A ponderous question: Why are "bars" so unlike other business establishments? And why are the people you see in "bars" so very frightening and unlike anyone you've seen anywhere else (save the Greyhound bus station)?
In order to rub salve on these concerns, the Mercury has set out to document and classify several bar archetypes--or "barchetypes" as we like to clumsily call them. After reading the following informative article, you will be able to walk into any drinking establishment and say, "Oh. I know you. And you no longer frighten me because I can now classify and lump you into a little box along with the rest of your type. Thanks, Portland Mercury!"--eds.
The Father Figure Behind the Bar
Lucky's Inn, 440 NE 28th
There are all sorts of families in the world, and not just the ones you're born into. There are families of friends, drug addicts, punk rockers, co-workers, and of course, the family at the Lucky.
Rooster is sort of like the Lucky Family's dad. Though it sometimes seems like having Ozzy for your father--he's more like a crazy buddy than an iron hand. Rooster is easy to spot. His hair is long, dark, and curly (kind of like Slash if he used some product), and sometimes he wears it up in a barrette. (As my friend Sara said, "he may be wearing a woman's barrette, but Rooster's all man.") He's a biker, so he often sports a leather vest with no shirt underneath--or strangely enough, a sarong.
The great thing about Rooster is that he's up front; he isn't running his personality through 15 different nice/intellectual/ass-kiss filters like so many dip-shits you meet. When asked why he got into the bar business he says, "because I love to drink and I love to remodel. I moved right near the bar too, 'cause I don't like to drink and drive."
I interviewed Rooster at the end of a six-month stint of being laid up in bed, from a series of unfortunate accidents. He casually talks about the steel spike driven into his leg, to remedy a double break. I said to him, "So, you got in an accident on your bike." His response, "no, but everyone thinks that. I actually stepped on a conduit and fell down." Before that, he sliced his hand on a broken beer bottle and had to get 20 stitches. And before that, he fell on a broken pint glass at Sassy's, which stuck in his side and came a sixteenth of an inch away from puncturing his lung.
But, you have to respect a guy that can pull a bloody, broken pint glass out of his side and never snivel. His motto: "When your women are gone and your luck is shot, it's the alcohol that we still got."
Despite these maladies, he found time to organize a multi-band afternoon barbecue, with proceeds going to the Doernbecher's Children's Hospital. His two goals in life: Do low brow charity events--making them accessible to young people who can spend dough on beer, but not $100-a-plate events. His other goal is to run for mayor.
He's got our vote.
The Old Lady Playing Video Poker
Claudia's Tavern, 3006 SE Hawthorne Blvd
In the world of "barchetypes," the video poker player is a special breed. Ann is a 60-year-old divorcee, who runs a home for disabled veterans and spends roughly $100 from every paycheck on video poker at Claudia's, on 30th and SE Hawthorne. Run by the Oregon Lottery, the machines award credit which can then be reimbursed at the bar for money. Needless to say, with odds that range from one in 2.20 to one in 4.24, the state walks away with a nice chunk of change. Just ask Ann, who plays the game with the speed and dexterity of Data navigating the Enterprise through an asteroid belt.
Hey. I'm a reporter and I was wondering if I could talk to you about the joys of video poker.
Joys?? There ain't no joys, unless you enJOY throwing your money out the window. You oughtta write a story about that McDonald's business on Hawthorne. I'm a resident manager of a housing complex, and we have 14 guys living there that would love to see a McDonald's. They do a lot for children--like that children's hospital?--and none of those Hawthorne places up there do anything. I don't even see why they're open. Have you seen the class of people walkin' around up there? Yeah, well!
So how often do you play video poker?
Often as I can, but you gotta have money! It's a choice, y'know. Tell ya what, between boozin' and drinkin', I'd rather be doin' this. Those days are gone.
What made you give it up?
Got tired of it. I'm 60 years old now. Can't do it like I usta. I used to laugh at people when I was younger for being a "frump," and now look at me--I'm a frump.
You know, do nothin' but work, and play video poker. It's a good game, though. A good game for people who like to be alone.
Why is that?
Because you give up on everything else. You don't care to mingle anymore, it's good for people who don't wanna be bothered by anyone. I don't. Most of the people I know are like that.
You make good money doing this?
Ohhh fair to middlin'. You know, nothin' to write home about. Once in awhile you get somethin', but it's just a way to throw your money away, that's all.
What's the most money you've ever won?
One time in Billings, Montana, on a dollar I won $800. A royal flush. See, but on these machines you can only win $600. In the old days, you could get on a machine and play all day. Now they've tightened them up.
How much of your paycheck goes to video poker?
I dunno. I'd say $100. If I lose more than that, I go home with my tail between my legs. Yep, but it's an addiction, all right.
How often do you play?
