Going Solo at the Half King
When entering The Half King, on the corner of 23rd Street and 10th Avenue, the interior bellows “Rustic!” On Mondays the bar hosts author readings in their side dining room, which is separated from the main barroom by a substantial wooden door with iron hinges. Walking in, I almost expected to find men in chain mail dining with elves and dwarves.
On February 28th, Annia Ciezado, a special correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor and The New Republic, read from her memoir “Day of Honey.” I hadn’t read her book but from The Half King’s website I gathered that she writes on her day-to-day experience in the Middle East rather than on politics. The bar's website called it “her memoir of love, conflict, and the hunger for food and friendship,” – so basically Eat, Pray, Love with a high chance of death.
I got there a little early to get a seat and was surprised at the layout of the dining room. Though it has the fair share of regular tables and chairs, there are also a few low, long tables accompanied by long leather couches – big enough for three or four relatively thin couples to sit together family style. The walls are a mix-match of more unfinished wood, brick, and off-white and red painted walls that resemble clay, like a trendy cabin in the woods.
Thankfully the readings start at 7 pm, an hour before happy hour ends ($4 drafts and $7 drink specials). The food, though, wasn’t cheap – appetizers run around $9 and main courses at least $14 –so if you come for a reading bring a friend along and split the Hellfire Fries, the seasoning is great.
Unfortunately, the reading wasn’t smooth. Ciezado didn’t introduce herself until fifteen minutes in, and only at the request of a Half King employee. Most of the people in the room seemed to know her and her work well, something to be expected at a reading by an established author, but I felt out of the loop. She also only read for the first few and final few minutes of the event. The hour in-between was a kind of schizophrenic Q&A that didn’t entirely focus on the book. At times it felt more like an “ask the expert anything about the Middle-East or her personal life” free-for-all.
Perhaps this wouldn’t have been so bad if Ciezado hadn’t wielded her writing as a kind of threat, saying “Come on people, if you don’t ask questions I’m gonna read more.” It was a total shame because her writing was quite beautiful and she acted out various encounters with Iraqis, imitating their voices and hand gestures. She finished with one particularly beautiful section that described an Iraqi man that insisted she taste “Iraq’s greatest tea.” She described it as tasting “antique,” like drinking “history books.”
The Half King’s reading series generally focuses on war and politics, so keep that in mind if you attend. And don't sit on the couch closest to the door. The waiters constantly come in and out and the noise from the adjacent bar drowns out at least a third of the reading.