Feb 5, 2007, 4:57 AM
For a Gang of Exiles, Not Just Any Dive Will Do
Sylwia Kapuscinski for The New York Times
Something’s telling them they’re not in Erie anymore.
By AMANDA PRISCHAK
Published: February 4, 2007
A jukebox with flashing lights and a full complement of arena rock, blue neon beer signs and a pool table. For a gang of nostalgic 20-somethings from Erie, Pa., the downscale scene at Billymark’s West on Ninth Avenue and 29th Street was as familiar as the faces around them.
But there was one important difference for these transplants living in New York.
“I miss the $1 well drinks back home,” Katie Feeney, a 22-year-old AmeriCorps volunteer, mused about the generic-liquor cocktails that can be had on the cheap back in Erie. Then she slid a bill across the worn wooden counter to pay for a $5 vodka ginger ale.
In a city where people often come to forget the past and start over, the gang from Erie gathers each month to remember and to revel in the company of those who miss their industrial hometown on its namesake Great Lake.
The monthly get-togethers of the group, Erie in New York, are the brainchild of Ann Markley, 23, an Erieite who was a contestant on the television show “America’s Next Top Model” and who lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She got the idea after she and a friend realized that they knew dozens of people from Erie in the five boroughs. “So we thought, why not get together once a month at some dive bar?” Ms. Markley recalled.
Billymark’s and other places where they convene exude the same laid-back vibe as the no-frills haunts back home. Many cite a legendary Erie pub, the Plymouth, as the quintessential local bar for its blaring rock music, friendly bartenders and daily specials, like 25-cent drafts and two-for-a-dollar wings. New York bar prices don’t come close. But Billymark’s has the atmosphere, with two garrulous bartenders and enough earsplitting rock anthems to make everyone feel worlds away from the exclusive, bouncer-flanked clubs down the street.
Ralph Legge, a bartender at Billymark’s, came to New York 19 years ago from a coal town in eastern Pennsylvania. At least three times a night, he leads lusty renditions of Penn State and Pittsburgh Steelers fight songs in a thundering voice. The cheers compete with the jukebox, which sucks down a steady stream of dollars and spits out hits by Jimi Hendrix, Steve Miller and the Allman Brothers.
With nearly 100 people on its e-mail list, Erie in New York is a testament to the flight of college graduates from the Rust Belt. Thanks to that region’s inhospitable job market, many of its smart, ambitious and adventuresome young adults come to New York pursuing careers in the theater, advertising and fashion. As a result, much of the chatter at the Erie gatherings centers on landing that coveted gig or promotion. Still, it’s not uncommon to detect notes of wistfulness about Erie.
“I tell everyone that Erie’s the best place on earth,” said Ashley Weber, a 24-year-old publicity assistant. Looking across the bar as a plaintive piano solo opened the song “Faithfully” by Journey, she added, “I always think of moving back.” AMANDA PRISCHAK
Feb 5, 2007, 5:22 AM
Funny... I saw this in the NYTimes and also saw this story about it from the Erie Times-News. It looks to me like it's pretty much yuppie white kids from wealthy families.
'A nice sense of home'
BY GERRY WEISS
firstname.lastname@example.org [more details] (http://www.goerie.com/apps/pbcs.dll/personalia?ID=gweiss&category=CONTACT)
Published: February 03. 2007 6:00AM http://geimg.sv.publicus.com/apps/pbcsi.dll/bilde?Site=GE&Date=20070203&Category=NEWS02&ArtNo=702030346&Ref=AR&MaxW=240
Part of the Erie in NY group. (CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/Lili Morton)
NEW YORK -- He came to create television shows.
Another came to pursue a career in modeling.
And another came looking to make her mark in what she calls the fashion capital of the world.
One by one, over the past few years, dozens of ambitious twenty somethings from Erie have gravitated to New York City to cash in on its vast opportunities and pursue dreams they couldn't realize in northwestern Pennsylvania.
But despite being more than 400 miles away from their hometown, living in a bustling metropolis of 8.14 million people, these young Erieites have found a way to stay connected.
About 40 of the 60 people that belong to the group that's informally called Erie in New York met for a few drinks and a few more laughs on Jan. 27 at Billymark's West, a popular bar in the Chelsea section of Manhattan.
The group, which plans to get together once a month, picked the dark watering hole -- well-known for its laid-back atmosphere, eclectic jukebox and relatively inexpensive beers -- because it reminded them of Erie pubs they used to haunt.
The quirky, urban edge to their group, mixed with the novelty of them all hailing from the same small city, has drawn interest from the New York Times.
Ann Markley, left, and Julie Dahlstrand. (Contributed photo)
Amanda Prischak, who graduated from Villa Maria Academy in 2001, said the Times plans to run a freelance article she wrote about the group in the City section of Sunday's edition.
"To have so many of Erie's best and brightest young people coming to New York City within a few years of each other is amazing," said Prischak, 24, who lives in the trendy Park Slope section of Brooklyn and works in Manhattan as an editorial assistant for Good Housekeeping magazine.
The group, which consists primarily of McDowell High School graduates, started in the fall, one e-mail at a time.
Ann Markley, the lanky McDowell graduate who in 2004 gained national fame as a contestant on the hit reality-TV show "America's Next Top Model," sent out an e-mail to about 20 of her friends from McDowell who were living in New York City.
That quest to reunite in Manhattan started a chain reaction of e-mails, many of them from people Markley didn't know.
