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Manitoba’s in New York City

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In Manhattan’s Lower East Side, just outside of the East Village, there is a small rock and roll bar with an unexpectedly familiar name.

It’s kind of a dive, really, just a little place to go for a cheap drink, owned and operated by Richard Blum, better known as Handsome Dick Manitoba. Since the ’70s, Blum has sung in the influential proto-punk band, The Dictators. His bar is called, of course, Manitoba’s.

I visited Manitoba’s a couple of weeks ago, excited to see more of the neighbourhood around it. Many famous artists, singers, and writers — everyone from William S. Burroughs, to Joey Ramone, to Madonna — have lived there at some time.

Walking in, I happily obliged the bartender’s request for my ID, eager to see her reaction to my Manitoba Driver’s License.

"Ya know, this ain’t no Canadian bar," she told me, in her distinctly New York accent.

I told her that I understand who the owner is, and that I stopped in for a cold drink after a long, hot afternoon walking around the neighbourhood.

"Well, it ain’t really how it used to be," she told me. "It’s still alright though."

Like most of the rougher areas in Manhattan, the East Village is "cleaning up." Many of the old dive bars and cheap shops are turning into trendy restaurants and boutiques. It’s already in full swing down the infamous Bowery, where old, run-down buildings and tenements are being renovated or replaced by shiny, new condominiums. Even Harlem is being gentrified, albeit more slowly.

Growing up around Osborne, I’ve noticed similar changes. As a kid, I remember Osborne Village being a place for subcultures to thrive: Punks, goths, metalheads, ravers, and all other kinds of people deemed freaks, weirdos, or outcasts by mainstream society always seemed to be hanging around. They’re still there, but the Village has become noticeably trendier.

In South Osborne, the change seems different. It still feels like the place I went to play hockey as a kid, but it has undeniably changed, too.

There’s always a sense of nostalgia involved when you see something you grew up with and thought was interesting change. You can’t stop the change altogether. Not here, and especially not in New York. You can only hope it benefits the area residents, and that something of the original remains.

Andrew Braga is a community correspondent for South Osborne.

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