Brian Flanagan is 38, a ""borderline alcoholic,"" a very would-be writer, a goodlooking veteran of countless one-night stands--and a super-pro N.Y.C. bartender whose career peaked somewhere around 1972 in Soho. (While working at a place ""so hip it doesn't have a name,"" he got a bit-part in a movie-as a bartender who is repeatedly vomited upon by a Meryl Streep-ish actress.) Now, however, cynical, half-appealing narrator Brian has just about hit bottom. His latest gigolo-ish affair--with an aging J.A.P.--has soured; he's been forced to swallow his pride and head for Fire Island, where his mentor/soulmate/nemesis--55-ish vagabond Doug Coughlin--has just opened a bar. And, upon arrival, Brian discovers that newlywed Doug is dead: a murder/suicide with his beautiful young bride. So, broke, Brian reluctantly goes to work at the Beachhead, a unique theme-bar. (""It was World War II as seen through the eyes of a gay decorator, a fulvous version of Real Men in the military."") By the time the locals turn on the bar's gay owner and head-waiter (""one of those swarthy Hebrew fruits""), Brian is on his way--escaping the melee with enough cash to get back to the city. He works a few catering jobs, steals some liquor, finds another desperate woman to live off, vainly tries to find a bartender job (he's notorious by now)--and finally winds up doing his ""lovable nihilist"" act at The Old Seamen's Home, a seedy joint near the Brooklyn Bridge that suddenly becomes ""the hottest saloon in a city that specializes in hot saloons."" And, after the fun times there become rough times (a cocaine-crazed owner, Friday-night brawls), Brian--though haunted by pal Doug's death and tempted by a glimmer of true love--cynically opts for a ""really unfortunate marriage"" . . . to a rich young crazy. Even with this appropriately downbeat fadeout, Brian's zonked-out soul journey has a sentimental streak to it, never really coming into credible focus; and the picaresque doings become a little repetitious and static in the second half. Still, as in his mysteries (One Dead Debutante, Glitterburn), Gould unleashes a wealth of rude asides, ugly/funny repartee, and mostly likable raunch here. Even more impressive: his authoritative, back-room view of the saloon trade-the atmosphere, the stealing, the drugs, the hype, the demographics. (There's a tour-de-force two-page history of the Upper West Side's gentrification--as seen through drinking habits.) And readers with a taste for boozy, mean comedy will find this essentially depressing but grimly amusing entertainment--anchored in enough shrewd social observation to keep it from slipping over into cartoonish farce.