Once or twice a month. I can't afford anymore.
That doesn't sound like much of an addiction if you know when to stop.
Yeah, but sometimes you don't, and you wish you had more money. I've heard of people who lose their business, their house, and everything else--on this kind of game. I don't know any of these people, 'cause I'm a solitary person. That's why I play this game. Sometimes you don't want anybody to talk to you. [She loses a hand.]
Oh, crap! You're giving me bad luck!
You want me to leave you alone?
I really wish you would! You should go down to the Jolly Roger though. They'll love you there.
The Creepy Guy in the Male Strip Club
Natural Habitat: Silverado, 1217 SW Stark
Living on West Burnside, I frequently hear a lot of scary, desperate people yelling horrified exclamations like, "Ahhhhhhhhh!" at five in the morning--but I rarely notice prostitutes or sex workers. This is because I'm dumb, and I usually expect them to be glamorous, beautiful women like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.
I'm sure that caliber of sex worker exists somewhere, but not at the Silverado. The male strippers at this exclusively gay mens' bar look like they're 15; they have as much body hair as a fish, and one gets the feeling you could easily snap their little second-grade-girl legs in two.
Then there's Ted--who claims to be a regular at the Silverado. On a Wednesday afternoon at four, Ted was sitting at a table with three other people. One of his front teeth was missing, while another tooth was capped in a gold crown that looked like it might fall into his beer. I guessed he was about 48. He later told me he was 41.
My coworker and I (also female) skulked in and hid in the corner of the bar, mostly because we're wimps, but also because of the intimidating nature of people like Ted. Example: When we walked in the bathroom, there were men peeing in front of us and cigarettes burning in the toilet. Luckily, Ted approached us and asked for a pen.
What Ted does, specifically, is not clear, but "I make a lot of money here," he told us. Then he pulled out a handful of wadded up 20s from his Wranglers, which hung off his hips and exposed his beer gut in a very unflattering way. "I come in here after work and pretty much, well, you know. " he trailed off, but made that I'm-pretending-to-give-a-blow-job mouth gesture (the one where you stick your tongue in the side of your mouth and then use your hand to make thrusting motions).
I tried to weasel further details, but Ted got suspicious. "Who are you?!" he cried, suddenly, just a few inches from my face. "What are you doing? Are you trying to play me?" I tried to convince Ted that I wasn't "playing him," that I was, indeed, from a newspaper, but Ted refused to be fooled. "I was editor of my high school newspaper!" he demanded. "You're too young and cute to be a reporter. I mean, look at you. [He points at my breasts, shaking his head] No way, what do you really want?" Refusing to believe me, Ted got mad enough to revoke the free drink offer he'd made only minutes earlier, deciding that only my co-worker was worthy of a free drink.
Nevertheless, he eventually allowed us a little peek into the life and work of Ted. "I came in one day, and people were looking for action. Once I made that connection, well, there's a lot of people who want it." He trailed off, but once again made lots of indicative hand-motions and eyebrow raises, suggesting something elusive he seemed to think I would understand. Then he told me about his two wives. One was named Cheryl, who "didn't work out so well," and the other was an Australian woman, who now lives in New York.
The last thing Ted told my co-worker and me was that he could probably "use" both of us in his mysterious business. He noted that my co-worker was "really pretty," while I could still be of use, even though I was just "really cute." Then he shook my hand, said "nice to have met you," and walked away.
The Quiet, Hard-Working Regular
Natural HabitaT: Billy Ray's Dive, 2216 NE MLK
43-year-old Kelly Burgess is scruffy looking, bearded, still has most of his teeth, and walks like he sits, slightly hunched over and humble. He's a regular fixture at Billy Ray's Neighborhood Dive, where people know him simply as Kelly.
Kelly works at Uroboros Glass Studios, a renowned local foundry that manufactures and distributes traditional and contemporary art glass. To see Kelly hunched over the copper-top bar at the Dive, one would hardly imagine the way he deftly moves through the hellish ovens, swinging heavy, six-foot ladles, filled with molten glass, mixing colors, scooping, pouring, while pivoting gracefully with swift ballet-like motions.
An Ohio native, Kelly has been a regular at the Dive for going on 10 years, through a succession of different owners and tavern names. Kelly has lived in the house next door (where he now resides) twice, and at one point, even lived in a room upstairs, inside the Dive. "The last time I lived next door was about five years ago. I had a settlement from being hit by a truck. My leg was broken, so that's why I came in. It was easy. There it was. It was a bar. I came in and had a beer. Now, I'm here every day. I'm always here, probably 30 hours a week. Sure, I'm a lush, a drunk, a professional sot. I come in the morning, too, and have some coffee. I usually pay for the coffee. Sometimes I don't. I feel bad about that. I don't know why."
