Superheroes and Shots

superheroesSuperman and Batman have been spotted in Bushwick—at Gotham City Lounge, Brooklyn’s first bar dedicated to comic books and dirt-cheap PBR.

Schoolteacher Ray Torrellas and wife, Lou, have run this bunkerlike bar teeming with collectibles since 2006. Captain America’s shield and Wonder Woman posters adorn the walls, the Black Lagoon’s creature and the Thing pose menacingly, and the bar is inlaid with wham-ing and pow-ing comics pages.

Grind-house films flicker on the projection TV while Hispanic long-timers and paintstained artists shoot both pool and $3 Pabst-and-whiskey combos.

“My grandmother would roll over in her grave if she knew what I did with this space,” laughs Torrellas, 43, a lifelong Bushwick resident with a braided ponytail and a BlackBerry sporting Batman’s logo. Decades ago, Gotham was a church, where Grandma preached and sang while Torrellas played tambourine. In fact, the Torrellas family has owned the building since the 1920s, minus a brief stretch of repossession. “My father took a loan and decided he didn’t have to pay it back,” says Torrellas. He settled the debt and reclaimed 1293 Myrtle four years ago.

Torrellas, who favors the Incredible Hulk, pondered opening a comic shop and memorabilia showroom (“I’ve been collecting since I was five or six. These fantasy characters were like my protectors, my escape from the streets.”) But then he spent an afternoon drinking with teacher colleagues and the group accrued a $300 tab. His wife—whom he met in a tavern—suggested they open a comic-themed bar serving affordable drinks.

Without rent’s burden, it was worth a risk. As word spread, locals new and old were drawn to this curious world of superheroes, canned beer and the affable, ever-present Torrellas. “I live upstairs,” he explains, “so I’m always around.” After finishing schoolwork, he converses with barflies or rearranges figurines.

“My students are like, ‘You live in the Superman house,’” laughs Torrellas, who welcomes his fourth- and fifth-grade science scholars into Gotham City Lounge every Halloween. He clears out the alcohol, plugs in a fog machine, dons a costume (last year: Mr. Burns) and shows movies. “I also teach break dancing in there,” Torrellas adds.

As if teaching and running a bar are not enough, Torrellas took on another job last year: proud father to a baby boy. Named Thor. After the Norse god of thunder? “No, the comic book,” Torrellas says. “What else would you expect?”

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Brooklyn-based journalist and critic Joshua M. Bernstein has written about food and drinks, culture and travel for enough publications to make his mother and father proud.