I’ve been told the morning shift bond is strong. But alcohol is stronger.
Kate Riga and I had been working on the morning shift together for a few weeks in the spring of 2018 before we made newfound-friendship plans to embark on the endlessly unsatisfying journey of finding an affordable bar near the TPM New York City office for a good old fashioned happy hour. The first attempt was Cafe Champignon on 22nd and 7th. We could afford one glass of wine. Again, endlessly unsatisfying.
Back then, our morning shift began at 6:00 a.m. ET, meaning we got off work right at 3:00 p.m. most days — a bizarre time to navigate the bar scene in any setting, but especially in a solidly 9-5 metropolis like Manhattan. We decided to make Thursday “evenings” our regular happy hour adventure time, endlessly searching the depths of Yelp and Google Maps to find establishments that not only suited our young 20-somethings-with-lots-of-student-loans budgets, but also that didn’t make us feel like we’d entered a time warp of bizarre afternoon bar characters. The crowd at most fine, and less-than-fine, establishments in the three-o-clock in the afternoon hour was … a toss-up, to say the least. There were the blue collar folks who worked an early shift and the finance crowd out on late-afternoon beer-and-white wine soaked lunches. The restaurant industry crowd grabbed a drink before their shifts began. There were tourists and the neighborhood regulars alike.
Kate and I tried a plethora of bars over the summer of 2018 — from the Peter McManus Cafe on 20th and 7th with its overwhelming scent of wood soaked in decades of bleach and cheap brews (and even cheaper bar food, a favorite of Joe Ragazzo’s for late Friday lunches); to the Croc Lounge over in the East Village (a top contender that gave you free personal pizzas with each drink, but with the brand of dive bar bathroom that left much to be desired, even in pre-COVID days); to the One Star Bar and the Barcade across the street from each other on 24th; to the cash-only margarita sidewalk stop on Eighth Avenue, somewhere between 20th and 24th Street.
It took weeks of crowd samplings and rounds of various questionable drinks before we settled on our favorite: Art Bar on 8th Avenue and 14th Street, a cozy spot with cheap drinks and good music that was routinely stuffed to the brim post-6 p.m. But for the 4 p.m. crowd that arrived just minutes before it opened, it was a glorious safe haven. Kate and I were happy to kill an hour after work wandering around Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood and Flatiron District for the benefit of the insanely cheap drinks the West Village staple offered until happy hour ended at 7:00 p.m., but even moreso for the company. Alexis, the bartender on Thursdays, was the reason Kate and I returned week after week — she’s a New York native through-and-through, with a the right blend of sweetness and sass that’s a rarity in this city of transplants. And we still follow one another on Instagram. That’s how you know it’s real.
Alexis was endlessly fascinated by politics and Kate and I’s jobs. The $3 happy hour well drinks were just a side benefit to the Cheers-esque experience: A $3 gin and tonic for Kate and a $3 gin martini with a splash for me. Alexis often unlocked the door and let us take a load off around 3:45 p.m. most Thursday, well before the bar even opened, and she always had our drinks ready for us by the time we ventured in, serving us the excess gin remnants from the shaker that didn’t fit into our drinks in a shot glass. She’d pour herself a fruity concoction as well when we arrived; bottoms up to start the shift.
Perhaps it’s the nature of our work or the reliably young staff that finds itself trickling through TPM’s doors. But in my experience, both as an intern, a news writer and an editor, TPM’s NYC office knows how to drink. There’s always been a stack of various liquor bottles stowed away on the shelf above the kitchen sink for the taking after a long day and fine assortment of gin and vodka planted on the bookshelf near Josh Marshall’s desk, next to a Golden Duke trophy. Joe Ragazzo even has his own little whiskey station near his desk, complete with a fine display of highball glasses and everything from Game of Thrones Johnny Walker which he bought specifically to mark our collective grief over the final season of the show to a fifth of Tullamore Dew, for special occasions. On one glorious Friday evening in 2019 Joe organized a blind whiskey tasting competition to test the palate of our staff. I lost.
