This Man Tried to Smoke Up Justin Bieber at Johnny Brenda’s
When Noah Suzuki got the text, he knew he and his friends needed to get to Johnny Brenda’s immediately.
Suzuki, 24, was with his co-workers from the West Philly Han Dynasty. They had been doing karaoke at Bob & Barbara’s on Sunday night, and Suzuki got a text from his younger sister. She’d been a Justin Bieber fan since he was just a kid singing covers on YouTube.
“When he was a YouTube pop star sensation, my sister was in middle school,” Suzuki says. “And she was going to see him at tennis matches and mall shows. Indie Justin Bieber. She saw him, like, 35 times.”
And she’d texted Suzuki on Sunday night to tell him that Justin Bieber was at Johnny Brenda’s in Fishtown. He recounts the text: “Fucking call me, you need to go to Johnny Brenda’s and coax Justin Bieber to our house. This is not a drill.”
It was almost closing time, but Suzuki and his friends figured they’d give it a shot. None of them were Bieber fans, but … hey, when Justin Bieber shows up in Fishtown, anything is possible.
“We’re all partying, we’re dancing, we’re singing,” says Mike Donovan, 27, a bartender at the West Philly Han Dynasty. “And all of a sudden Noah — from across the bar — yells, ‘Justin Bieber’s across town! We need to get the fuck out of here! Come on, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!’” In the early morning hour, such a plan seemed to make sense. Suzuki piled a bunch of people into his car and they drove to Frankford and Girard.
At first, Suzuki, Donovan and their friends couldn’t get in. Donovan said two security guards were standing out front of JB’s. “We’re like, ‘Hey, just trying to get a beer, nothing out of the ordinary. It’s 1:50 on a Sunday, we’re thirsty,’” Donovan says. “They were like, ‘You’re not getting in here. Get real. We know why you’re here.’”
Inspiration struck. Another person in the group stuck his foot in the side door when another party left. By now, the group was down to four: Donovan, Suzuki and two others got in to JB’s. They tried to get beers, but the bar had stopped serving — it was nearly closing time. But the group spotted four unattended beers on a corner ledge, in Donovan’s words, “with light basking on them.” It must have been divine intervention. They felt like they belonged.
Bieber, 22, was playing pool. They were drinking warm beer. Donovan said he figured he wanted to say something to the pop sensation. “The obvious answer to the question ‘What are you going to say to Justin Bieber at a bar at 2 o’clock in the morning’ is, ‘You want to get stoned?’” Donovan says. He planned to approach him.
It took some work. Donovan says members of Bieber’s team were “setting picks” and preventing anyone from going up to talk to him. But when they were preoccupied with keeping two women away from the pool table, Donovan slid on by and saddled up next to Bieber.
As recounted by Donovan, the conversation was pretty standard for 2 a.m. bar conversation:
Donovan: “Hey, what’s up man, you trying to smoke a bowl?”
Bieber: “No, man, I don’t smoke weed anymore.”
Donovan: “What are you doing here?”
Bieber: “I don’t know — it’s a cool bar though!”
Donovan: “It is a cool bar! We all like it very much.”
Bieber: “Yeah, I played in Philly tonight.”
Donovan: “Yeah, that’s cool. Where are you going tomorrow?”
Bieber: “I’m going to Boston tomorrow.”
Donovan: “That’s where I’m from!”
Bieber: “Boston’s cool.”
Donovan: “Yeah, Boston is cool!”
Bieber: “Gotta get outta here!”
“I said ‘nice meeting you,’” Donovan says. “We shook hands, gave daps, and then I got the fuck out of there.” Bieber’s team didn’t respond to a request for comment, if you can believe it. But by all reports he was a friendly and gracious — the perfect bar patron.
Suzuki, Donovan and friends piled back into the car. Donovan said he got back home in G-Ho at around 4 a.m. It was a very silly night, of course — but it was the most memorable post-work hang ever for the West Philly Han Dynasty crew. It was worth rushing across town just before 2 a.m.
“What was cool is: No one was really giving him shit,” Donovan says. “People were ogling him, people were geeking out, but no one was harassing him. I don’t even feel like asking him to smoke a bowl was harassing him. He was just playing pool and having a good time.” That seems to be the m.o. for reacting to celebrities at Johnny Brenda’s: Kate Moss went to a concert for indie rock duo The Kills in 2008 at Johnny Brenda’s; her now-husband, Adam Hince, is one of the band’s members. Reportedly, she was left pretty much alone — though presumably someone could have offered her marijuana.
Bieber later posted a photo on Instagram from the Ben Franklin Bridge of Camden with the caption: “Thank you Philly.” Not long after he visited Philadelphia, though, Bieber told fans he would no longer take photos with them.
Donovan later Instagrammed a photo of Bieber, getting scores of likes and comments. One person questioned, “What fucking grown man goes to a bar because Justin Bieber is there?” But most of the comments were from Bieber’s fans, who were happy he’d declined to smoke up. “Just needs to quit smoking cigs now,” one read.
As for Suzuki, he said his mom — who accompanied his sister to all those Bieber shows many years ago — had a question about the night: “Why didn’t you come by my house to pick me up?”
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