The artist — a “glam troubadour spilling secrets” — and producer of The Troubadour Lounge, a queer singer-songwriter charity showcase, tells us where to find community, coffee and banh mi (plus, maybe Mitski) in Brooklyn
I’ve never felt community in a neighborhood in my life before [until now], and it’s largely because of this place. I think the people that come here are truly creative and open and willing to help each other — I think of JuJu being so generous with his skills. [Editor’s note: JuJu is Julián Macklemore, a (very talented) photographer who lives in the neighborhood.]
I just think that it’s so important to have somewhere around you where you feel safe to be yourself, that also has an intimacy to it. Because the whole thing with New York City is that you’re sacrificing the intimacy – until you find it. That’s the whole journey after getting here. You have to fight for the intimacy. Anywhere else – Oklahoma – you’ll have it. You’ll know everyone, whether you want to or not. So that’s what [Cafe Eloise] represents to me.
Oh, and good food at fair prices – I’m getting one of those avocado smash sandwiches soon. It’s so good. And the storytelling night – it’s magical. I love this place.
It’s really cool. The food is very good. It’s an Israeli chef, and there’s a dish I always get called the Tel Aviv breakfast. It’s toast with jam and ham and cheese and avocado, scrambled eggs and this little salad… salt and pepper. It’s very well done. The Wi-Fi is suspect sometimes, but the chef gave me the special Wi-Fi. So they have the scrub Wi-Fi, and then they have the bougie Wi-Fi – I love it.
147 Greene Ave, (718) 789-7890, primrosenyc.com
Neptune Diner II
I love diners. Diners are, to me, the best places in the world. The food could be better, usually, but the idea.
Clubs are too loud. I love talking to people, listening to people, feeling close to people and hearing stories. Everyone’s like, “Let’s go out!” No, let’s sit in a circle at a diner and hear each other talk.
Diners have a special place in my heart, especially 24-hour diners, because usually they are like angels — they come when you need them. After the first Troubadour Lounge, it was such a good night, I get home and I realized I was locked out. I was like, wait — Neptune Diner! I stayed there, and the staff was so nice. They’re professional, they’re warmhearted.
699 Classon Ave, (718) 623-1111
I think it won this award for being the best not-quite-gay gay bar.
There is a… predatory-ness of a lot of gay bars, or gay clubs, especially in Hell’s Kitchen. Brooklyn has the edge taken off a little bit, but you know, it’s the male gaze. It can feel like it’s hard to put your guard down and it’s kinda hard to be yourself and you’re always trying to prove something — like, hunt or be hunted. But Branded Saloon…somewhere between the ox heads and old-timey chandeliers, there’s something about the vibe that decreases that. And it’s very unpretentious. The food is good — there’s burgers… it’s kind of like, mix Chile’s and a gay bar. I love going there to watch Rupaul. The staff — everyone knows the bartenders there. It’s that similar Cafe Eloise thing…
When I was sending off my second single and doing all the emailing shit, I did all of that at like 11 pm at the bar. You know, cafes close — where do I go when I’m a night owl and I want to work on stuff? Bring your laptop, sit down there, and they won’t bat an eye. Get a burger an hour in, get a cider…
603 Vanderbilt Ave, (718) 484-8704, brandedsaloon.com
Marcy & Myrtle
Aw, Marcy & Myrtle! So this is harkening to my depression days. I lived in Washington Heights for nine months, and then I moved to Crown Heights, and then to Bed-Stuy, then somewhere else in Bed-Stuy — all in a year. It was like the plague — different punishments. I had a crazy neighbor in Washington Heights, then bed bugs in Crown Heights, then I lived with film guys in Bed-Stuy — the worst.
In Bed-Stuy, I was right at the cusp of admitting to myself who I am and what I should be doing, and going through a lot of fear, and taking off layers of trauma and all that bullshit. And right down the street was a cafe called Marcy & Myrtle at the intersection of… Marcy and Myrtle. Great coffee, cute, great, baristas know what they’re doing…well done.
I think artisanal comes with the connotations of being small portions and pretentious, but keep out those connotations and [focus on the] good connotations of artisanal — nuanced food. Go there, get an iced coffee — or, if you’re feeling fancy, get yourself a chai — and get one of [their] sandwiches and have a ball. Sit there all day, and you can make friends with the person that will sit with you at that table because they’re probably interesting.
Ah, I miss it so much. I wanna go there now.
574 Marcy Ave, (917) 648-7800, marcyandmyrtle.com
Stonefruit Espresso + Kitchen
Stonefruit is a little bit north of where I was in Bed-Stuy, and it is artisanal with the pretentious and expensive connotations. But the coffee is really good and the vibe is just lush. It’s also a plant shop, so you go into the back, and there’s plants giving off oxygen. A good long table for working. Couches with nice pillows…
It’s a good vibe for getting work done, getting something fancy for yourself. I would go there if I wanted to have an upper-echelon creative meeting with someone I wanted to impress a little bit.
1058 Bedford Ave, (718) 230-4147, stonefruitespresso.com
Banh Mi Place
If I’m not here [at Cafe Eloise], I’m there. Not a lot of seating, but cheap. You can get a good banh mi sandwich for $7. It’s tasty and it’s a good portion, a good-sized sandwich. Very no-frills. Bubble tea galore — all the flavors you want. The amount of times I’ve gone there for a Thai iced tea bubble tea and banh mi is like double digits — 20, 40, 60…
They have hats with the Banh Mi logo, and I wanna get one. It’s time.
824 Washington Ave, (718) 552-2660, banhmiplacebklyn.com
5ive Spice Tacos & Banh Mi
If you want a higher quality Vietnamese experience, I suggest 5ive Spice. I know about that place only because I have this friend who said she’d always see Mitski eating there, so I was like, I’m going to go to Five Spice until I meet Mitski. Unfortunately, it has not happened, but the food ended up being amazing. It’s not as cheap as Banh Mi Place but really good quality.
52 5th Ave, (718) 857-3483, 5ivespicebk.com
Follow Prince Johnny at @princejhnny and The Troubadour Lounge at @thetroubadourlounge to keep up on music, news on upcoming showcases and more!
Feature image: Sam Sumpter
[This interview has been edited and condensed.]