The club life isn't all sex and glam. It's also expensive drinks, sleazy swinger dudes, uncomfortable clothes, self-doubt, and unpredictable music. Of course, I love the super-sexed, Mai Tai-sipping meat-market mating dance of youth bar-hopping. But sometimes I just want to listen to music from before my time, sip beer, and buzz pleasantly while I contemplate life with people who have at least five decades to think back on.
I heard Hollywood dive bar G's Place (201 N. 21st Ave.) was hosting a Grateful Dead-inspired jam band, and I figured that'd be a great soundtrack for me to marinate in booze to. Squeezed into stilettos, buzzin' on $20 cocktails, and trying to avoid eye contact with the local ladykillers? Maybe next Friday. Tonight I'll take chipped tables and cheap beer.
Ambience: A band called the Wheel was fronted by Angie, a bookwormish-looking gal with glasses and long dark hair. She was backed by a troop of seasoned musicians, who helped her pack G's with riff-tastic Deadhead anthems and ultra-long jam sessions. The place is small, and that night sparsely populated; the band played a few feet from where I — and actually, any other person in the place — was seated. Conversation was impossible while the Wheel was playing, but luckily they needed plenty of smoke breaks. G's has a pool table, some booths, tables, and a bar area, accented by hanging Christmas lights. A note near the jukebox commands that "all TVs must be on sports channels (Plasmas)." Planets had been painted whimsically on pale blue walls, where wind chimes and dolphin-shaped wind spinners mingled with the beer and Copenhagen ads. Listening to Grateful Dead tunes while sipping a cold beer and studying the random-ass décor, I began to wonder if I was actually on acid.
Drinks: I quickly realized I wasn't on acid — I'd just had three beers too many. Bud Light costs $2.50 a bottle, and the bartender replaced my empties so fast I didn't even notice until I'd knocked back four of 'em. But I've been to places you can't get water for $2.50, so I was happy to indulge. And apparently the Angie felt the same way. After several songs, the band's bassist, Jon, gestured toward an old man in a pink shirt who sat perched at the table in front of mine. "For the next song, a friend of ours is going to join us," he announced. "C'mon up, Jeff!" Like an uncoiling spring, Jeff launched from his seat to join the band at the front of the room as Angie slipped away from her microphone. She turned to the bar, ordered a beer, and plunked down in Jeff's spot to enjoy it.
Jeff brought back ghostly images of Jerry Garcia — ghostly because, let's face it, I've never seen the original Jerry. But Jeff rocked.
Bartenders: Shelly, the lean bartender, wore a black tank top cut to reveal the heart tattoo on her razor-sharp right shoulder blade. She looked like a no-nonsense sort of dame, fed up with life's shit, who wouldn't bat an eye at breaking your Bud Light bottle into shards and amputating your nipple if you pissed her off (I didn't skimp on the tip, just to be safe). Shelly still managed to be motherly — assuming your mother encouraged alcohol consumption to the point of obnoxious inebriation. She slid new beers into my hand with delicate ease. And when I ordered delicious French fries from G's food menu, Shelly sweetly brought me two little containers of Ranch dressing for dipping. And another beer, in case the one I was drinking was getting low (it wasn't). A pleasant change from flashy party clubs where you have to grab the bartender by her belly ring to get a drink.
Bathroom: The bathroom is an essential feature of every dive bar, because when you drink a lot of inexpensive beer you inevitably end up checking out the can. Plus, a trip to the bathroom temporarily shielded my bleeding ears from the damage music causes when it ricochets off too many cigarette vending machines. "Close the bathroom door when in use — no sneak peeks," read the sign on the door. I locked the door and turned to face the tiny one-person bathroom. Calming in its own ugly way, it had peach tile that ran up the wall to chest-height and lime walls that ran the rest of the way up to the ceiling. Thankfully, the place was pretty clean and smelled like canned freshness.
Customers: A friendly-faced collection (though apparently they have to be told to shut the bathroom door while peeing) wearing T-shirt and baseball caps, the patrons joked with the bartenders and ordered beer after steady beer. While the band was outside smoking, I talked to two men seated at the bar. Joe had rock-star length grey hair and small, narrow eyes. Blakki Wayne was a glam-metal cross between Steven Tyler and Severus Snape. He wore tight red pants and chunky chains around his neck (usually tangled when he wakes up in the mornings, he said). Blakki kept his slippery shoulder-length black hair stuffed under a bolo hat with playing cards — two aces and two eights — tucked into the brim.
"OK, I gotta know," I said, with a gesture at Blakki Wayne's bolo. "What's the deal with the hat? It takes guts to pull off a dead man's hand like that."
"Maybe it's gutsy," Blakki said, taking his hat off and studying it with glazed ice-blue eyes. "But I wouldn't care if someone shot me in the head and ended my miserable life." He smiled lazily, plopped the hat onto my head and squinted at me. "Fucking beautiful," he decided.
I looked into the mirror behind the bar and tried to assess my glam-metal factor instead of thinking about what creatures might be creeping into my hair.
"So you guys didn't come out to see the band?" I asked, giving Blakki his hat back.
"I hate them," growled Joe, sipping beer and slitting his eyes at the unoccupied drum sets. "But I've been coming to this bar for over ten years, and it doesn't matter who's playing."
"I hate them, too," said Blakki brightly. "I've been in three bands."
"What's your band called?" I asked.
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"I was once in a band called the Lipstick Lesbians," said Blakki, tilting his head as if recalling fond memories.
"Why? Were there lesbians in your band?"
"I'm a lesbian," Blakki said. "I love women. From their nose to their toes, and everything in between."
The band stopped playing around 1:30, the same time my crew ran out of quarters and ended their pool game. Things were slowing down — there'd been more people in the band than in the bar for a good while. They'd done a few Lynyrd Skynyrd songs (someone in the bar yelled "Play Freebird!") and then decided — rather arbitrarily — to pack up their shit and hit the road. It was the kind of wrap-up that only a little bar with loyal patrons has — eventually, everyone gets tired and just goes home. No bar fights, no bouncers, no last call. And as I made my way out the open door, I was damn glad to be in flip-flops instead of stilettos.