We tag along with the Pulitzer Prize winner on a tour of his favorite NY watering holes
By Amos Barshad
In 2007, after winning the Pulitizer Prize for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz was asked how it felt to be the first Dominican writer to nab one of literature’s shiniest trophies. “Feels fine,” he grumbled. “I only wish there were about a thousand others.” Five years later, and facing down a whole new firing squad of accolades for his first book since Wao — the short-story collection This Is How You Lose Her — Díaz, 43, is no more willing to accept adulation. “I put that stuff away,” he says, “and when I’m seventy and pissing myself, that will keep me fucking warm. But for now … ” And here his goddaughter Dalia, a 21-year-old art student ably rocking zebra leggings and a Farrah Fawcett T-shirt, cuts in, to general cacophonous laughter: “You sure it won’t be the piss keeping you warm?”
We’re way uptown in Washington Heights, the Dominican neighborhood that Díaz called home in the mid-2000s and which features prominently in his work. Not as prominently as central New Jersey, where he grew up, or the D.R., where he was born. But it’s very much there. Yunior, the character we’ve now followed from Díaz’s auspicious 1996 debut Drown to Wao to This Is How You Lose Her, lives in the New York City neighborhood with Oscar’s sister after graduating from Rutgers. Years before, Yunior’s father, before eventually abandoning the family, lived there too.
This joint is called Corcho, and it’s a loud little pocket of a wine bar populated by men in baby blue Polos and women tighttighttight black pants. The slim Díaz, in chinos and Sauconys, walks in not without swagger, and greets a string of folks with pleasant Spanish chatter. He calls the bartender Mi amor, then gently chastises her because no tiene mucho something; then the owner, Beni, claps him on the back and hands him a cigar. (Later, Díaz explains “They know my cousin, Manny. He’s an actor. He’s always in there being pretty.”)