An interesting bar…
The term “nightclub” really is one of the most accurate word usages in the English language. The nightclub is a place where you come together with a bunch of other people and form, for a limited time anyway, a like-minded tribe of people—a club. And the “night” part, well, I have always believed that a nightclub can only really exist at night. Sure, the physical space which it inhabits exists during the daytime. Sure, a person can enter that space from the sunshine of the outside world just as I had done earlier today. But only at night can that space exist in that dimension known as a nightclub. During the daytime it is just a dingy, black-walled room. The magic trickles away to that faraway realm where magic goes when not in use. But once the daylight melts away, that little room becomes that sacred place: the nightclub. So into this splendidly transformed space stepped I, David Martinez, and looked around the room for the first time.
I must have arrived between sets. The music blaring from the speakers was Nirvana. And I’m sure that what with Kurt Cobain being dead and all they weren’t playing at this club tonight. On- stage, five young men criss-crossed the little area, pulling cables to the different microphones and instruments. These guys were setting up their equipment as simultaneously another group of young men removed their equipment. It was a sweet moment of chaos that I had seen a million times before. It was somewhat amazing that all of these people had been able to fit into that dinky stage area. But somehow they had. The transfer of equipment resembled a trail of ants passing crumbs down the line from one comrade to the next.
The stage area was only slightly raised, I would say maybe two feet above the rest of the floor. So it was quite easy for those transferring the equipment to step onto and off of the stage. Personally, I believe that the best height for a stage is about four feet. I have seen many clubs where the stage area wasn’t even elevated, it was just another section of the floor. I have also seen one stage in a
bar in L.A. which had to have been, I swear, twelve feet off the ground for a room that probably held, at max, 50 people—now that was a bizarre sight. But I think that four feet is the optimum stage height.
I had to admit that it was a pretty good crowd for a weeknight. I’ve been to clubs where only 4 or 5 people show up to see a band— which must be discouraging for the band even though it happens all the time. But here were, I would guess close to a hundred people scattered throughout this monstrous room. The place could obviously hold a lot more, but still for a weeknight in the middle of nowhere this was damned impressive. The majority of the crowd members appeared to most certainly be college kids, just as Samantha had said. Although a fair number of people I estimated to be in their mid- to late-twenties—that group which felt much more comfortable hanging out with the college crowd than with the ‘dinner-and-cards’ set from the office. The remaining handful consisted of straggling thirty and over types as well as one man in the corner who I would swear couldn’t have been a day younger than eighty.
In one corner near the stage I noticed a small cluster of kids who looked as if they had stepped out of London, circa 1975. They all had “punky” hair styles of every imaginable color and each one was dressed more wildly than the next. I had to wonder how that kind of look went down in a small city in Indiana.
I checked them out more closely. Now, being a journalist—or at least being perceived as such—does offer a person certain license that others do not have. The most important of which I think I’ve already mentioned: you feel completely well within your right to ask complete strangers the most unbelievably personal questions. Another is that you feel absolutely no guilt about staring at people. After all, you’re observing. So I observed the kids in the punk outfits. Each had the prerequisite strangely luminescent hair color—the entire rainbow was represented on the heads of those kids. Naturally an extreme hairstyle also requires an extreme wardrobe to match. From tattered leather jackets held together by safety pins to
phosphorescent green pants to who knows what else, these kids definitely stood out from the others in the club. And I found myself again wondering how these colorful young people were perceived in this Indiana town. Sure, you see these kinds of people in New York— you see pretty much every type that you can imagine in New York— but I would imagine that right at that moment I was looking at the entire punk population of Terre Haute, Indiana. I looked at them and found myself hoping that life wasn’t too hard for them.
But what the hell? If I was going to wish a relief from hardship for someone then why didn’t I wish it for myself? Certainly I deserved a break by now. Certainly I had been punished enough. Certainly it was time to pull my life out of the sludge into which it had fallen.
I stepped up to the bar and asked the bartender where I could find Samantha. He replied, “sound room” and pointed to a small booth in the back of the club. As I neared the sound room I could see that far from being a room, it was merely a partitioned space which housed the sound-mixing console. And sitting at the helm of the console was Samantha.
“Another of your duties?” I asked.
“Hi,” said Samantha, “Yeah. There’s not anyone else to do the job, so I’m it. Beside, I’m in debt up to my ears for this equipment — this stuff was the main cost of setting this place up — and I’m not about to let somebody who doesn’t know what he’s doing touch the damn thing.”
“How did you learn to do it?” I asked.
“It was either learn to do it or go bankrupt real quick. I’m sure that if nothing was coming out of the speakers, the club would lose some of its appeal.”
“I’d think so. So you’re self-taught then?”