Ignoring his lawyer's advice at the time, he accepted a ridiculously small settlement for his accident. "Bills were piling up, and rent was due...I settled for $4700. My leg is fine now, so it doesn't matter. The bills were paid. But when I got back, I had to move out. Everyone was gone. I was the last one there." I asked him where the accident happened. Without missing a beat, he took a swig of beer and answered, "just north of the kneecap."
The Dive, in its latest incarnation, has been open a little over a year, and like most of the clientele, Kelly has already watched it go through management and employee changes. He thinks the place is going downhill, and may not last much longer, but says that only makes it better. "It's getting to be a battle," he says. "People are taking up sides. There's a posturing now. The bartenders are all about themselves, how they're all getting ripped off, and they're not thinking about the place. This isn't a job, this is a place. As this bar deteriorates, I think people like it more. A bar on the skids. It's a place where you can fucking do anything. You can go and not care and fuck up and get nutty. It's getting better in that way."
To some, it may seem like the Dive is Kelly's end of the road--but he remains optimistic. "I want to get a glass studio together, so I won't be able to spend all my time drinking and boozing. I want to own the cottage in Canada my grandparents built in the '30s and live there as a working artist. This is where I want to go. Artistically, I want to kick everyone's ass in a big way."
Kelly smacks down his empty mug and lights another cigarette. Keeping his eyes on mine, he bows his head. "It's a long crapshoot," he sighs, "but it's right around the corner."
Over-Educated, Under-Employed 27-Year-Old Man
Natural HabitaT: My Father's Place, 523 SE Grand
The newspapers may tell us that unemployment rates are decreasing, but if you're between the ages of 20 and 30, that probably sounds like bullshit. Right now, it seems everybody knows at least three people who are in their mid-20s, college-educated, and unable to find even the most base-level retail job. Many of them are collecting unemployment. Some of them are drinking heavily.
Enter James, age 27, at My Father's Place at 3:30 on a Friday afternoon, drinking a scotch and soda, and carrying a book of essays by Wittgenstein. He is unemployed.
Do you come here a lot?
I'm here almost every day. You know, I'm getting my daily dose of kindness from the friendly bar staff here at My Father's Place, which has the cheapest drinks within a three-mile radius of my house.
What are you doing here this early?
Well, I forgot to come in yesterday.
You don't have a job?
No. In fact, that's what I was doing yesterday; I was at home drinking sake. I didn't make it to the bar.
So what happened to your job?
The people at the corporation I worked for decided that I was a mite bit brash with the customers, and also, I seemed to lack the oversight that's required to have a customer service job. Like "hell being other people." Can I work a Sartre quote into that? I love Jean-Paul Sartre. Notice how I say his name properly.
Are you looking for a job now?
No, I get checks every week from the Oregon Department of Employment or Oregon Department of Unemployment. Anyway, they send me $165 every week, and I spend a large portion of that on liquor. I don't know what happens to the rest of it.
What about food?
I qualify for food stamps based on the amount of money I'm making from the Oregon Dept. of Employment. I only qualify for $10 a month. I've got it now in my pocket. I can blow that $10 on anything I want.
What the hell can you get for $10?
Sushi in a box, that pre-packaged sushi. I like that. You can't spend it on liquor; it's really limiting. So usually, I spend it on mixers, like gingerale, rootbeer, bitters, cream soda. That's where the $10 goes. You can't spend it on liquor, you can't spend it on pet food. But you gotta spend it somewhere.
Do you usually drink at home or at bars?
Both. I drink at home so I can get up the courage to go out and drink. When I was a kid, I would drink a whole bottle of Boone's Farm before I'd start on the bottle of Cisco, because you really needed to drink a whole bottle of Boone's in order to get up the stomach to start in on the Cisco. And that's true now, except on a social level. I have to drink half a bottle of wine just to go out in public.
Do you think you're just going to live like this forever?
Well, at least until they invent diet scotch, because I'm getting a gut from this scotch and soda, and I'm pretty sure it's--I mean, it can't be the soda, there's nothing IN soda, after all, so it must be the scotch. I'm collecting calories, and not spending enough of them.
Is this better than what you were doing before?
Yeah, I had a job and a girlfriend and a house pet--a rat--and the job dumped me, and I would say the break-up was a "mutual agreement," and I really don't know what happened to the rat. So I would say this is a great improvement over the former lifestyle.
Is scotch what you drink at home?
Umm lately it's mostly the real high proofage sake. You can buy Pearl Sake at Fred Meyer that's 18 percent alcohol, and that's the highest proofage thing you can buy at a grocery store. And it's not any more expensive than a decent bottle of wine that's only 12 percent. You really gotta count the numbers. An experienced drinker knows how to get his money's worth, when it comes to proofage.
Hey, do you have a boyfriend?