The new bar 96 Tears has an old soul and a certain spirit that you can’t just conjure out of thin air. Dedicated to their late friend Howie Pyro, the just opened East Village watering hole was created by Jesse Malin, Johnny T. And Jonathan Toubin, who all know a thing or two about bars and rock and roll.
Pyro, the inspiration for the joint, passed away recently, leaving behind a legacy as a musician — he played bass in Malin’s band D-Generation and later for Danzig — and also as a DJ and a prodigious collector of esoteric artifacts, many of which provide the decor at 96.
“There’s a thin line between collector and hoarder … and maniac,” Malin noted. “I went to his house in LA after the funeral to clean it out with a couple of friends and his sister, and you could barely fit your body in there. He was still getting packages from eBay at post office boxes all over LA while he was in the hospital.”
Malin began sending photos of various items back to Johnny T. And Toubin, who helped make the decisions on what would get shipped back to New York. Around 20 boxes came back east, with the rest headed into storage.
Adorning the showcases and the walls are various examples of an aesthetic that goes back to his childhood. One piece, a model kit of the Bride of Frankenstein was put together by Howie and his dad a long time ago.
Pyro’s personal memorabilia on display includes a gold record given to him by The Ramones, a “Free Sid Vicious” t-shirt left behind by the doomed Sex Pistol, and buttons that range from the faces of Alice Cooper to Jimmy Carter.
“Howie always wanted to have his own bar,” Toubin explained. “He also talked about having some sort of museum-like place to put his stuff, but there’s a Dionysian quality to the collection that lends itself more to a bar than a museum.”
Pyro’s collection exudes a sense of fun that carries over into the music and the drinks as well. Besides having a vintage jukebox stocked with classic 50’s and 60’s sides that run from the classic to the obscure, Toubin’s providing a soundtrack that goes even further with a wild mix that blends a record collector’s dream set of rarified finds with quintessential samples of good old New York rock and roll.
Iggy Pop, The Frantics, The New York Dolls, The Pleasure Seekers, The Supremes, The Ramones, Jacqueline Taieb, The Cramps, Nikki and the Corvettes, James Brown — it’s just non-stop rock and soul hipness.
The drink menu was created in the same spirit, with cocktails such as Goo Goo Muck, Slow Death, Fortune Teller, Sister Ray and Love Potion #9 inspired by the same musical wellspring.
“The place is a total aesthetic,” said Toubin. “It’s a sound, it’s a look – there’s a sense of fun and play.”
“ A bar needs to have an identity and a concept. This is what I want if I walked into a bar somewhere,” Johnny T. explained. “It’s not a bro club — it’s full of students of life.”
Malin noted that there just aren’t any places in the neighborhood that play rock and roll on the weekends.
“They are all playing top 40,” he lamented. “This is a place for people who are looking for rock and roll, not Katy Perry or the latest hits. It’s not a shopping mall.”
Besides providing the atmosphere, Pyro inspired the moniker, as he had the title of the hit song by ? And the Mysterians tattooed on his neck and it seemed like an apt choice to honor a lost friend.
Malin went back with him the longest, having first encountered Pyro’s band the Blessed when Malin was only 12 years old. They later became bandmates in D-Generation for many years, remaining friends when the band broke up.
As for the bar, Malin mused, “We’re continuing Howie’s life’s work. He’s our celestial partner.”