Review: Hollywood Bars Octopus's Garden and Mickey Byrne's
Hollywood Boulevard boasts about a thousand little cafés, supercute boutiques, and squeaky clean bar/restaurants. But where do the badasses go? This week, I ventured south in an attempt to find some laid-back bars — and came upon a gothic, low-lit ex-biker bar and an Irish pub named after a field hurler whose nickname was "The Rattler." I will never be a badass, but who's to say I can't drink with 'em?
Octopus's Garden: "Johnny Cash was a badass," said Stacy, who was perched beside me at Octopus's Garden's small, black-granite-topped bar. She paused, listening to "Cocaine Blues," which was playing overhead.
" 'Took a shot of cocaine and shot my woman down,' " she quoted. "Damn. What a badass."
"I think it's fair," remarked Steve, the broad, burly guy next to her, who was obviously vying to get in her pants. He wore an Australianish straw safari hat. "You women have been killing us for years."
"True," Stacy contemplated. "Well... as long as we're still ahead."
The Octopus's Garden is a small, dark Hollywood Boulevard bar that used to cater to bikers and now just caters to the local toughs. The walls are painted a deep red, the ceiling black, and the general décor is akin to the kitsch you might find in a teenaged Satanist's bedroom. Small chainlinks line the dark mirrors; blue electric lamps dance from the black shelving behind the bar; a small stage with a "Legends of Rock" poster sits vacant in the corner.
Stacy's vibrant burgundy hair fell from underneath a stylish fedora; a metal skull necklace dangled over her clavicle. She wore black-rimmed glasses and loved every classic song that came on (at one point, she went to an undisclosed location to turn up Tom Petty), but even drunk, she was a badass and whip-smart to boot. ("I'm only Irish by injection," she told Steve, who'd commented on her red hair. "Meaning, I've had Irish in me before, but it's not genetic.") I kind of loved her.
"What about peace and love and all that shit?" she was now saying to Steve, who was falling out of her favor quicker than a bungee-jumping elephant.
"I love peace and love," he said. "They're two of my favorite things."
He paused. "Well, peace, love, and also maple syrup."
Voodoo, the tattooed bartender, refilled Stacy and Steve's beer bucket and munched happily on chicken that someone had brought him from a nearby wing spot. He wore several rainbow-colored, threaded bracelets and seemed to generally enjoy eavesdropping on the weird banter of his patrons.
"So, why do they call you Voodoo?" I asked.
"Well, my first nickname was Sex Shop," he said. "I used to work at one, and the name stuck."
"That is an awful name," I sympathized.
"Yeah, while I was working as a bar back at Coyote Ugly, one of the dance trainers came in and told me I needed a new nickname," he said. "I was christened Voodoo. It stuck. And it worked out well." He pointed at a giant poster on the wall that featured swirls, skulls, and general Ed Hardyish faux tough-guy artistry. At the top of the print was the word Voodoo.
"Nice," I said. "So tell me about the bar."
"We have live music, draw a local crowd," he said. "Karaoke is our worst night."
"That's because our karaoke guy kinda sucks," said Stacy. "I've done every song he has and am so over it. But this is a great place." She looked down at her drink. "Though it wouldn't hurt if drinks were cheaper."
"You guys want to hear a joke?" Steve asked. "It's basically the story of my life."
"Uh-oh," I said.
"So, an old sailor decides to get a prostitute," Steve began. "They're fucking, and during intercourse, he asks her, 'How am I doing, baby?' "
" 'You're doing three knots,' the hooker answered. 'Three knots?' the sailor asked, confused. 'Yeah — you're not hard, you're not in me, and you're not getting your money back.' "
"Here's a fourth 'not,' " said Stacy. "We're not going to hear any more jokes like that."
Mickey Byrne's: Allow me to be utterly honest: I mispronounced Mickey Byrne to the first bartender I came upon — Gary, who had a goatee, a sexy accent, and an eyebrow ring. He delicately corrected me and gave me a bit o' history about the bar and its famous Irish hurler namesake. Unfortunately, I wasn't much listening because I was more interested in recovering from my pronunciation faux pas. Hey, I'm only Irish by injection.
"Byrne was one of Tipperary's greatest hurlers," Gary told me. (I thought "hurling" was what people did when they drank too much, but it turns out, it's also a great Irish field sport.) "His nickname was 'The Rattler.' "
Mickey's notable specials include Beer-and-Burger Mondays (a pint of beer and a hamburger for $10); Pie-and-a-Pint Tuesdays (a pint of beer and shepherd's pie for $13); and Yuengs and Wings Thursdays ($7 Yuengling pitchers and 35-cent wings).
"Are you from Ireland?" I asked Gary.
"Yes," he said. "But I like it here much more."
"Are you kidding?" I asked.
"No! It's nice maybe two weeks a year there," he said. "It's too cold, too windy, and too rainy. But here..."
"It's none of those things, basically ever?" I volunteered.
"I do have one accolade for this bar already," I told Gary. "It's damned hot outside, and this is the coldest place I've been all day."
"Worth coming in for our air conditioning alone," Gary said.
Mickey Byrne's is a "real" Irish pub, with a long wooden bar, framed portraits of Irish athletes — engaged in field hockey, football, boxing, track — and plenty of British brews on tap (Guinness, Harp, Carlsberg, Smithwick, etc.). The spot boasts dartboards, a pool table, and the usual beer signs, plus a hilarious poster that reads "Irish yoga." Beneath those words is a picture of three Irishmen, all passed out in various uncomfortable positions, booze bottles littered all around their bent bodies.
A patron named Tom — who was watching European football on TV — declared that he had lived in London for two years. "I can say with authority that this is a very authentic pub."
"I'd like to go to London," I said with a sigh of wanderlust.
"There are pubs on every corner there," Tom said. "But — that's because there's nothing better to do over there. The weather is awful. Also, the people are miserable. My English friends come here and are shocked at how friendly the people are."
I almost burst out laughing. "Have they ever been up to Boca?"
"Seriously," Tom said. "They're surprised when waitresses actually ask how they're doing. It kind of freaks them out."
After Mickey's, I was pretty sloshed, so I decided it was time to go home. One day, when I grow up, I'm gonna learn to hold my liquor. Then maybe I'll finally achieve the coveted rank of badass, currently held by biker bar babes, tattooed bartenders named Voodoo, and basically anyone of hard-drinkin' Irish descent.
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