W’s Bar & Restaurant is easy to miss if you’re an outsider driving through this suburban enclave of Staten Island—the southernmost section of the borough, a stone’s throw from New Jersey across the Arthur Kill. Situated in a nondescript strip mall adjacent and in proximity to several other equally bland strip malls, from the outside it looks like nothing special—a dive, a hole-in-the-wall—but the atmosphere in the bar tells a different story.
The bar appears not to have been redecorated in about 25 years, and therein lies its charm. Wood-paneled walls display framed photographs of local youth sports teams and New York Yankees memorabilia; a University of Notre Dame flag hangs high on the wall across from the bar, dwarfed only by the American flag right next to it. Patrons sit at the bar glued to a college basketball game; some walk from table to table dropping in on conversations as if to finish a thought they had left behind. W’s has no aspirations of trying to be anything but the local watering hole; no need for the flourishes found at bars in Manhattan or Brooklyn, where hardly any semblance of continuity exists in neighborhoods and the only constant is change.
As part of a larger liberal Democrat city, Tottenville might be considered somewhere between Pennsylvania and Texas on the political spectrum—that is to say, generally more right-wing, but with hardly any traces of the brand of social conservatism that has co-opted the larger Republican Party. Board of Elections statistics show the majority of the 62nd Assembly District, which includes Tottenville, voted for Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election, and in conversations most of the locals seem to take the matter of voting seriously yet hold politicians in a very skeptical light.
“People here are not happy with politicians,” said Charlie Wonsowicz, the owner and namesake of W’s. “Everybody thinks all politicians are crooked. Everybody believes they are stealing our money.”
For a bar that counts cops, firefighters and other city workers among its regulars, there are many opinions to be heard on this topic, though coaxing one out is slightly more difficult. Charlie is initially reticent to talk about such a taboo subject on this hallowed ground—the old adage of “the two things you don’t talk about at dinner,” religion and politics, applies at W’s—but he loosens up when asked whether he thinks 2013 is a good time to be a small business owner in New York City.
“It’s the worst I’ve ever seen,” he said, the twinkle in his eye dimming as his smile faded to reflect the gravity of the topic. “[The city is] doing everything in their power to close the small guy out. They want the big chains to buy us all out so they don’t have to help us out.”
This generally skeptical attitude toward politicians and government was prevalent in conversations with the bar’s patrons. For the most part, the current slate of mayoral candidates is unknown to them, and those who are familiar elicit little enthusiasm.
Mike Gallagher, a retired police officer, recognized the name of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, but said he would reserve his vote “for whoever I think is gonna do best for me.”
Another patron, Bob, a retired Con Edison worker affectionately known as “Uncle Bob,” seemed to be choosing his preferred candidate through process of elimination, and the first to be cut from his list was City Comptroller John Liu. “I’m not gonna go for Liu. He’s kinda shady already, so that kills his vote,” he said. “I think he’s a thief.”
As for Charlie, he detests Mayor Bloomberg, who, in his view, is “out for himself,” but he’s developing a liking for Quinn—perhaps unaware of her close ties to the mayor. “She looks like she knows what to do,” he says. After pausing a beat, he adds, “Whatever that is, I’m sure she’ll do it.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that Tottenville was across the Hudson River from New Jersey, when the body of water is actually the Arthur Kill.
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