2am, The Chelsea Diner

Finding a place to unwind has proven difficult, as New York may be the loudest place I have ever been. 

Or slept.

As of late, I have come to abandon hope of sleeping before 3am or so, as the tenant above me has a knack for self expression. Shouts of “fuck,” “shit,” “why are you doing this to me,” interspersed with foot stomping and furniture rearrangement, not only fall upon my delicate ears, but shake my rickety loft bed which has yet to be attached to the wall. The more Juan stomps, I fear less for my sleep cycle and increasingly for the structural security of my latest purchase from IKEA.

I should stay positive. It’s all a journey, right? I’m simply making a transition from morning freak to night owl. What better city than New York to embark on such a voyage of self-transformation? Limitless food and drink await me day and night and beckon novel gastronomic adventures. In recent weeks, I admit I’ve become a fan of good old fashioned speakeasies. There is a certain charm to the darkness and old-school decor, and the serenity and intimacy of the seating arrangements. That being said, tonight I paid $35 for two cocktails at such an establishment on W 17th Street, only to find the venue to be crowded on a Monday night at 1am, relegating me to a table adjacent to a stereo speaker emitting the croons of Michael Bublé. While the booze loosened my inhibitions, I would be hesitant to say that the experience was terribly soothing. I didn’t make too much progress with my Henry James short story, and the evening was quickly being assessed in ratios of tipsiness and irritation.

Come 2am, I’m on the hunt for calories and carbohydrates, as I’m feeling the combined effects of bourbon and an ill-purchased CrossFit membership. The location settings on my iPhone are screwed as usual, so finding another bourgeois establishment where I can lavishly blow my highly inflated organist’s salary becomes futile. So, like any self-respecting Manhattan queer, I head to the Chelsea Diner on the corner of 9th and 23rd.

The place is empty. The waiter is taking a nap. There’s quiet choral music playing overhead. Ideal.

My inner nerd kicks in and I try and figure out what the piece is. Then I hear it: a countertenor on a single note sings “Jerusalem, Jerusalem” echoed by voices beneath him. “Convertere ad dominum tuum” he continues, descending a perfect fifth and rising again. It all repeats again, a fourth lower, as the pleading becomes less desperate and more resigned. It’s the dejected strains of Thomas Tallis’s Lamentations.

The irony is immediately sobering, as my morning began by looking through various composers’ treatments of the Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah, trying to choose a succinct yet tasteful setting for my choir to sing in next week’s Good Friday liturgy. I chuckle at first, as the countertenor seemingly beckons me to return to the place that I started this morning: coffee and grub in hand, reviewing some of my favorite music. It’s as if I’m ending my day by returning to the place I was when I calmly began my day.

My veggie avocado burger avocado arrives (don’t judge), and I ask the waiter why they are playing choral music overhead in a diner. “Oh god, the owner loves this classical crap. He says that people need some peace and relaxation at night when they eat, as so few places in New York offer anything like that.”

I think I’ve found my new evening hangout.

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