“Well, the guys who sold it to me — they were these Christian metal guys who had been touring with this board for years — they installed it and gave me a crash course. And a Bible. The rest I figured out as I went. “
I glanced over at the band setting up its equipment on the stage. The band was a group of spiky-haired kids with large metal racks of old synthesizers and drum machines. They pretty much looked like The Cars. And for these kids, this was most certainly a retro-fashion statement.
“This next band up, ‘The PDQs’, this is only their second gig, so they’re still trying to find out what they’re all about.”
I left Samantha there in the sound room and made my way back through the crowd toward the bar. Several more people had come in during the time that I had been talking to Samantha and again I was impressed by the size of the weeknight crowd.
The bartender looked up at me and said, “Hey, you’re that journalist, aren’t you?”
“Yes. And you’re the bartender aren’t you?”
“Steve,” said the bartender with a laugh.
“David,” I answered back. “Jesus I feel like I must be on a
wanted poster or something. Everybody seems to know who I am.” “Well, the boss has been talking about this for a long time.” “She’s persistent?”
“You could say that,” replied Steve, “What can I get you?” “Scotch,” I said.
“Well… no scotch.”
“No Scotch?” I asked.
Well, all right,” I mumbled, “I guess I’ll just have a beer.”
I was at a bit of a loss to decipher the expression that came over
Steve’s face just then. It seemed as though he was worried about something. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what might worry a bartender about being asked for a beer. It wasn’t as though I had just asked for some obscure drink that he wouldn’t know how to mix. Maybe he just hadn’t heard me and for some reason he was embarrassed to ask me to repeat myself. So I repeated myself.
“A beer,” I said.
Still Steve appeared to be worried. “Um, okay,” he stammered, “um, I guess she didn’t explain that to you. We don’t have any alcohol here.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean we don’t have any alcohol.”
Now I felt as though I must be the one who hadn’t heard. “No
alcohol?” I asked, “I don’t think I understand. Did you lose your liquor license?”
“We don’t have a liquor license.”
“Yet? Is that what you mean? That you don’t have one yet?” “I mean that we don’t have one, period.”
“But,” I mumbled, lost, “but this is a bar. You can’t have a bar
“It’s not a bar, it’s a club.”
“You can’t have a club without alcohol either. I’ve been doing
this since you were in diapers and I’m here to tell you that clubs serve alcohol. It’s an association that goes all the way back to the beginning of time: People listen to music; they drink.”
“That’s not what we’re about.”
“Not what you’re about?” I fairly shrieked, “Not what you’re about?”
I really could not believe what I was hearing here. A nightclub without alcohol was an oxymoron. Now if they had told me that they were running a coffee house I would have said “fine.” But Seattle had always been referred to as a club. And clubs have alcohol dammit.
“Look,” I shouted to Steve above the noise of the blasting music, “I don’t mean to sound rude, but I need some booze, man!”
And in one of those moments of coincidence which seem to be so perfect as to have been divinely planned, Samantha had chosen that exact moment to cut out the music from the CD and open up her mic to introduce the band which was about to perform. She didn’t fade out the music, rather she just abruptly cut it off, which meant that
the overall volume of the club dropped significantly just at the precise moment that I was shouting, “ I need some booze, man!”
This, of course, was followed by that inevitable moment in which I felt that everyone in the club, hell everyone in the entire world turned to look at me. Without turning to acknowledge their stares, I merely raised my hand as if to admit that, yes, I was the guilty party.
Samantha missed only a beat, then she introduced the PDQs and life went back to the way it had been meant to be in this place at this time. The band came on-stage and I sat staring at the bar, afraid to turn around lest somebody was still looking my way.
Eventually I did turn around in order that I might check out the PDQs. I could see what Samantha had meant when she had said that they were still trying to find out who they were. The keyboard player seemed to be a fairly talented fellow, but the rest of the band didn’t seem to quite be with him. They didn’t have that “tight” thing that every good band has to have. Plus the lead singer didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands as he sang. He couldn’t seem to make up his mind whether to hold the microphone or put his hands to the side or wave them in the air or what. So, as had been foretold to me, the PDQs still needed some work. Or maybe I was being unfairly critical due to my frustration at the lack of alcohol. Looking back on it now, I’m not really sure which it was.
As I sat playing a game with myself of trying to guess the next moves of the lead singer’s hands, the unmistakable flash of a camera bathed the room in instant light. I looked to my left in order to ascertain the identity of the photographer, and who else should I see wielding the camera but Samantha. I looked back toward the sound room and saw that nobody was manning the console. Now, I’ll admit that during the perhaps 20 or 30 seconds that Samantha was away it would be highly unlikely for some incredible audio catastrophe to occur, but you never know. At any rate, she snapped a few photos using a rather impressive-looking 35 mm camera then dashed back to her station at the sound board.
