My new favorite place to hang out is actually an old favorite place to hang out.

It's called Karma and it's one of the last bars in New York where you can smoke inside. (My other favorite is Circa Tabac.)

It's not a "scene" bar. It's not trendy. It's not glitzy. It bills itself as a hookah bar, but I've never actually seen anyone smoking one of the slightly dilapidated hookahs. (Then again, I usually come there during off-peak hours.) Really, it's a dive bar with a few half-hearted nods to its vaguely Middle Eastern motif. And I like it that way.

A few years ago, I used to have a friend in Philadelphia who would come into New York every few weeks. Karma was usually our first stop. (Partly because we could smoke there, partly because it opened at 1 p.m.) We would go in, catch up over several cocktails, and, by the time dinnertime rolled around, we were ready to face the world (and our dates).

I actually hadn't gone to Karma in a few years. For some reason, I remembered it a few weeks ago and went. I'd forgotten how wonderful the vibe was. A relaxed, somewhat scuffed decor. Bartenders who are neither pushy nor rude. Decently priced drinks. A clientele who is far more interested in socializing with their own party (or in reading a paper) than in "meeting new people." It's a (good) coffee shop of a bar is what it is.

And unlike many bars, they serve coffee. A personal French press pot for $2. Or a glass of cheap red (I happen to like cheap red) for $4.

That's my usual fare. A pot of coffee (sometimes with a shot of Bailey's, when I'm feeling festive) or a glass of sweetish Shiraz. (Usually, I alternate.) I pick a table, I open my notebook and I write. More freely than almost anywhere. A few cigarettes, a few pages, and another round. Repeat until I've finished whatever I wanted to finish.

No one bothers me. No one talks to me. No one asks me stupid questions. ("Are you writing a book?" No, a suicide note. Fuck off before it becomes a homicide note.)

Since I've rediscovered this place, my journal's been plumping nicely. And I've even made progress on a few pieces that had been rattling around for months. There's something magical about Karma that way.

If you should ever have an hour or two to waste on the Lower East Side, stop in. And if you see me there, writing, feel free to say hello. But say it quietly and warmly. It's that kind of place :)

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