From The Bar ~ Lawn Order

Another segment of a project The Rise and Fall of a Saloon In The Latter Part off The Twentieth Century. These excerpts are not chronological. In fact very little logic prevails…

                                                                1990
                                                           A singular year…
                                                           A singular event…
                                                           A lasting effect…

         George Bush (the elder) is president, Dan Quayle vice…
         Gas is 1.22  a gallon.
         First class postage was a quarter.
         The first Gulf War will kick off in August
         Dances With Wolves will take best picture that year.

               And California passed a new law lowering the blood-alcohol limit.

 “…California laws lowering the legal definition of DUI impairment to 0.08% BAC and requiring the immediate license suspension of persons violating that law have proven to be effective in reducing the incidence of alcohol-involved accidents, according to a recent California Department of Motor Vehicles’ Research and Development Branch publication. In 1990, the 0.08% blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit and administrative license suspension laws were implemented in California and were expected to have a large potential for reducing the incidence of drunk driving. At the time, California was only the fourth state to introduce such a low BAC limit…”

Turn up the lights, the party’s over.  Well, not over…just severely wet blanketed.

The new law was immediately and vigorously enforced and the effects were brutal to the drinking populace.
What used to get you an overnight in jail and a hefty fine now got you jail, license restriction, heavy fines, legal fees and Traffic School.
Overnight, it got inconvenient and very expensive to get pulled over for a DUI.
Some, of course, kept on keeping on, gambling on getting caught.  Some of them never got caught.  The ones who got caught were very often the ones who said “They’ll never catch me.”    But some did get caught and the horror stories abounded… 
“Designated drivers” was tried out.  This particular duty posting was educational when it came to seeing other people getting drunk while the D/D cannot.  But it worked.  Except in cases where the D/D got bored and had “just a couple”…

Since two beers just about put you at the edge and the hard liquor offerings being even more potent, the end result was that people couldn’t risk getting inebriated. 

So they spent less when they went out.
This meant less money to be made in the Saloon business…

     True, there is a morality at work here.   Carrie Nation’s WCTU is still with us in spirit.

The idea is to keep the drunk driver off the road and as such it is a good idea.  Drinking and driving is responsible for a lot of annual agony for a lot of people
Sure enough, toward that end, the new BAC limit worked and the numbers showed it. 

But it really didn’t keep drunk drivers off the road.  But there were less of them. 

 However, the problem with drunk drivers is that they really think they can drive drunk. 

 Science hasn’t found a cure for that yet.  Ya can’t fix stupidity.

Some ‘drunks’ can drive, obviously because not all drunk drivers (using the new .08 rule) get into accidents, get busted or get arrested.   Some people, it could be said, were not all-over-the-road drunk if they tested to be .09.  Technically, legally,  ’drunk’ but still very functional.

Unfortunately  there are some seriously disfunctional drunks who drive regardless of fines, suspensions or probation.  The only thing that will keep those guys off the road is death or jail.

We could try prohibition again but that didn’t work the first time around and there was ample doubt it will survive another trial.

After all that is said and done the fact remains that saloons are a business and this new law had a real impact on everyone who worked in the industry.  And it seemed to affect the media, too.

Suddenly the fun and friendly drunk was no longer an entertaining thing to have as a character on TV.  Writers put fewer of them in scripts. 

In the latter part of the twentieth century you had “show biz” people like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin rightly calling themselves ‘saloon singers’.  They both made fortunes doing it.  The glass in one hand, cigarette in the other always in a tuxedo or expensive suit.  The image was promoted as something to ascribe to, to mimic, to join.  But few people had the opportunity to see Frank and Dean in a caberet.  Even fewer had a cabaret to go to that warranted a tuxedo so the Sinatra/Martin Vegas swinger look was largely fantasy.

 “Cheers” the sitcom based on a saloon, closed in 1993.  True, it went into syndication but it closed its doors.

It was almost as if your parents had come home, caught you being bad and really put The Clamp on drinkage as punishment.

One of the regular Liar’s Dice players was a defense attorney who let it be known that handling DUI’s was his specialty and enjoyed the position of drinking heartily and playing dice with those destined to be his clients.   The Bar became his office in some ways.

No matter what kind of morality is at stake here, the fact remains that the legal limit being tied to .08 BAC had a definite impact on the income of saloons like The Bar. 

One part of the industry fought back and is still fighting as of this writing.

 The brewers. 

