While enjoying a cheap beer with a coworker at Nice Guy Eddie’s — a now closed dive bar on Houston and Avenue A that was replaced by Boulton and Watt — I was mesmerized by Cyndi Freeman, who was clad in nothing but a skimpy, heart-patterned babydoll slip, slinging Jameson shots and telling guests about her spoken word projects, open-mic nights, and burlesque shows. To further the promotion, we got a sneak preview when she unexpectedly pulled down her top, revealing her sparkling red, heart-shaped tassel pasties, and showed off her impressive twirling skills. She went on to explain how she makes all her own tassels, then offers to make me a pair of green clover-shaped pasties for St. Paddy’s Day. Erin go bra-less!
Don’t be misled: Freeman isn’t an NYU student showing her cha-chas for the hell of it. Instead, she’s a grown woman in her forties (though she looks a good 10 years younger) who uses burlesque as an outlet to cope with having the breast cancer gene. Additionally, Freeman is a well-known playwright and active in spoken word.
The Daily Meal: So, how did you get turned onto bartending?
Cyndi Freeman: Just seemed like fun! I have been in the food service industry since my first job when I was 14, and the bartenders were always having the most fun. So, when I moved to New York, I pushed to get behind the bar.
TDM: What do you enjoy most about being a barkeep?
CF: That you are host to the party! It is all about showing people a good time or helping them relax, depending on the bar.
TDM: You’ve worked in the East Village and Lower East Side for years. When did you start in this nabe?
CF: I moved to the East Village and Lower East Side in 2008.
TDM: In what ways has it evolved during that time?
CF: A lot of old school places have closed and been replaced by flashy new spots. The neighborhood is getting prettier, but also pricier.
TDM: I’ve been to The Patriot. Now that must be a fun gig! What’s it like to be behind the stick…or should I say on top of the bar?
CF: I love working at The Patriot! It is a hoot and a half! What is it like…? It is a vacation from all of life’s little problems. No matter what may be going on outside the bar, I get to The Patriot, and within 30 minutes, I am having a blast. I am pretty sure it is the same for the customers.
TDM: What’s been your favorite place to work? Why?
CF: Both of my current jobs are my favorites! The Patriot — I am there [for] Friday happy hour, 5 to 8 p.m. — and its sister bar, Spanky and Darla’s — I work there Monday nights. The owners have really done well in creating a fun atmosphere of no snobs, great girls behind the bar, and all of New York from subway workers to Wall Street financiers [to] doctors, students, artists and other restaurant folks can all be found at the bar, enjoying the jukebox, [which is] mostly country, and the staff. My co-workers rock, and if owner Tommy is about, it is a whole new level of fun!
TDM: I know this a loaded question, but what’s the most memorable story as a bartender?
CF: I was working at the Yogi's — AKA The Bear Bar — near 72nd Street on Broadway. It was a sister bar to The Patriot that closed when the building was demolished in 2007. It was a mellow Sunday afternoon shift, and some of my regulars, a group of construction workers, had started watching a game over a few pitchers when a well-dressed man in a suit and a Yarmulke on his head walked in. He was so out of place that I immediately gave him a big friendly hello to make sure he knew he was welcome. He ordered a Scotch. I checked on the guy in the suit after a few minutes, and he asked me if I knew where a certain funeral home was. His best friend had passed, and he was to speak and had no idea what to say.
I talked with him for a few minutes, offering my condolences, and then an idea crossed my mind. What he needed was to talk to the regulars about this: one of their pals had recently passed away, so I quietly asked if they had any advice to give. I then asked the man in the suit if he was willing to talk to the regulars as they, too, had lost a dear friend and a couple of them spoke at the service. He looked at me like I was the Easter Bunny handing out free cars.
They — the regulars — surrounded him, bought him a Scotch and started asking questions about him and his friend who had died. They proceeded to tell him to speak from the heart, to let everyone at the service know why the man had been a good friend. They told him, “This is your chance to tell everyone what a great guy he was, so take that opportunity and tell it like it is!” They talked for about 45 minutes, then all shook hands, and off he went.
Several hours later, the man in the suit came back asking if the regulars were still about. I said no, they had left after the game. He asked me to tell them thank you and that they had made getting up and talking about his friend possible.
That was a lovely day.
TDM: Let’s talk about your alter ego, Cherry Pitz. Where did the name come from?
CF: I wanted my alter ego to be all fluff and fun, and so I gave her pink hair like cotton candy and named her Cherry. It just felt appropriate. Her last name Pitz; it’s just fun to play with. Her father is Harry Pitz, and she has cousins Labrea Pitz, Peaches Pitz, Ruby Pitz, and on it goes.
TDM: Donning that name, you both host and perform several burlesque shows around the city. How did you get into burlesque?
CF: I was diagnosed with the BRCA genetic mutation in 2006, also known as the Breast Cancer Gene. That is the same thing that Angelina Jolie got diagnosed with before her very public preventative mastectomy. The difference between me and her is when her doctors suggested mastectomy, she said, “yes”; when my doctors suggested that I have my boobs cut off as a preventative measure, I said, “Hell no!” And instead, I took up an art form that included flashing my boobs whenever possible.
TDM: Good for you! Do you have a regularly running burlesque show?
CF: Yes! It’s a monthly ongoing burlesque show called Hotsy Totsy Burlesque. I produce the show with Joe the Shark and write it with Joe and my husband, Brad Lawrence, who often co-hosts with me from the stage. We have been doing it for the last five years! It’s New York's only episodic, monthly burlesque show featuring a different script each month and a rotating cast—a high-camp soap opera featuring some of the best burlesque talent New York has to offer. The performers we bring on are just consistently blowing my mind with what they come up with. During the performance, I find myself thinking over and over, "Nobody should be capable of having this much fun."