A few songs into the PDQs set I again motioned for Steve. “Are you sure,” I began, “that you don’t have anything alcoholic in this place? Maybe a bottle that you keep stashed behind the counter just for really special guests? In case the President drops by or something?”
“I’m sorry,” Steve replied.
“You’re sure? You’re absolutely sure?”
He nodded his head and walked away.
“Damn,” I mumbled. Had I known that this place was going to
be dry I would have stopped at the hotel bar before walking out the door.
I called Steve over yet again. “Steve, is there anywhere around here where I could get a drink?”
“Well,” he said, “Yeah.”
“Anyplace within walking distance?”
“Well, not really. I guess that you could walk but the nearest bar
would be a pretty good walk.
“All right,” I said forlornly, “Forget I asked.”
I turned around and watched the rest of the PDQs set without a
The moment that the lead singer said “Thanks and goodnight.” I
got up from my barstool—which didn’t deserve the title of barstool because this place wasn’t really a bar—and made my way back to the sound room.
“Okay,” I said as I approached Samantha, “this is quite some practical joke you’ve got going here but let’s end it.”
Samantha didn’t even look up at me. She just continued plugging and unplugging cables in preparation for the next band. “Practical joke?” she asked.
“Yeah, this thing with the no alcohol. Steve over there tells me he makes a mean cappuccino but that he doesn’t have any liquor. You’re really not telling me that is seriously the case are you?”
“This is not a bar,” she replied, “it’s a club.”
“Yes, it’s a nightclub and nightclubs have booze. If you don’t have booze you’re a coffeehouse.”
“It can still be a nightclub.”
“No. It can’t.”
“What is that word?” she began as she finally looked up at me,
“That word for when you argue about the exact meaning of a word instead of just taking it as it was meant?”
“Do you mean ‘semantics?’”
“‘Semantics,’ yeah that’s the word I was looking for. Gina would have known that right off the bat by the way.”
“I don’t care what Gina would have known,” I said, “and I don’t care about semantics either. My question is ‘how in the world do you expect to keep a nightclub going without selling alcohol? You can’t do it.”
“Wait a minute,” she said. She looked up at me and smiled. “Are you really mad or are you just pretending to be mad? ‘Cause I don’t know you well enough to know.”
“Well, I’m. . . annoyed,” I said. And then I began to smile as well, “Since we’re talking semantically, I’m probably not literally ‘mad,’ but still, I don’t understand how you expect to keep this going without selling alcohol. It’s a combination that goes back to the beginning of time: people listen to music; they drink.”
“That’s not true.”
“It is true.”
“No,” she said, “What about in your car? You listen to music in
your car. Are you slamming down a sixer at the same time?” “But that’s in a car.”
“But you’re listening to music.”
“Okay fine. But it’s not live music. When you go to hear live
music, when you actually see musicians standing before you, making music with their own hands and voiceboxes, you want to be drinking. You want to listen to the band and cradle a nice bottle in your hand.”
“What about the symphony?”
“Live rock music.”
“What about in an arena?” she countered. “Well,” I stammered, “that’s. . . that’s different.”
“‘Why?’ Because you’ve got a large percentage of minors in the audience.”
“Exactly!” she shouted, “Exactly!”
“‘Exactly!’ what?” I asked.
“People get into music when they’re teenagers, then stop being
into it when they grow up. I’ve got an uncle who has this huge record collection. Unbelievable. It takes up an entire wall of one room. And he bought most of it while he was a teenager. The newest record he’s got is from 1982. He told me that was the last one he ever bought and he bought it when he was 26 years old.”
“There you go. 26.”
“But that was the last one. Here this guy was an absolute fanatic, he bought more records than anybody else he ever knew, but he stopped completely at 26,” she said. “Look, I’ve gotta get ready for the next band here. So, real quick: remember how I told you that we were geared toward the college kids? Well, college kids are between the ages of 18 and 22. The drinking age is 21. If I sold alcohol, then I’d be turning away three fourths of my audience. So I don’t do that. I want to reach people with music. I want kids to be able to go someplace and see a band doing original music, to see a band that just might someday end up being famous. That’s the whole point here. That’s what we’re about. Didn’t you see the sign?” she asked.
Following her finger to the far wall, I noticed a large hand lettered sign. I wondered how in the world I had missed it before. It took up a huge portion of the wall, and screamed out in big, bold orange letters:
“OUR MISSION IS TO BRING GREAT ORIGINAL MUSIC TO THIS CITY. HAVE FUN. ENJOY THE MUSIC, BUT PLEASE DON’T SNEAK DRINKS IN HERE. IF YOU SUCCEED, YOU WILL ONLY SUCCEED IN GETTING US PUT OUT OF BUSINESS. AND THEN, THE MUSIC WILL DIE — THE MANAGEMENT.”
I looked at the sign. I shook my head. Two words came out of my mouth: “Oh, Jesus…”