"I guess [picking up girls] is easier for a bartender because there’s a bit more of a one-on-one experience."Photo: Melissa Hom
Pavement fans know Mark Ibold as the seminal indie band’s bassist, but regulars of the Great Jones Cafe have known him as their affable bartender for the past seven years. We caught Mark after a stint touring Europe and the West Coast with another legendary outfit, Sonic Youth, and after we unloaded the obligatory “Will Pavement reunite?” question — “Our booking agent seems to think we’re going to be doing a reunion tour sometime in the next couple of years,” he says. “But it’s definitely not official” — we asked him about working at the Jones, where he’s been a customer for two decades.
You’ve been going here for so long — was Basquiat really a regular?
I think that was a little before it became the Great Jones Cafe in 1983. Before that it was called the Galloping Gourmet — it was a place where Lou Reed would stock the jukebox and it was a hipster hangout. Not that it isn’t anymore.
The place is so small — does the vibe change when a celeb walks in?
Penélope Cruz was here a month ago. I didn’t really know what she looked like. She was with that guy Josh Hartnett. I don’t think anybody came up and said anything to them. For a while Monica Lewinsky was coming in — I don’t think anybody ever said anything. We were all kind of stunned that she was even there.
Do fans ever recognize you as the bassist from Pavement and chat you up?
When they do, it generally doesn’t bother me because the people that would recognize me from doing that stuff are generally people that I have a nice time talking to. Every once in a while, it can be an awkward thing.
It must be easy to overhear things at such a small bar.
One time a couple was having an argument that escalated. They were quietly saying, “Fuck you, I hate you…” and when I would walk up to them, they’d be exceedingly nice to me: “Oh, we would like another round of drinks.” Then I’d turn my back and they’d say, “Fuck you, you suck.” Finally I had to say, “I can’t give you any more drinks because you’re driving people away.” They said, “Sir, what’s your name?” I said, “My name’s Mark.” And then they said [loudly, in unison], “FUCK YOU, MARK!”
The classic New Orleans drink, the Hurricane, is tacky by some standards. Do you roll your eyes when someone orders it?
If you get one at Pat O’Brien’s in New Orleans, it’s like a Kool Aid mix. The way we make it is with juices and grenadine and a couple kinds of booze. It ends up being a nicer version. I kind of like making them. Those or Sazeracs.
Do you have to deal with messy eaters?
I worked in a hotel that had a seafood buffet where everything was horribly trashed at the end of the night. It never gets to be that bad. There might be one or two regular customers known for being piggish eaters that have a giant circle of crumbs around their chairs when they leave.
Do people complain that the food isn’t authentic?
There’s always a southern foodie person that says I’m not going to order the corn bread because it has some sugar in it. I just say, “Yeah, well, we have some southern-style food here, but it’s more a New York restaurant than anything else.”
Do you get any interesting old-timers?
One time, these guys that run the lumber-supply company across the street came in with their mom who worked in the place in the fifties when it was another restaurant. She asked if the place was still haunted. That freaked some of us out because there are a couple of people in the Jones that claim to have seen a ghost. A few people say they’ve seen something out of the corner of their eye, like a person walking through the back corner. A waitress claimed she was tapped on the shoulder and no one was there.
So who gets more girls, musicians or bartenders?
I guess it’d be easier for a bartender because there’s a bit more of a one-on-one experience. When you combine that with one person — or both — drinking a lot, it seems to have started a lot of relationships.