man at bar

(Photo: Ebru Yildiz)

Twelve years ago, when he helped turn a garage behind Union Pool into an informal music venue, J.J. Jenkins couldn’t have imagined that it would end up drawing big names like Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, who’ll play there with Body/Head in September.

Jenkins first started going to the Williamsburg bar after moving from Swarthmore, Pennsylvania with his now-defunct country and blues-rock band in ’93. He became such a mainstay that one day he received the ultimate honor: a permanent reserved seat marked by an eponymous brass plaque in the rail of the bar.

Union Pool holds a lot of memories for the 44-year-old guitar repairman, leather craftsman, and studio engineer. Back when it did a lot of rockabilly and swing events, he met a model doing a ‘50s-themed photo shoot. They ended up dating for more than a decade.

After a typical day of guitar repair in his home studio called TwangMasterGuitars, Jenkins sat down with Bedford + Bowery over a Ginger Julep (Wild Turkey with a few splashes of ginger syrup), a drink he helped concoct with the bartender Matt Klickstein. When you’re a regular, that sort of thing just happens naturally.

back room

In the back room. (Photo: Ebru Yildiz)

It used to be a pool supplies, pesticides, and pet supplies store. I used to come here and buy cat litter and cat food. There wasn’t much around here, especially back in ’93.

It’s changed a lot in 13 years. The bar, people’s lives. People have come, they’ve gone, come back. And, of course, it’s gotten quite popular since it opened.

Taylor, one of the bartenders, and I started doing the shows in the back. I had an old P.A. that we used to drag in when it was still just a garage in the back, and we started having bands. We all kind of grew up together and learned our crafts together.

We were all just trying to have some fun. Kill some time. That’s the thing about this town. Everybody works so hard just to be here. So to actually get people willing to give up their free time to a) be creative and b) just to do something positive, is a miracle itself.

During that era, everyone knew everybody. But in a crowded bar, it’s harder to know everybody. So, has it become distant? Yes. But that’s not to say if you choose your times and when you come here that you can’t find those people that you haven’t seen in a while and want to hang out with.

It’s just a brass plate with my name engraved. That was really just the bar’s gesture to show their love and support for me for all the love and support that I’d given to them. It’s in front of the mirror so I can see what’s behind me. Jealous beau? A young lady? It’s like the old outlaws playing cards. They never sit with their backs to the door.

If you’re old enough and have been going out to bars long enough, every bar’s a meat market. Everyone’s going out there to be social, to meet people, and do whatever. Are some more than others? Yes. I think that’s been put more in the forefront now because it’s a lot more crowded now.

You can get a cocktail anywhere, but you can’t have a cocktail anywhere with good friends, family, and good conversation. That’s what brings me back.