Jad Abumrad is a genius. Really. In 2011, he received the ridiculously prestigious MacArthur Genius Award for creating “engaging audio explorations of scientific and philosophical questions” on his nationally syndicated WNYC show Radiolab, which he co-hosts with veteran broadcaster Robert Krulwich. When you listen to Jad talk on Radiolab or face-to-face at his favorite Brooklyn bar Splitty, it truly feels like you’re in the presence of a genius. He uses the word “quantum” way too casually and convincingly. And he drinks bourbon neat, which is definitely a genius-style drink.
On a mellow Tuesday evening, The Regulars took a corner booth with Jad in this “camper-centric” bar in Clinton Hill, just a handful of blocks from Williamsburg. Splitty is meant to have the look and feel of a vintage 1960s VW bus but really, the minimal, earth-toned, and warmly lit bar feels less kitschy and more cozy. Which is a great setting to Radiolab it up and get all philosophical and theoretical. Jad talked about what’s at the core of being a regular: the power of habits and routines, our deep-seeded need to create patterns so we can bring some order to this random world. Naturally, he also expressed his true love for Black Sabbath.
We’ll have out-of-work meetings here. They have great drinks and these great buns that keep you from getting too drunk.
People leave you alone. It’s chill. And they have really nice benches that are nice and wide. Before Thursday, it’s pretty open, so you can really disappear in here.
There’s a bartender who looks a little like Skrillex with long hair and the shaved head on the side. He plays Fleetwood Mac and Sabbath. Reminds me of my youth, which to him is ironic. To me, I actually love that shit. Earnestly.
In a city like this, you need your patterns. Clearly, our brains are wired to be pattern-recognizing organs. It’s such an insane fucking city. Getting to work on the subway and having to collide with so much humanity, literally being pressed on both shoulders. You need to create those patterns. You need to recognize the faces on the bus every day in order for that insanity to feel manageable.
A lot of my regularness these days is orbiting the routines of my kids – when they wake and so on. What this bartender is to these folks, I am to them. The routines are not of my choosing. I wouldn’t choose to get up at 6:30 a.m. When I come here, it’s one of the few routines I can make myself.
I have memories in each of these seats. First time I came in with [my wife] Karla was right there. The day that one of my best producers said he was leaving and moving to San Francisco, he told me about four feet from where [that woman is] sitting right there. I’ve spent a lot of time by myself in that seat over there.
It’s a sense of continuity. You thread your history through a place. And when you enter that place, it’s not that you’re just living in the moment. You’re living in all the moments that came before. And that’s a wonderful feeling in a place like New York where you can feel like a little particle, a little pinball bouncing around and it’s nice to feel like, “No, this is actually a network of my former self.” It runs all through these different places. That’s what makes me a regular.
Jad Abumrad hosts a live Radiolab show at BAM in Fort Greene on June 4. Tickets go on sale April 28.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. The original post was revised because it imprecisely referred to Radiolab as an NPR show. The show is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR.