Backing into the Blues

The Back Room is a little bit country and a little bit back on a roll

When I heard the Back Room was back after six dark years, I wasn't gonna let the headache that had dogged me all day keep me away. Since it opened in 1991, the Delray Beach institution had hosted blues legends — Leon Russell, John Mayall, Junior Wells, and James Cotton, to name a few. Now it had relocated to a place the invitation touted as "the oldest pub in Boca" and "a topless bar known as the Ship Ahoy in '70s."

I had known the place as the Hideout, a dive where you could get an awesome barbeque sandwich, made all the more tasty if you'd inhaled some of the ganja that folks frequently smoked beneath the banyan on the porch out back. Seemed like the perfect place there next to the railroad tracks on the dirty side of Boca Raton. To show the change of ownership, the Hideout's sign had been inverted in its illuminated frame and a hand-painted wood sign in the dirt alongside the road announced the Back Room's February 2 opening with the same formality that's normally reserved for advertising boiled peanuts.

When my friend Chris and I arrived, we were more than a little surprised to hear country music through the windows of the wooden structure. I craned my neck to peek in the windows, and sure as shit, a young blond woman was sawing away on her purple fiddle while beneath the brim of his cowboy hat, a buck with arms the size of the fiddler's thighs got down on guitar.

Tony Gleeson

Maybe it was just an opening act, I hoped, and went inside to scope things out.

"I don't know if it's the music or the Advil just hasn't kicked in yet, but the look on your face...," Chris remarked as we stood gaping at hordes of fans packed into the front room by the stage.

Someone told us the tight-bodied fiddler in the sequined jeans was local rising star Amber Leigh, who'd spent some time in Nashville. Between songs, the entertainer talked in a twang (evidently picked up in Nashville, since she grew up in Boca) that made every muscle in my body tighten in revolt. (For the record, when I say y'all, it's the hip-hop version, not its syrupy country cousin.)

Maybe it was my brush with the law in Mobile, Alabama, where my friends and I were harassed for being city weirdos (purple hair, dreadlocks, and piercings), but the only thing I like about the Deep South is the home cookin'. Something about a culture of flag-waving, Christ-invoking, Fox-watching Bush-lovers who feel divinely inspired to rid the world of blacks, Jews, liberals, gays, sluts, hippies, and other heathens makes me kinda nervous.

"God help me!" I exclaimed in an involuntary response.

My request for divine intervention was answered by the bartender: The cash-only bar required that Chris and I leave since both of us had only plastic to fund our habits. Once in the car, we had no intention of returning. But dressed to blend in at a blues bar, my vintage rock T-shirt, frayed jeans, and sneakers limited my Boca options, so we decided to try City Limits, which had also been resurrected in a new location.

"Nothing's really going on," Jonathan claimed, then griped about the loss of the venue's open-air stage. "It's not City Limits — it's Indoor Limits."

It was one of the few things he said that didn't rhyme.

"I'm single, and I'm ready to mingle," he said, flirting with me as he reminisced about the days when I hosted the poetry slam at nearby Dada. "I won't stalk. I just want to talk. And if you don't, I walk."

Suddenly, country music seemed like our best option. After stopping by an ATM, Chris and I returned to the Back Room. It was as if the good Lord had heard my prayers: A new act was on stage singing a Rolling Stones cover.

We got some beers at the bar, and since I was finally relaxed, I could appreciate the remodeling, which can be summed up as "budget bordello." Lots of red paint, vintage lamps, and framed pinups made the place look like the perfect spot to have a sinfully good time. The place even had an actual back room where folks could relax on Victorian drawing room sofas as a hula-girl lamp wagged her skirted hips.

Just when I thought things were looking up, Amber Leigh took the stage again. I decided to try to blend with the clan down in front.

"I'm probably like her number four fan," said a guy named Latham, spitting into a water bottle with an inch of brown saliva in it. "We went to Spanish River [High School] together."

He tried to convince me to attend Leigh's show the next night at Legends Sports Bar. I politely said I'd try to make it.

"I'll be there when I get done baby-sitting," said his friend Alexia, an FAU student. "We're usually there."

I appreciated the warning.

Between songs, a guy behind the bar took the house mic and tried to encourage some naughty behavior: "Tonight we got a special. The girl who shows the most skin on the pole gets a bottle of Moët."

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