We do a lot of hard work bringing you the news. We reward ourselves with a bit of hard drinking. I reached out to alum from TPM’s past to share some of their favorite TPM alcohol-related memories, albeit a bit blurry. While some shared anecdotes of drunken nights out as a staff or their favorite bars near the (as I described) excessively pricey neighborhood surrounding TPM’s NYC office, Hunter Walker described the general vibe of TPM’s drinking culture best: “I remember spending a lot of time drinking at Tom [Kludt]’s house, mostly. We were all poor. The best TPM bar was the TPM office every year during Josh’s annual holiday party. That’s the only place you could drink tiki drinks with Paul Krugman.”
Here are some more of my favorites:
As far as “favorite” dive bars during my time at TPM, the answer is simple: No Idea. While replying to someone who asks what bar you are at with a blunt, “no Idea” was a novel experience, we came here mostly because No Idea was the ONLY affordable watering hole in walking distance to the TPM office. It was a typical hole-in-the-wall with a hallway-like bar space when you walked in, and a slightly more open space in the back where we would send some staffers around 4:30 p.m. to hold down a table for the rest of us. Sadly, No Idea closed sometime in 2013 and I remember we sincerely struggled to find somewhere else to go after that.
Anecdotally, there was a minor turf war at No Idea with Buzzfeed, which used to have an office on the same block as TPM. This would have been listicle Buzzfeed, not the award-winning Buzzfeed we know today. They used to slap “LOL” stickers and the like around the bar and we would gag. In reality, they probably didn’t even know we existed, but the war was heated nonetheless.
My favorite memory is definitely going to No Idea this one time because they were going out of business. Chris O’Driscoll asks the bartender, “Are you guys really going out of business?” Bartender says, “Nah, we’re just going to reopen Monday with a new name.”
Also, one time I opened the tab and forgot about it at, I want to say, Kingston Hall? And like $1,000 later I remembered. Thanks Josh!
It was getting late on what must have been my third holiday party at TPM. We’d consumed paper plates of sliced cheese and Fresh Direct guacamole; many a Mueller-probe themed specialty cocktail had been downed. We’d sat for our Victor Jeffries III portraits, mugging in the group photos that Josh would later post to Facebook.
By the time Macy Gray’s “I Try” came on the speakers for the fourth time, we figured it was probably time to head out. The New York staff piled on to the L train to head to Williamsburg, and Josh joined us. We were loud and boisterous, full of alcohol and holiday cheer. I noticed Josh was on his phone, and realized he was scrolling through his camera roll, looking at photos of his sons, Sam and Daniel. It was a very Josh moment. He was willing to go along with whatever his boisterous staff wanted, but always caught up in his own head, half-daydreaming about some story idea or person he needed to harangue on Twitter or his family that he loves so much.
We spilled off the subway at Bedford Avenue and into The Charleston, one of those anonymous, packed dive bars that feel like a figment of our imagination during the COVID-19 pandemic. Josh bought everyone a round of whiskey shots, and I think we may have even convinced him to take one. Then he left to head back to Manhattan, and the rest of the staff stayed at the bar for hours, drinking and arguing about the Trump administration and the news, like we did on so many other evenings. At TPM, work outings never felt like an obligation. Under the twinkling Christmas lights at this crummy bar, or sitting at the office on 20th Street late on a Friday night, cooking up big plans for the site with Joe and Derick, I was just spending time with friends, where I really wanted to be.
The 2015 TPM holiday party was spontaneous and perfect. Sometime around midnight, those of us left decided it would be a good idea to move the party from the office to the stretch of bars off the Bedford L stop. Josh took the subway out there with us instead of going home, and as one of the only other Manhattan dwellers on the team at the time, I knew that was a huge act of solidarity. The bar we went to had a counter inside where you could order pizza. That was very clutch after 5? 6? hours of drinking.
Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” was big at the time and no one was shy about singing the words at full volume when the song came on. I don’t know at what wee hour of the morning everyone dispersed. I do know that Allegra and I ended up sitting outside Derick’s apartment drinking a ridiculous quantity of Corona — there may have been a whole case between the three of us — until it started getting light out. I walked to the subway as the sun came up. That night encapsulated everything I love about the TPM team and New York City.
Sorry, I have some stories. They are currently with my lawyer, but will send once cleared.
We hosted a party that was sponsored by the Beer Institute in D.C., and when it was over we had what seemed like 50-60 cases of beer left over. Just a massive amount of beer! Naturally, with all of that beer around, a good, old-fashioned game of flip cup ensued. This is a game where you drink a beer and then have to flip the cup you drank it from upside down after consuming it. There are two teams of, say, five, and you are racing to see which team can drink the beer and flip the cups the fastest. I think all of us on staff were millennials and had spent our college years playing the game. However, this was the first time Josh — who is decidedly not a millennial (good for him!) — had encountered the game. Initially, he was a bit of a rookie, and kept flipping the cup the wrong way, but before the end of the night he was a pro, doing laps around us youngsters because, well, Josh Marshall is good at everything. It was on that night the wholesome tradition of TPM Flip Cup was born. For many years there was no more quintessentially TPM tradition — other than making Bridgegate jokes, of course. Many a late night was spent playing this wholesome game, and it is a true part of TPM history.
Another time during my tenure at TPM, Alana Levinson (now Deputy Editor of the superb Mel Magazine) convinced Josh to throw a Tiki Party at the TPM Headquarters in Chelsea. Why? I don’t really know, but it felt like a fun idea at the time. We fashioned a Tiki Bar out of Josh’s desk and made drinks like the “Subpoena Colada” with tropical umbrellas. It was all fun and games until Paul Krugman showed up probably about an hour early, and Josh wasn’t there yet so we had to entertain him while cobbling together a tiki bar and listening to “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” Entertaining a Nobel Prize winning economist while drinking a daiquiri out of a coconut cup definitely sums up the essence of TPM.
I started as an intern at TPM a few weeks before Christmas in 2011. At that time, the go-to bar was “No Idea,” a name designed to turn any night out into a variation of “Who’s On First?”
I’m pretty sure my first visit to “No Idea” came shortly after my arrival — it was following an office holiday dinner, if I recall correctly — but I don’t consider that my inaugural “TPM Drinks,” a sacred and semi-regular ritual that always followed the same routine. Early in the week, Callie Schweitzer would pop in to the company’s Skype (yes, we used Skype back then) and suggest we do “TPM Drinks” that coming Friday, a message that was typically met with a cascade of emojis and “hell yeahs” confirming that “TPM Drinks” were indeed happening that coming Friday.
At around 4:30 or 5:00 on that Friday, barring any earth-shattering news, a staff member — maybe Callie, maybe another person — would suggest that “someone who isn’t that busy” stroll over to No Idea to secure a table. Maybe two tables. Actually, make it three. In those early days, this responsibility often fell to me, but I could usually count on a couple others to tag along. Armed with the company credit card, we’d show up just before the place was overwhelmed with the happy hour crowd and open a tab. And from there, a solid three to four hours of drinking and gossiping would commence.
The rest of the crew would arrive in waves until, eventually, our table(s) were surrounded by all of our NYC coworkers and TPM alums. Josh would always show up and gamely hold court. Eric Kleefeld would always do his “trick” (that is, if you consider chugging a gin-and-tonic and then eating the lime a trick). Kyle Leighton would always charitably bum out smokes. And I would always, without fail, drink way more than I planned.
For that reason, I find it a little difficult to conjure up vivid recollections. These were blurry nights and, frankly, some of the memories that remain in focus should probably stay in the vault — at least until TPM’s 30th anniversary.