To Milk & Honey: A Brief Encomium to Magic and Presence


Maya Gurantz in the LA Review of Books' Avidly:

Magic, the epigram goes, requires much preparation but little effort. I have been thinking about magic, about beauty, about creating a space in which one can be entirely present—because I’ve been thinking about Sasha Petraske, who passed away last week at the heartbreakingly young age of 42. His first bar, Milk & Honey, opened on Eldridge Street on the Lower East Side of New York in December 1999. I spent much of the following year and a half there.

My friend Zoe first took me to Milk & Honey. You could only go if you had the phone number and called in advance. Zoe advised me that if Sasha thought I was cool, he might give me the number—an intimidating proposition. But when Sasha, all handsome and dapper, came over to say hi he put me instantly at ease. I wasn’t cool. Nor was I beautiful or stylish—my mien in those days could best be described as Neurotic Ragamuffin. But I was friendly and lived in the neighborhood and was clearly enraptured with his place. He gave me the number and I quickly became a regular. Every time they buzzed me in and I parted the purple velvet curtains to enter the tiny bar, I felt a thrill. Candlelight flickered off the pressed tin ceilings and small leather booths. The bar glowed like a beacon in the center of the dark space, the throbbing heart, all cut fruits and freshly squeezed juices and perfect olives and beautiful bottles of liquor. It managed to be both an overflowing bounty and neat and tidy at the same time.

Sasha reintroduced some goddamn manners into drinking society. His house rules, were posted in the bathrooms. Number one? “No name dropping, no star fucking.” Now that’s a strong opener in New York. But access to Milk & Honey was not meant to be used as that kind of currency—instead, you were directed to “not bring anyone unless you would leave that person alone in your home.” Sasha changed the number regularly to weed out the assholes. He called out macho bullshit—“no fighting, no play fighting, no talking about fighting.”

More here.