Finding Your Key Bar: A Story About Keys. And Bars.

By Colby Angus Black

Sometimes, this is what inspiration looks like.

But occasionally, inspiration goes by another name. For me, that name is key bar.


In a way, all of us has a key bar. For some, it’s a dingy joint back in the old neighborhood. For others, it’s a sparkling stop on Park Avenue. For me, my key bar was a fun, friendly place actually named Key Bar. But as sure as my name is Colby Angus Black, the people of Earth’s Internet can have their own, personal Jesus of a key bar, which might happen to be Austin’s *actual* Key Bar or the East Village’s Keybar!

In 2006, a locksmith shop on West 6th Street in Austin, Texas became a bar. As a nod to its heritage, the place was named Key Bar. I soon (that very week) became a regular. In fact I’m still such a regular that even after spending the last 8 years in New York, I can still text a bartender there and buy you a drink on my tab.

Flash forward to 2012, and Manhattan’s Upper West Side. I had a girlfriend. She was human, and therefore imperfect. For starters, she had an interesting relationship with the truth. And she had an even more interesting relationship with several other guys. One of whom, turns out, had an interesting relationship with his wife.

Oh, sorry. This isn’t that piece about binge drinking and the allure of Tom Waits.

If you can believe it, though, this girl’s true nemesis was keys. They were the bane of her existence. She once locked her keys in her car’s trunk ON THE THANKSGIVING DAY PARADE ROUTE. Fun bit of trivia: Mercedes sedans from the early 00s didn’t have trunk releases. You can only unlock them with the keys. But you can watch NYPD tow them off into the honking, blinking distance.

On another occasion, she managed to lock me out of my own apartment for 3 days. This was the final straw … No, silly. Not for the relationship. That would make too much sense.

After Day 3 of our Long, National Lockout Nightmare, I had 10 sets of my keys made. I stashed them everywhere. A set in my desk. A set to everyone I’d known longer than 5 years.

“Colby, I don’t even know where you live. Why are you giving me a set of keys?”

Exactly, Work Janitor. Exactly.

I was doctoring a hangover by nursing a beer one weekend and I mentioned this to the bartender down the street.

“WHAY DON’TCHA GEVE OUS A SET?” Paul (Born in Ireland, raised in England) brogued.

Wait. What?

It turns out they had a box of their regulars’ keys behind the bar. Some in envelopes. Some loose. Some labelled. Others … not so much. Some looked like Link could use them to unlock dungeons in Hyrule.

And there it was. Smacked in the head by one of those dead simple ideas you can’t believe you never had.

The bar opened for deliveries at 10 am every day. They were open 7 days a week. They locked the door at 4 am. Though I might have been locked in on occasion, and they didn’t leave until 5 am.

It was the perfect key stash … provided you were one with the labelled keys.

I left that neighborhood back in October. I didn’t have the heart to get my keys back. The new apartment is in a great area of town, and I’ve got several key bar candidates. But I’m just not ready to commit. As my new girlfriend is competent with keys, I’m not in a real hurry to make a bar commitment just yet.