I was first introduced to Bar Maniac by a promoter in a skirt shorter than her panties. The hottie handed me a flyer announcing the Hollywood flair bar´s opening and then kept sauntering down the sidewalk, cheeky as could be. Five months later, the invitation from ¨Hot Ladies of Rock¨ to ¨Come Swab our Cheeks¨ at the same location seemed to be just more of the same. If Tom Cruise´s anti-psychology rants circa 2005 are passé, what does that say about flair bartending, the theme of his 1988 movie Cocktail? But since fans of heavy metal were uniting to benefit leukemia patients, I figured there couldn´t be a worthier opportunity to visit the place.
I forked over my 15-dollar donation at the door, but the dude in charge wanted more.
Tissue sample? We just met!
¨It doesn´t hurt,¨ the guy assured me, explaining it was a painless swab that would determine which leukemia patient I could help with the donation of my... bone marrow?
I´m no Tom Cruise, but I do happen to know that marrow is on the inside of the bones. Ouch. So I ordered a vodka and soda. The bartender delivered my drink in a plastic lowball glass. Flair? I guess that was the spray of soda and a maraschino cherry.
¨The other cheeks!¨ Door Guy said when a woman jokingly lifted her right buttock off her stool for swabbing.
He handed her a paper cup of water. She took a mouthful, swished and swallowed. Then she rubbed a little plastic stick on the inside of both cheeks and was done.
Door Guy introduced himself as Craig Marks, a physical therapist and personal trainer by day, who, as The Junkyard Cat, fills his evenings by organizing rockin´ charity events like tonight´s. He´d created a dynamic duo with hospital nurse and Who´s Hot in Hollywood booking agent Diane Wiggins. Together, they´ve raised thousands for charities, including cerebral palsy and breast cancer. This night´s cause held special significance, Marks told me; his mother-in-law has leukemia.
While the band Phoenix Nebulin thrashed and its lead singer, a diminutive woman with wild red hair, roared and growled, several people sitting on stools bent over the shiny aluminum bar-top to tend to their donor forms.
I listened to a young woman explain things to some tattooed guys. This was Katharina Harf, the executive vice president of DKMS Americas. The tissue samples, she explained, go into a database to find patient-donor connections. When a match is made, the donor is contacted. Eighty-percent of the time, she assured, the collection is made by a relatively painless procedure similar to plasma donation, except that stem cells rather than platelets are collected.
Harf said she lost her mother in 1991 to leukemia because no such database or donor recruitment existed. That´s when her father founded DKMS in Germany; then they expanded to the U.S., since the gene pool is more diverse, which means more people, especially minorities, can be saved. As she talked, I began to understand: Like eHarmony and Match.com, they determined compatibility to make meaningful and desperately needed hook-ups.
Equally committed to connections, Bar Maniac proved its community service on its flat screen TVs, which showcased all manner of scantily-clad, onsite shenanigans -- body shots, booby flashing, girl-on-girl kissing, and booty grabbing among them. Another Diane, a hospital admissions staffer, had just about seen it all, she told me. She´d partied with the best of the best as a teenager, including Johnny Depp and The Ramones.
But had she ever seen this?
The bartender dropped a lime slice over his shoulder, kicked it with his heel so that it launched back overhead, and then caught the wedge in his drink shaker.
As the band finished its set with an angry song, Linda Doval wasn´t living up to her bad-girl image; she´d registered as a do-good marrow donor. Sure, with a stud driven through the flesh beneath her lower lip she looked like a bad-ass. But did she have what it takes if she was one of the 20 percent of donors who might have a needle inserted into their pelvic bones?
¨I´ve had a baby, so I can handle anything,¨ she replied. ¨If it´s going to save a life, then it´s worth it.¨
What about the guy at the table in front, smoking the clove cigarette with one hand and gripping a camera in the other? The graphic designer and band photographer was a friend of Phoenix Nebulin. And, yes, he´d also volunteered for a swabbing. He handed me a card announcing himself as Eric Keronen. True to his metal-loving Finnish heritage (Finland has contributed H.I.M, the 69 Eyes, and the monster band Lordi that gave the world ¨Rock ´n´ Roll Hallelujah¨), Eric had played guitar in the heavy metal band Mass Hysteria, which was born and died in the ´80s.
¨Why didn´t people just let heavy metal in general rest in peace?¨ I wondered.
¨It´s not over. It´s just underground like it should be,¨ Eric insisted. ¨Commercialism like MTV killed the bad stuff, like hair metal. The good stuff, like Metallica and Pantera, remained.¨
Owner Adrian Oriolo, who´d been a flair bartender for three years at Albany´s Hard Rock, also claimed Pantera as a favorite. So was the bar all-metal all the time? ¨We mix it up,¨ said Oriolo, a handsome Argentine. ¨We play some Top 40, and, you know, people want to booty dance.¨
While the next band, Gaia, played, I talked with Marks, the door guy, who was an avid guitarist in his youth, and co-organizer Wiggins. While we talked I noted the stripper pole at the end of the stage. ¨You think anyone will get on the stripper pole?¨ I asked, noting its fundraising potential.
¨I´m gonna do it!¨ Marks said.
Wiggins laughed her way through the confession that she was taking pole-dancing lessons. I wondered what a 40-ish nurse could bring to the art. Before we could explore the possibilities, the bartender distracted us by jumping up on the bar and pouring a Jäger shot into the mouth of a female patron. The late hours had packed the place and the bartenders were obviously feeding on the crowd´s energy.
¨It´s like pulling teeth,¨ Marks said, when I commented that the numbers looked good for his charity. He said one big-breasted woman declined to pay a cover or become a donor. ¨Is it gonna hurt?´¨ he said, mimicking her. ¨I was like, Did it hurt when you got your tits done?´¨
So she had already suffered to make her contribution to society. I´m sure the lives of many could be improved by a fabulous set of implants. It really depended on the young woman´s plans for community outreach.
Before the evening was over, we were treated to a real flair show, where the night´s star performer, Mauro Garrido -- a national flair bartending competitor -- juggled bottles. He rolled them down his extremities, bounced them off his chin, and caught them on the backs of his hands. It was impressive with the lights on, but in the dark? That´s when things got really tricky.
The lights went out, and while a heavily tattooed assistant squatted on the bar behind him, Garrido tipped his head back, balanced a flaming bottle on his forehead and began juggling others.
¨Ooo, aahh!¨ went the crowd.
Then the assistant blew out a mouthful of 151 and the flame shot out toward the fascinated onlookers.
¨Ew!¨ went the crowd this time, as they wiped the spray of rum from their arms and faces.
Before I left and the cover band Vanity Killz took the stage for the cause, I talked with a couple of pretty faces.
¨Is it a long form?¨ asked 23-year-old Taylor when I asked if she and her friend -- both Bar Maniac regulars who said you could find them there ¨every night but Thursday¨ -- would participate in the night´s cause.
¨I have weak bones,¨ Angel said by way of excuse as she pushed a couple of feet of blond hair over her shoulder.
Taylor corroborated the story: ¨It´s true. She broke her feet -- twice -- by tripping over her high heels.¨
This was clearly natural selection at work -- and, like the genetic technology used to battle leukemia, it proved that science is a beautiful thing.
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