Drake's in New York: Downtown with The Drunken Canal
During the pandemic, Michelle Guterman, aka Gutes, and Claire Banse created The Drunken Canal, "a biased news source" newspaper made for and by a particular set in downtown New York City. Something niche and tangible for a generation who has grown up online, it is refreshing, voice-y, and irreverent. A mix of the alternative weeklies of the 90s and early aughts mixed with a liberal arts school newspaper. The contents (fiction, scene reports, interviews, classified ads, poetry) were from a tight network of contributors who were given a long leash to do as they please. The only way to get a copy of the newspaper was to physically pick one up from a newspaper box that they had "repurposed," located in the famed Dimes Square, but luckily for all the out of towners; they have begun to ship nationwide.
Other media outlets took notice and began to try and understand The Drunken Canal, it's more significant meaning, and what the future held, breathlessly debating its purpose, which felt a bit silly. It is pretty simple. Two people started something they were passionate about, worked hard, and were able to capture the zeitgeist in a medium that most people had forgotten about—a perfect combination of newness and nostalgia. But most importantly, it reminded me that no matter what is happening, New York City is the center of the world. Even on a seeming niche level, what happens becomes fodder, hotly debated. Gutes and Claire are just having fun with their friends. They don't overthink it, so why should we?
Chris Black: I have my idea of what this will be, but what does an ideal New York day look like for you guys?
Gutes: My ideal day probably involves waking up at 10 o'clock, going to Pilates, and working for about three hours. It should involve at least two enjoyable but uncoordinated interactions with someone. Then dinner and a martini. That's an ideal day.
CB: Claire, what does yours look like?
Claire: I'd probably be up at 8:00 but not get moving until 9:30. Then coffee, breakfast, maybe a pastry. Ideally, it's beautiful out. Then three hours of productivity, perhaps an exciting email, a really good workout, maybe a run, sauna.
CB: So the thing I'm taking away from all this is that there's a three-hour productivity window. So that's the amount of work you guys are getting done?
Gutes: Sometimes we work 10-hour days. The last issue, I didn't sleep for 36 hours.
Claire: During the last issue- it was the Wednesday before print, I went until five o'clock and said, "I've been working since 7:00. I'm going to dinner," but then I got a panicked text from her at 9:00 PM saying, "Okay, you've got to come home!"
CB: I'm guessing you do a lot of panic-texting. It's a big part of being a small business owner.
Claire: There's a lot of freaking out. A lot of threats.
Gutes: Each edition of the newspaper, we call them issues, and the other day Claire said, "It's an issue because it's a problem!" We have to solve the issue— every single time.
CB: Things go off the rails, and they get back on, but I think that's why there's been so much interest because you guys get it done every month!
Gutes: Everyone's always so impressed!
Claire: "Whoa, this is pretty substantial!"
Gutes: "Wow, you really did this?"
Claire: What do you think we're doing in our houses all day?
CB: I was shocked to learn this initially, but you guys have very little help.
Claire: The help we get is amazing, but there isn't that much of it.
CB: Is there an ambition to involve more people? Does that sound like growth, or does that sound like a pain in the ass?
Claire: We've taken on more help now because it was necessary. Initially, I had some reservations about it, but when I let it go and had our friend take over the poetry section, I didn't have to read hours and hours.
CB: No one wants to do the poetry section. Let's be honest.
Gutes: At a certain point, it all just blends into one big poem.
CB Do you guys feel like you have an amicable split of responsibilities? Are you both doing what you're good at, where it combines to make something great?
Claire: It's taken time to get there, but at this point, yes. From the get-go, Gutes and I have had such an intuitive sense of what works and what doesn't. There doesn't have to be so much explanation on why something is right or wrong. We both just get it.
CB: When you read your paper, there are so many distinct voices, but you can still tell that it comes from the two of you. Even if you aren't necessarily talking, it's your view of the world through the voices of others. You're deciding who's in and out, and you're making it what you want it to be. It's a classic gatekeeping situation, and I'm very pro-gatekeeping!
Claire: And it's so clear to us when we get a good piece. I'll get a text from her saying, "Oh my God, have you read this?"
CB:That's what it's meant to be! When both people are excited about the same things for the right reasons. So was there always a lingering interest in print?
Gutes: We just wanted to start a newspaper. So we did.
Claire: It was a joke.
CB: It feels like that. It's funny and fun, but it also harkens back to the '90s and the early 2000s, when the alternative weekly was a big thing. New York had The Village Voice, and there was Creative Loafing in Atlanta. I read those things biblically, and it shaped my entire outlook on everything I deem essential to this day. But when I say that, it's like, "Okay, boomer." But when it comes from you two, there's a legitimacy to it, and an initial interest gets sparked, strictly because it's a peer-to-peer conversation.
Gutes: My favorite thing about the Drunken Canal has been seeing this print Renaissance happen and feeling confident that we started that ripple effect. Watching the results of that has been the most satisfying part. Even when it goes uncredited, it's exciting to know that we might have had something to do with it.
CB: What you're talking about is pretty niche, and it belongs to a particular group of people, but it seems like a lot of the interest is there because of a specific power that New York has. No matter how things shift or how globalized things get, New York can still feel like the center of the world, and you guys uniquely capture that. There's an excitement when you guys put out a new one, or the drama with the box.
Claire: There's always drama with the box!
Gutes: The box is gone again!
CB: But it's all good. It's all part of it. It would be corny if the box were welded to the ground and perfectly designed. But I think the world you guys have created is way more interesting. It's a nice thing to be connected to, and I'm sure many people feel that way.
Claire: Thinking about building a world is interesting because, when we created it, there wasn't a world. It was September 2020. We wanted to create something that would bring our friends together around something physical or make us all feel like we were all in on the same joke. And it's been cool to keep inducting more and more people into that joke.
CB: I'm sure that significant opportunities are opening up for both of you, and you're experiencing that thing that happens when something gets white-hot and a little out of your control. I'm sure you've had some funny meetings and funny phone calls. Money is great, and the press is great. Playing dress-up with drinks is fun, but the question becomes: what do you want this to be? And it seems like you're just going to keep doing this thing until you don't want to do it anymore, which is empowering. And now you have this whole world that you've created, by your design, you get to live in.
Gutes: Yeah. And my advice to people is just to say, "Fuck it," and do it.
CB: That's good life advice.