Can a metalhead also be a nerd? It’s an eternal question that 30-year-old Paul Martino destroys smartly. “I’m a huge nerd,” the friendly, long-haired metal fan declares from a booth in a dark corner of Greenpoint’s St. Vitus. “Whether it’s math, heavy metal music, video games, beer, professional wrestling, sports, everything I’m into, I go in full force. I really geek out on the things I love.”
As if to punctuate his point, he takes a sip from the tallboy of Busch that’s hugged by his personal beer koozy, which he brought from home – one from his collection of more than a hundred. The metal bar St. Vitus is named after a Black Sabbath song, Paul informs, which was named after the patron saint of music. Of course Paul knows all this. The Syracuse native has lived just blocks from the bar for nearly five years. He knows the bartenders personally. And, as he takes a moment to shred an air guitar solo along to the screaming speakers above, he knows all the music. (He plays air guitar like a pro because he is a pro. Paul has competed in the U.S. Air Guitar competition and even air-rocked the hallowed stage of St. Vitus where so many of his heroes have for-real-rocked.)
Neither Paul nor the bar is what you’d expect to be “metal.” A survey analyst for American Lawyer Magazine, Paul is a statistician, a numbers guy who just also happens to worship the Gods of Metal. Meanwhile, St. Vitus is a former social club and plumbing school elegantly transitioned into the coolest, cleanest, and nicest metal bar you never dreamed of. The black leather booths are comfy. The Satanic upside-down cross on the wall looks downright tasteful. And the steamed buns and Brooklyn Brine whisky sour pickles (buns! pickles!) are simply delicious. If a metalhead can be a nerd, then a metal bar can be sophisticated.
Which brings us back to Paul. As much an anachronism he seems to be, just like St. Vitus, he’s really all charm. The obsessiveness belies the genuine passion. “I can be a very happy-go-lucky person,” he says, “but sometimes there’s a darker side.” And so he goes on to show why that makes him and St. Vitus all the more kickass.
This is my mecca. It’s my metal church…I feel at home when I walk in here. I feel safe.
I lead a pretty simple, easygoing life, but there are things I worry about as a 30-year-old: Am I going to be single for the rest of my life? Am I ever going to find a job that I find really stimulating? That’s why I sometimes come here. I won’t know the bands on the bill. I’ll just go to a show, put my earplugs in, and just headbang for four hours and feel great.
It’s the only music that’s ever spoken to me in a clear and present way. It’s a mental thing as well as a heart thing. Death and sorrow are interesting subject matter. It’s easy to be happy about life and to sing pop songs about love and laughter. To me, some days are great; some days are not.
I have a ton of friends. Just not a ton that are into metal.
It’s just a small venue. It’s only 200 people. For the big shows, everyone’s jam-packed, but no one’s really upset. It’s like, we’re all here to see our favorite bands and everyone’s moshin’ and headbangin’. Yeah, there’s some pushing here and there. But for the most part, everyone’s cordial. It’s just a bunch of dudes and chicks rocking out and having a great time.
The sound is so great. It fully envelops you. There’s hair all over the place. There’s sweat, beer, and the band is literally two feet in front of you, loving it as much as we are.
It gets harder the older I get. I don’t really get drunk when I go to shows. But I always get a “bangover” the next day where your neck hurts so much. I don’t have a hangover; I have a bangover.
You might think a typical metal bar is dungy and dirty. It smells or everyone there is tatted-up assholes. If you don’t look metal they brush you off and tell you get the fuck out. But it’s nothing like that at all. It’s the exact opposite. Yes, the bathrooms can get messy after a bunch of metalheads have been there for a couple hours. But that’s every venue’s bathroom.
There are girls here that are metalheads. There’s not a lot, but there’s a handful. And I’ve talked to a bunch of them. They’re nice. Their love of the music is just as passionate as mine. Thing is, I’ve never dated a girl that’s into metal, and that’s weird.
I haven’t dated in two years so I think it’s about time I do something about that. I’m not going to stop coming here. I just think there are some other places I should experience. Other crowds. Other people. Just expand my spheres of influence.
I think I exude the bar. I’m as metal as metal can be, from the heart.
Tonight St. Vitus presents Van Halentine’s Day with the Van Halen Tribute band Bottom’s Up. Maybe you’ll see Paul there and buy him a beer.