Take a look at who’s who. (Chris Sigmund / Erie Times-News)
Within a few weeks, the original list of names tripled.
"I just think it's so cool to see so many familiar faces here," said Markley, who moved to New York City in January 2005 to capitalize on the momentum she gained with her fourth-place finish on "Top Model."
"It's great for us to get together," she added. "It gives you a nice sense of home in a city that can be very lonely sometimes."
When the group gathered at Billymark's last weekend, several of the Erieites said the bar reminded them of Sherlock's, Calamari's Squid Row and the Plymouth Tavern.
The bartenders, who knew in advance that the large contingent from Erie was coming, shouted out Erie ZIP codes and "Go! Peach Street" throughout the night. The group responded by screaming back "814! 814!"
Lili Morton, left, and Erin Noonan at a club in New York City. (Contributed photo)
"We had a blast. That night went beyond what everyone thought it would be," said Jason Nesterick, 24, who moved to New York City a little less than a year ago.
The former nighttime disc jockey and promotions director at WRTS-FM/Star 104 now works as a development executive for Sony Pictures Television. His roommate, Cathedral Preparatory School graduate Jason Kaercher, works in Manhattan creating advertisements for an Internet company.
"We all still talk about Erie, and love it. Our wallets love Erie, too," Nesterick said, with a laugh.
When asked what he and Kaercher pay in monthly rent for their two-bedroom apartment in the city's popular Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, he paused, then sighed, before saying, "Let's just say I could have a mortgage back home on South Shore Drive."
Rachel George, McDowell Class of 2000, said just about all the members of Erie in New York have a sincere fondness for their hometown but know that the experience of living in the Big Apple is irreplaceable.
George, who works in finance, fell in love with New York City on a high school choir trip during her sophomore year.
When she and classmate Ansley Dunn -- who now works at a New York advertising firm -- stepped off the bus in midtown Manhattan, the wide-eyed teenagers looked at each other and knew they'd found their future home. "The theater, the opera, the many, many great restaurants," said George. "There's more culture here than anywhere else."
Julie Dahlstrand, a Strong Vincent High School graduate who has lived on New York's Upper East Side for the past two years, said she knew only a few people from Erie who lived in Manhattan when she first moved there.
Now, as a member of Erie in New York, the 26-year-old has a whole new crew of friends.
"It's like the game 'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,'" Dahlstrand said, referring to the pop-culture phenomenon based on a concept that any actor can be linked to Bacon through their film roles. "You meet someone who knows someone else you know, and they know your friends, and their friends know your parents. It's unbelievable."
Ashley Weber, left, and Andy Holland. (Contribited photo)
Lili Morton, 23, a marketing sales assistant for Nickelodeon who moved to Manhattan in December 2005, was amazed to see so many of her old friends from Erie gather at Billy-mark's.
But none stunned her more than Ashley Weber, her best friend from childhood, whom she hadn't talked to in more than 10 years.
"Ashley grew up down the street from me," Morton said of Weber, who now works in the publicity department at HBO. "It was so much fun to see her, catching up on old times."
Rich Figaski moved to New York City 10 months ago to take a job as a consultant for IBM.
The former Millcreek resident said he loves Manhattan and had always wanted to see what it was like to live in a big city.
But the experience has given the 24-year-old a greater appreciation for Erie.
"You don't realize how easy it was back home to run errands and do things in like 30, 40 minutes. Things that could take you all day here," said Figaski, adding that he also misses skiing, golfing and deer hunting. "But you pay to play when you come here. It's part of the deal that comes with living in New York."
GERRY WEISS can be reached at 870-1884 or by e-mail.
Read More About It
Erie native Amanda Prischak, who now works in Manhattan as an editorial assistant for Good Housekeeping magazine, has written a freelance article for the New York Times about her fellow Erieites. Prischak said the article and photographs of the group are scheduled to run this Sunday in the newspaper's City section.
New York In Erie
Are you like Erie Times-News reporter Gerry Weiss, who was born and raised in New York City but now lives in Erie? If so, we want to hear from you. Please e-mail him at email@example.com, or call him at 870-1884, and tell Weiss how you ended up moving here.
Feb 6, 2007, 1:01 AM
How much money do these people have?
Feb 6, 2007, 7:28 AM
I say good for these people, to follow their dreams and make a name for themselves and have meaningful careers, but It does always make me feel sad that Pennsylvania, the place that I think is soo great and wonderful, is the "bad" place these people came from that they felt they had to "escape". Sometimes I wonder if I'm the idiot for sticking around.
Feb 6, 2007, 2:40 PM
well... the article makes it seem like Erie is hopeless and offers nothing... and it's true... it's been struggling economically for decades... but it still offers opportunity... but Erie will never be a place for aspiring actors or supermodels or a center of the advertising industry... these are NYC specialities... people who are in these industries basically have to relocate to NYC from Erie, Cincinnati, Albany, Baltimore, Roanoke, etc.
Feb 6, 2007, 6:22 PM
^ Very true.
Erie does not offer a large diversity of professional employment for the recent college grad, especially not in the industries mentioned in the above articles.
Feb 7, 2007, 3:44 PM
For a Gang of Exiles, Not Just Any Dive Will Do
I am quite shocked nobody has made a comment about the chick in the middle. I think she went to New York to be part of the Welcum Wagon...especially for Fleet Week. :yes: :haha:
I bet her last name is Hoover too.
Feb 8, 2007, 5:40 AM
^ Why? Because she has a mouth; And it's open?
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