Drummer Julie Black is one of three members of the quartet Tall Black Girls who shares the last name Black. (The wordplay “makes people think outside of the box a little bit,” she says.) Black spends her Thursdays and Saturdays at Motor City, where musicians come to guest-D.J. and the bar draws an international crowd. We asked her about how to wrangle fans from behind the bar and what happens to bartenders in a recession.
Does working at the bar help your music career?
Working at a bar certainly helps the band, and being in a band certainly helps the bar. When [we] have a new record coming out, I can sell the record at the bar and I can put posters up for our release-party show. We get a lot of people from other countries at the bar.
Do international tourists come into Motor City?
I’ve met a lot of people from Spain and Argentina and Sweden. We have a bartender who’s from Finland, so we get several people coming in from Finland. It’s just one of those bars that people tend to go to when they come to New York and they’re looking for, “what’s a late night, good rock and roll, dirty New York bar that I can go to?”
Does it bother you when people come in for that faux-gritty Lower East Side experience?
There’s been so much change in that neighborhood, and it’s disappointing in a lot of ways. The weekends are just atrocious like that, where it’s like “Let’s go down to the Lower East Side and live like the other half.” During the week it’s not so like that.
What other musicians come in?
The guys from Valiant Thor they’re in there whenever they come up. I remember seeing Queens of the Stone Age. We have D.J.'s every night of the week and it’s pretty common that a [member] of some band, if they play at Bowery, will do guest-D.J. spots at Motor City.
What kind of stuff do the D.J.'s play?
I love that I’ll hear songs I haven’t heard in so long. It’s like a combination of really old, almost like fifties garage — and then something really modern with a fun soul track in the middle, and I’m really into that. There’s a song called “Hucklebuck ’65.” It’s been in my brain for a while now.
How do you hear orders over the music?
I’ve gotten really good at reading lips. There are certain things that can be confused, like Bass and Pabst, so I prefer people call it a PBR.
Do you let customers buy you shots?
Absolutely. I encourage it. I had a guy one night who was away from Jersey. It was close to the end of the night. I think it was his one night out and he was trying so hard to, like, “Hey, babe” me and buy me a shot, but he was awkward about it. I remember seeing his I.D., and I think he’d been 21 for like a week. Eventually I had to kick him out because his friend was falling asleep on the bar.
How is the recession affecting sales?
I think I have one of the safest jobs, because no matter if people are happy or sad or depressed or angry, they’re usually still going to have a drink somewhere. I see fewer tips, but I still see about as much alcohol.