By Renée Roden
Forty years ago, Upper West Siders Rebecca McKean and Alan Winson became partners in marriage. One hundred episodes ago, they became co-hosts of their creative endeavor, Bar Crawl Radio, a podcast they created to engage with their community and foster good old-fashioned conversation about life, the universe and everything.
For their 100th episode, they’re opening up the conversation to the entire Upper West Side community. On Wednesday, July 15, 2020, from 5-7 pm, on West End Avenue between 92nd and 93rd Streets, they are hosting a special panel conversation with Borough President Gale Brewer, and Council Members Rafael Espinal and Helen Rosenthal, and an open mic for community members. According to Winson, the purpose of this special 100th-episode interview and open mic, is to “celebrate the resiliency of the Upper West Side.”
McKean and Winson certainly know a thing or two about resiliency.
Bar Crawl Radio got its name from the original format, as the couples recorded each episode in a different bar on the Upper West Side — 5 Napkin Burger, The Gin Mill, Mexican Festival — and fostered conversation with their guests, a bartender or two, and each other. But their home base quickly became Gebhard’s Beer Culture on West 72nd Street. They fell in love with the place, and got Matt Gebhard’s blessing to record episodes in the early evenings on the bar’s patio.
But when COVID-19 paused New York City and their beloved bar scene, Bar Crawl Radio kept crawling. As their favorite bars shuttered, Winson and McKean recorded their interviews with guests over Zoom, from the Upper West Side’s hottest new bar, “Windermere Chateau Bar”—their apartment—overlooking West End Avenue.
Following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25th, New York City erupted into protests. Winson and McKean felt the urge to take to the streets, so they decided to “protest in place.” Winson and McKean created a (socially distant) space on a stretch of Open Street on West End Avenue for their neighbors to share their thoughts about the current moment.
They set up their microphones and recording equipment, and put up signs inviting passers-by to share their reactions to the current moment, to come on over “and tell us how you’re feeling.”
Their open mic garnered lots of attention from passers-by, and many supportive comments. Often, pedestrians would bypass them and then think better of it, Alan said. “They’d say ‘I’ve nothing to say,’ then they’d turn around and talk for five minutes.”
One recent transplant from Alabama described his experience since moving to New York on April 1, 2019: “This is not a very funny April’s fool’s joke! But having said that, we are so happy to be in New York City at whatever time this might be. We thoroughly enjoyed our last year and we expect to enjoy it even more. It’s great to be in a city that is so socially conscious and racially diverse and that takes not only racism seriously, but the virus seriously.”
The open mic was a chance to capture a small slice of life, “human beings getting through this corona time,” McKean put it.
In an email, Winson expounded on their choice to have this 100th episode examine the Upper West Side’s resiliency. He said he has generally observed his neighbors “dealing with the horrid situation as best they can with equanimity and a sense that we will survive the pandemic —at least in the long run. I have also observed from talking with people on the open mic that there is a general sense that this experience will make us better—at least more appreciative of what we have in normal times.” He is curious to discover how broadly this opinion is shared and welcomes community members to voice their agreement or dissent at the microphone.
In addition to capturing community sentiment, Winson and McKean will ask the public officials about specific policy choices made during the pandemic and their opinions on how they are improving the community, such as:
- Why were streets opened to pedestrians and is this working to establish safe distancing and to improve quality of life?
- Is outdoor dining working for business—to help them stay open—and for customers—to keep them safe?
- From your conversations with our neighbors—how are they feeling in this summer of pandemic?
- How well do you feel we are following the social distancing rules?
- What have you learned from this crisis that will impact you as you move forward as a city leader and policymaker?
Audience members are invited to bring their own chairs, their opinions, and, perhaps, a beverage.