It’s a lesson that had been instilled in the minds of How I Met Your Mother fans long ago (“When 2 AM rolls around, just go home and go to sleep”) and the message behind Bear Hands’ new single. However, after spending an evening restaurant hopping throughout Brooklyn with drummer TJ Orscher, it’s evident that they didn’t take great food into consideration.
The self-described “foodie” of the group, Orscher took me on a tour of his favorite Williamsburg eateries, all whose doors are open well into the wee hours of the morning (much, much later than Jersey’s pubs) making them perfect places to visit during a night of debauchery. And while each offers their own unique twist on bar food, chances are you won’t be finding greasy disco fries and crappy beer on any of these menus.
“In my old age I’ve found that I want the finer things in life,” Orscher said. As a bartender in Manhattan when the band isn’t on the road, this extends into liquor as well. “After having two or three beers I begin to get sluggish, and that affects my playing.”
Maturity and growing up is a theme explored extensively throughout Bear Hands’ third album, You’ll Pay For This, which made its debut last month. But the record marks more than just personal progress for the band, and also ushers in a new professional era for them—it’s their first release on their own label, Spensive Sounds. Through its creation, the group has essentially taken the power back into their own hands, now having more control over their brand and how it’s marketed.
“Music is a gamble. There is a never-ending cycle trying to find a hit. And you can be like, ‘This is awesome!’ And it’s not, so you’re back to the drawing board,” Orscher says. “You’ll have people in this industry tell you—or maybe you won’t have people actually tell you this—that they’re in it for the money. But if you aren’t in it for the music, it’s just not worth it.”
For this album, guitarist Ted Feldman again took on the role of producer, this time alongside James Brown (Foo Fighters, The Killers), who had previously mixed their first two albums (and according to Orscher, “salvaged” their 2010 debut, Burning Bush Supper Club).
“We were prepared and ready to go into the studio,” he said. “The biggest challenge was agreeing as a band when it came to making certain choices, including songs and parts. It was more about the technical side of things. But I’m not the type of player that likes planning things out. Raw passion is conveyed only when it’s true. We are a passionate band. I take pride in my performance, and I think everyone else does too. It’s why we play music.”
As the story goes, the pieces of Bear Hands first began to fall in place when Feldman and vocalist/guitarist Dylan Rau met during their stint at Wesleyan University. Although bassist Val Loper and Orscher didn’t attend, they grew up just 15 minutes outside its campus.
Orscher found an interest in music at a young age, first becoming involved with programs in his church and then as a trumpet player in his school’s band. But it wasn’t until he was in his preteens that he discovered rock after receiving a Bon Jovi cassette from his mother as a gift, which led him to begin experimenting with Nirvana and other groups that were popular at the time. It was around then when a childhood friend approached him with the hopes of starting a garage band with Orscher on guitar. When it became clear that it wasn’t the right instrument for him (he began to teach himself on a starter guitar for righties despite being left-handed), the friend handed him his drum sticks and a drum pad and he fell in love.
“I would have headphones on and play along to Bon Jovi on a drum pad, using a Trapper Keeper as the bass drum,” he recalls with a laugh.
He’s come a long way since drumming on binders in his bedroom. The band kicked off the spring by embarking on their first ever arena tour while supplying support for Cage The Elephant, and are setting their sights on playing festivals and touring throughout the summer. But first, they are celebrating the release of You’ll Play For This during a hometown show at Webster Hall on May 7.
“We’re going to step that shit up,” Orscher said. He promises that the setlist will consist of lots of new songs, and their visual stage show will be enhanced with a new lighting routine. The group has also welcomed the addition of longtime friend Will Runge as a touring keyboardist, which aids in their live performance. “With Will on stage with us, it allows Dylan to not have to be playing a lot of instruments on a lot of different songs.”
Feeling hungry after the Webster show? Check out one of these hot spots for late night dining.
The Richardson (451 Graham Ave.)
“You probably wouldn’t catch any of the other guys here,” Orscher says of our first stop of the evening, referring to the other members of his band as a more of “beer and shot” guys, which The Richardson definitely doesn’t appeal to. A posh space which refers to itself as a “classic American bar,” it offers an array of upscale/classy cocktails and foods. The plan is to bounce from eatery to eatery and try one drink and one menu item from each, and Orscher gets us started by ordering the gin cured fish platter which consists of salmon graulax, bluefish plate, and sardine. The Richardson also features a sidewalk patio, which is a favorite spot for Orscher and his fiancée when they’re out on a stroll with their dog.
Ba’sick (323 Graham Ave.)
Our journey continued down the street at Ba’sick, a space significantly smaller than The Richardson but with a much more cozy and approachable atmosphere which also features the infamous leg lamp from A Christmas Story proudly sitting atop the bar. Though the indoor space is narrow and tiny, Ba’sick also features an enclosed outdoor patio where people were seated enjoying the beautiful early spring weather. As soon as Orscher walked in he is greeted by the bartender on duty, Jay, who immediately recognizes him as a recurring customer.
“This is a regular place for my fiancée and I to come to, as a ‘one last drink’ type of deal,” he says while we wait for our dish, duck eggs with chervil and black pepper. The bar also boasts a handful of signature, cleverly named cocktails such as Yesterday Was Bananas! (Orscher’s choice), which is made of mezcal, tequila, amarao, lemon, agave, and dark cherry bitters.
Huckleberry (588 Grand Street)
Although by no means the smallest space, Huckleberry was certainly the quietest of the evening. This location holds a special memory in Orscher’s mind, as the first cocktail bar he had gone to in Williamsburg in 2008. Its menu features Americana favorites with a twist (like the focaccia grilled cheese with shallot marmalade) but Orscher ordered his favorite appetizer, bacon wrapped dates stuffed with Gouda cheese. A seemingly strange combination, it was actually fantastic and served as a great snack between meals. The most memorable menu item at Huckleberry (much like Ba’sick) is their inventive cocktails, like Pepe’s Poncho, which also consisted of El Buho Mezcal, Taos Lightening Rye, Grapefruit Juice, Lime Juice, maple syrup, and BBQ bitters (something neither of us knew existed until trying this concoction).
The Anchored Inn (57 Waterbury Street)
The night concluded at The Anchored Inn, a regular hang out for the band because of its proximity to their practice space just a few blocks away. The walls are loaded with bizarre décor that boasts a nautical, twisted theme complete with strange paintings (such as an octopus attacking a whale) and an old-school scuba diver looming over patrons. The space also doubles as a venue.
The Anchored Inn has the most traditional bar food, but that doesn’t make it any less delicious.
“We usually stop in for their daily specials, but the buffalo chicken sandwich is definitely a favorite,” he says of the item he ordered. We ended the adventure with a Pimm’s Cup, a refreshing summertime drink made from Pimm’s No. 1, which according to the bartender was initially created to serve as an alternative to drinking porter in London.
Bear Hands will be performing at The Marlin Room at Webster Hall on May 7. For more information, go to bearhandsband.com.