thirty miles an hour. The rattley old Checker cabs made a special sound as they bounced over the manhole covers.
    When I was in college in Philadelphia and would come to New York on the weekends I would stay at Edwin’s loft, and sometimes make that walk with him.  The cat who chirps in the recording was Prince, the son of Edwin’s cat Friendly, who lived with me when I lived in Brooklyn in the seventies.  When Edwin would visit, Prince would eventually jump on Edwin’s lap to be petted and Edwin would say, "such an intelligent cat."
      I used Edwin’s reading of the poem “Disorder, mental, strikes me; I”  in my film Martens Bar. The first half of the film was shot on Sixth avenue, near Martens Bar.  The second part was shot in my neighborhood in Red Hook.”

Jacket 21 — February 2003  Contents page
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