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In 2011, I moved to Brooklyn from Oakland, leaving behind a cheap apartment and a nice boyfriend who patiently agreed to enter into a long-distance relationship while I went off to forge a career in magazines. “Why did you keep going to the Union Pool if you actually wanted to be with me? And in the immediate hours of my breakup devastation, I went back to Union Pool for the exact reason everyone knows to go to Union Pool.For this kindness, I — unable to withstand the emotional discomfort of cross-country love — tortured him by going to Union Pool every weekend and calling him to say things like, “What are you doing this weekend? That night, I met a hot guy in a poncho and linen pants, and got thrown out of the bar for breaking Union Pool’s only real bylaw: Only one person in the bathroom at a time.I’m probably going to Union Pool.” Or, worse, texting him, digitally slurring, “Whatcha doin? According to owner Zeb Stewart, back in 2000, when Union Pool opened under the BQE, nobody wanted to go beneath the underpass. I LIVE HERE NOW.” This boyfriend had never lived in Brooklyn and only visited a handful of times — but even he knew what it meant to “go to Union Pool.” When he broke up with me, about a month later, he was surprised that I cried and resisted. In a few short years, the lore of Union Pool — premiere boyfriend store of post-hipster Brooklyn — had spread to fixed gear ’n’ beanie enclaves across the land.But it was also one of the only bars around, and, as such, the grimy corner it occupied became a Williamsburg center at a time when Williamsburg was still very cool and hip and full of good-looking cool and hip people. The bands were cool because bands were still cool then.Everyone knew that everyone else would go there, largely because there was nowhere much else to go.Thanks to early write-ups in local publications, word of mouth, stories of the famed Halloween parties, and a bar vibe that matched the general lawlessness of the area at the time, by 2005, UP’s mythical status as a pickup bar was pretty much established.
It was like Mufasa standing with Simba on Pride Rock and explaining that everything that the light touches would be his, except in this case Ada pointed to the Shadowland and said . Now, at 32, I’ll still sometimes demand my friends “take me to the boyfriend store.” Only on weeknights, though.After a beer and some queso, I’ll go home by myself by 12 — but still, an itch is scratched. Most people within a certain New York demographic — the demographic with Cheap Mondays and PBR in their past — also have a Union Pool story, and if they don’t, then a friend, or a friend of a friend, or a co-worker, or a roommate does.People report going there in times of sadness (“he hit his Saturn Return, ended our ten-year relationship, and I went straight to Union Pool”), in times of desperation (“I needed a place to stay for the night because I was locked out of my apartment, so I went to Union Pool”).Some people go to find lovers; some people bring dates; and some people start the night with one date and leave with another arrangement — like my new hero, Rachel Bell, a Brooklyn writer with a Drake tattoo.She recently went to Union Pool for the first time, on a Tinder date.