“This is Coney Island, the last stop on this track. Please exit the train,” the automated voice says as we exit the Q train into the Coney Island subway station. It is a brisk October evening. The sun is making its way down behind the brightly painted buildings. This subway stop has a different feeling than getting off at Penn Station or the Port Authority—it is desolate. There are maybe one or two families boarding the trains across the platform to head back into Manhattan. The air is chilly and the only sounds we hear are faint screams from Luna Park guests getting one last ride on the Thunderbolt before the rides close for the evening. Coney Island’s off-season has definitely arrived.
We are here to see the famous Coney Island Brewery. As we walk into the brewery, we hear a man comment on my friend’s trench coat: “she looks like she’s undercover,” he giggles. We walk into the brewery and immediately feel the edgy, twisted circus vibe that you can only feel two places in the world: Coney Island and a Ringling Bros. circus. The walls are all painted with brightly colored murals and the chalk board is scribbled on to display the season’s beer menu. We order a “run” of this season’s brews and begin to chat with people near us. Almost everyone in the brewery is a Coney Island regular. They ask us if we’ve been to the parks during the peak season (we haven’t) and they begin to reminisce about the park’s busiest time of year.
Moments later, the same man who we passed on the way in walks into the bar and is greeted by nearly every customer and bartender. He looks over and greets us with an impeccably large, white, sparkling grin. He has no need to introduce himself because the rest of the customers surrounding us do it for him; he is Patrick Salazar, more commonly known as “Mr. Strange.” He is the ringmaster of the Coney Island Circus Sideshow, and today happens to be his birthday. He tells us that he has just come back from ridding the Thunderbolt roller coaster three times in a row and “needs to sober up” before joining us for a drink. He finds a large bag of Halloween candy behind the bar and begins offering candy to every customer in the bar before the bartender tells him that those aren’t for giving away. After being reprimanded by the brewery staff, he sits down and begins to talk to us about his experience as an actor, dancer, and performer. He tells us that he loves New York City more than L.A. because the people “are more willing to give you a chance.” We then get to hear lots of stories about Broadway shows he’s starred in, his role as Mr. Strange, the King of Coney Island, and his opinions on Anna Kendrick (who he has met many times). It isn’t long before we look up and realize that an hour has gone by.
People like Patrick “Mr. Strange” Salazar are the reason I love New York. Almost everyone you talk to here has a story about their own personal royalty. Everyone is more special than the next person. Everyone is the king of something. Mr. Strange was absolutely correct when he said that the people in New York City want to give you a chance. Everyone has started from the bottom and worked their way into their own spotlight, so they’re more sympathetic, more willing to lend a hand when they see someone who is a few rungs below them. Mr. Strange is an example of someone who has both accepted help from someone above him and is willing to help those beneath him. If you ever happen to be in Coney Island and run into Mr. Strange, I recommend that you buy him a Hard Root Beer (his favorite) and listen to all the stories he has to offer about being the King of Coney Island.
Written by Meredith Atkinson