Mona’s on Ave B is a great bar for depressed locals to groan about depressing local issues. The last time I was there, a dark and misty Tuesday afternoon, I slouched by a lonely guy slouching next to me who ordered a glass of red wine and a soda with no ice. Down the way, old people debated the merits of local sock vendors. A toothless guy with a small glass of whiskey was telling the bartender he "has a good feeling about things this time." Two guys, one with a top hat walking a Jack Russell, the other with a cane, stumbled in both wearing beaded Mardi Gras necklaces. They began loudly complaining about their "goddamn rich" tenants and let the dog off the leash. Mona’s does its own thing, whether you like it or not.
From the outside, it’s not much: a newer brick facade, low-key sign, the darkened windows filled with neon beer ads. You would never know how big the inside is from just walking by, but it ‘s actually quite large for Alphabet City, with two full rooms and not terribly low ceilings. Just through the door is a cool little pillow seat where you can sit at the windows and watch people mill down Ave B, which is always entertaining, especially if it’s early enough in the day or late enough at night.
The bar stretches the right side of the front room, with a nice wooden bar top and cushioned stools. Behind the liquor are mirrors and a modest amount of chalk signs with pricing info. There isn’t a lot of kitsch going on, but this is not at all that kind of place. Besides the Christmas lights that zigzag the red ceiling to the backroom’s far wall, Mona’s sticks to the general dive bar colors, those certain few that so perfectly hide grime: maroon, black, grey, brown and exposed brick. The tap selection is standard, good. Prices exist on the better side of average: Guinness, Stella etc. for $6 a pint ($2.75 a mug) down to $4 for a pint of Yuengling ($2.15 mug). Cans of PBR are $3. Liquor runs around $5, wine the same, and you can get a dark and stormy for $7.
On the exposed brick left wall, pictures of dead rockstars hang. A small drink shelf stretches back to the same safari edition of Big Buck Hunter that seems to inhabit every dive south of Fourteenth and east of First. It separates the bar from the sprawling back area.The backroom begins narrow, then expands cubicly outward to the large back wall. The walls are lined with mismatched benches, handmade mosaic table tops tucked in the corners. Some very mediocre, semi-impressionist art sits on walls that vary between red stucco and old exposed brick. Interesting lamps hang, each different from the one before it.
The backroom at Mona’s is mainly a game area and is never totally full. The first available activity back there, one of those multi-game boxes (cannon, pool, trivia…) that were popular for a while and now can only be found in places like Double Down Saloon and Duff’s, sits just on the other side of Big Buck Hunter. In the far left corner is a secret hidden booth, and that game that frequents Chuck E. Cheese’s where you roll a weighty brown ball up a ramp and try to get it into one of the target rungs, with the center and those on the top back sides being the most points. I’ve never known what it’s called, but it’s fun, kind of.
The jukebox is pretty good, and not too expensive. With two plays for $1, five for $2, and 15 for $5, it offers bands like New York Dolls, Devo, Buzzcocks, The B-52’s, Pixies, Sonic Youth, Built to Spill, Stooges… everything you’d expect and some new hit stuff. One of my favorite things about the backroom is its large periodic windows where the outside view is incorporated into the room’s aesthetic. The window to the right of the jukebox has a big poem on the wall outside the window (kind of lame, I know. But hey, cool concept and at least they’re trying). The right wall’s window offers a much cooler view of an abandoned fire escape backlit with an eerie green light creeping from below, Christmas lights reflect.
A pool table sits in the center of the room below a super cool seventies stained glass pool light. Mona’s is a place you could actually play pool without getting hassled off the table by young pushy assholes, something that seems to happen every single time I try to play. The patrons here aren’t in a hurry, even the younger ones (who definitely don’t fall into the East Village college crowd) have come to let time pass them by, let life wash over them quietly and warmly. They’ve come to sip on a beer or cup of liquor, to listen to the problems of those left behind, those complaining hypothetical problems no matter how trivial. The people are funny or nice and they always want to talk in a refreshingly uncreepy way. If you’re bummed, go in the day. If you aren’t, go at night. Take a friend, or make some new ones. Either way, Mona’s leaves no regrets.