Outside of Thirty Acres (RIP), Golden Cicada may be the only place in JC that warrants suction from the New York Times. Golden Cicada is a rite of passage for JC residents new and old who embrace the weird and allow the power of curiosity to overcome their preconceptions. It’s a remnant of a by gone era where downtown bars looked ominous, were uninviting, and largely unprofitable. When humble entrepreneurs without hefty financial backing could un-ironically open a dive bar and be content with it as a vehicle into the middle class instead of second home ownership. Oh, those were the glory days that all of us reminisce and almost all of us were not around for.
For the uninitiated, the driving force behind Golden Cicada is Terry – the bartender/mad scientist that owns the bar. He’s the secret to its “success” and the only fucking reason why this decrepit building is the only decrepit building within a mile of its address. He’s also the only reason I ever come to this bar when the sun is up, which is saying something given the booze selection and cliquish daytime crowd.
Terry is an amazing man. He’s an engineer who opened a bar because he was tired of working for the man and needed residual income to fund construction of his electric car, or Nicaraguan hostel, or whatever the fuck he’s working on that week. The main reason Golden Cicada maintains its loyal and somewhat anti-establishment following is because of Terry. When the government tried to use eminent domain to replace the Cicada with a few more yards of football field, Terry told them to kindly fuck themselves and called the ACLU (former Nice Things employer; donate some money to them here).
It’s hard for anyone to succeed in this country. It’s extra hard for an immigrant to succeed in this country. After building a successful business, countless developers and investors have tried to swindle Terry out of the insanely valuable piece of property he owns because they see the stereotype of an immigrant obliviously sitting on a gold mine. They see him and the crumbling edifice of the bar and their khaki’s bulge with the palpable excitement typically reserved for discounted Patagonia. Unlike so many cautionary tales that end with the rich getting richer off of someone else’s land, Terry Tan Sun Tzu’s himself in position time and time again to make the fucker the fuckee.
Here’s why you should go:
The Golden Cicada is like your weird old aunt/uncle you rarely see. They look weird, they have crazy beliefs, and they kind of smell, but it’s nice to have a wild card around to keep everyone on their toes. Are they going to fall asleep at dinner? Are they going to light the drapes on fire? I don’t know – and that’s the point. Every time you enter this place it’s a fucking wild card.
Let me paint a picture for you.
Its 3am, the lights are half on in the bar, it smells like rotten cans of beef barley. The crowd is me and a few buddies, Terry, a pair of off duty detectives, a blacked out disabled vet who has been threatening to stab us for most of the night and his dog.
Were adorned with golden necklaces, there’s a couple of my buddies standing and a few slumped over in chairs. A YouTube video of an all-female nude orchestra is playing on the TV behind the bar as Terry is explaining economic conspiracy theories to the detectives. One particularly beta buddy is escalating the situation with the stabby vet in an adolescent tone, allegedly for not appreciating his totally chill and unmolested dog. I’m hypnotized by the uniformity of bristly black pubes of the string section. Everyone else is trying to drink as many Tsingtao’s as quickly as physics will allow before Terry realizes the time and the bar turns back into a pumpkin. Eventually everyone goes home unmolested.
On another night, Terry brought in a whole halibut to butcher and cook. I wanted to punch up that sentence into something funnier, but simply being able state that sentence as fact is comical enough.
Here’s why you should go back:
Somehow over the past few years going to the Golden Cicada has become passé, which means uncool if you’re French or a fucking loser. This is troubling because if I told you about this weird bar in Bushwick that has a food menu that changes daily, bootleg karaoke, and gives you FREE FUCKING JEWELRY you’d be putting this shit on Pinterest.
Why? Why do you no longer go to the Golden Cicada? If the bartenders had handlebar mustaches and full-sleeves would you go? If they served vegan Sloppy Joe’s and ethically sourced cider…would you go then? Think about all the absolutely shit bars you go to in JC, but you just won’t go back to the Cicada. I see people in Luna and Groveboken all the time, there’s no excuse for this. I’ll bet a pinkie AND any toe of your choice that you’ve been to at least one bar 10 times since the last time you went to Golden Cicada. I’m guilty of this. I’ll go to Harry’s or Pet Shop on a Thursday like the Manchurian Candidate, putting no thought into what I’m doing simply follow the track laid down in front of me on auto-pilot. But I’m changing that. I’m going back.
Here’s a few guidelines to maximize your return to Golden Cicada.
- Only drink Tsingtao’s. No real reason other than “when in Rome”
- Talk to as many strangers as possible. Anyone who is in this bar is someone you’ll have an interesting conversation with.
- If you’re doing karaoke and Terry can’t find your shit on YouTube then fuck off and pick something else. No one wants to hear your obscure shit anyway, this isn’t open mic night.
- Write your song down with the artists name as close to the actual spelling as humanly possible. If you get Weezer’s cover of Africa instead of Toto – that’s on you. No need to litigate this shit.
- Probably don’t order the food. The food here was once a glorious secret, soups and noodles and delicious little fried things to snack on while you drank. And halibut. This is largely no longer the case. You’ll get some frozen buns – if anything- at this point. Not worth it unless Terry is pushing it hard. You’ll know when it’s right.
- If you’ve got a necklace, don’t get another one. You don’t need it and Baijiu is fucking gross. You’ll have fartmouth for the rest of the night.
- If you don’t have at least 5 necklaces, you need to suck it up and take that rotten shot. It will be worth it tomorrow. For those keeping score at home, I’ve got 14.
Like your weird old relative, the Golden Cicada is not going to be around forever, and is likely to be gone sooner rather than later. The post-war baby-booming free love trickle-down jizz-covered-dress “what’s an Internet?” eras that created this Patchouli smelling freak can’t be replicated, and once it’s gone all the good times and idiosyncrasies go with it too. The JC bubble ain’t going to bust any time soon, and even when it does the conditions still won’t be able to foster the creation of another bar like this.
The Golden Cicada isn’t as fun as it used to be, the food isn’t as good as it used to be, but I think that’s fine. It’s not as good, but it still exists – for now – and that alone is just cause to go. This place is going away both figuratively and literally. Terry is getting old and the offers keep getting better. The last few times I’ve tried to go to the bar, all Saturdays, the bar has been closed.
Go back while you can and love it for what it is while it lasts.
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