 The beer guys.
Gone are the tuxedoes.  Now it’s jeans, a turned around baseball cap to cover the bald spot, am untucked tee shirt to cover the bulge and navel lint and a Budweiser.  The brand may vary but the message in the commercials is the same.  The guy who drinks this stuff and dresses that way is the guy who gets the babes.

Beer advertisers have divided the world into two camps. 

One group is the football loving beer drinkers and the people who drive Detroit’s gas guzzling  T-Rex’s, the pickup trucks and SUV’s. 

The other group is ‘Everybody Else.’

And it is the first group who control the sports industry and sports channels.  Because it is those people who control the Remote.
The beauty of this to the breweries is that the beer drinker might be at the event itself but far more of them are usually at home watching the game on TV.  All drinking beer.

Some “sports bars” draw business based on sports but it now took a close race between teams to make the customer risk driving home from a bar after sitting for three and a half hours drinking beer with the New Law in effect.
But the guy drinking at home doesn’t have to worry about that.
A saloon does worry about it.  They have to because the guy at home is not spending money in the saloons including The Bar.

 A second salvo to the industry was the record/play visual media… the rise of the VCR. and it’s offspring the DVD.
 The effect this New Toy had on the business took longer to impact.  In fact it just kinda slid in there on the sneak… 
 We let it in because, hey, you could record shows to watch at another time.  You could record a favorite show, go out and party and watch the favorite show later.  Helluva deal!
 It seemed like an innocent thing that blossomed into a meteoric success. 

But the new machine had a more compelling trick.
 Now you could actually rent a recent movie, order a pizza delivery and watch the movie from home!
 This meant you didn’t have to get dressed, drive, spend money on a dinner… pay cover charge and pay more money for alchohol per drink that you could have at home much, much cheaper.  

  You didn’t have to risk rejection or otherwise complicating your life or risk embarrassing yourself.  No traffic problems, parking hassles and best of all, no cops…no DUI hassles.
And if you had a squeeze, a lover, why, watching a movie at home  put you near a bed.  Very handy if the Carnal Urge came upon you.  There was the plus of your being able to pause the movie  while you indulged in joyful fornication or made a trip to the fridge or to the john…
 So what Satchel Paige called “the social ramble” was curtailed. 

True, sitting on the couch at home couldn’t match the fun and excitement of The Bar on a good band night… the pheremonic smells in the air, the noise and the lights, the extremely flattering glow of dim lights and candles on the tables that do wonders to a girl’s makeup… the loud bands, their sound deafening yet at the same time comforting.  The dancing… feeling and being felt…

People still went out, to taste that, to remember that, but as they got older they went out less.  They got married.   Stayed home more.  Whoever said two could live as cheaply as one was a damn liar and one of the first budget cuts made in a household funding  is usually Entertainment.
            Things changed in the Saloon business…
            You still had your crop of new drinkers but they were more cautious and post-college carousing suddenly lost its appeal in light of the promised pillorying that a DUI would bring.  And to catch the new batch you had to find a way to adapt to them without alienating your “regulars”, a daunting task and a largely impossible one because musical tastes change and the new guy’s music is seldom appreciated by ‘the regulars’  And your ‘regulars’ are getting older.  

   How did that happen?

          A saloon’s life is short.  They peak fast.
 You only have a little time to be The New Kid On The Block and suddenly, it seems, you start pining for ‘the good old days’.

 A dry season is upon the Serengeti of Saloondom

  And the new law guaranteed that a Saloon, be it New Kid or Fogeybar, was going to have a smaller, more cautious herd to feed on.

From The Bar ~ “Comin’ Through!”… The Waitress

Another segment of a project The Rise and Fall of a Saloon In The Latter Part off The Twentieth Century. These excerpts are not chronological. In fact very little logic prevails…

There is almost a ballet, a juggling act, to watching a good bartender work.
The good ones work best under a little pressure, or so it seemed… hundreds of memorized recipes and no time to write down the requests shouted over the din of a deliriously loud band.
Their hands a blur  lining up the proper glasses, add the ice, mix, pouring the alcohol, sometimes holding multiple bottles in each hand.  The blender screams like a chainsaw that lost a link and magically, the drinks come out right.

If a waitress was on duty she would be helping by adding the final touches, the olive, the onion, the fruit wedge, stir sticks and straws.  Four hands instead of two in a flurry of alchemy, making the drink what it needed to be.  Seldom are two alike and each must have the exact finishing garnish to be correct.

Periodically, a waitress on a busy night will come up with a tray of dirty glasses and empty beer bottles to offload even as she shouts her next order.  Then off she goes with a delivery of what can be to ten items, more if they carried a couple of long necked bottles of beer in the hand not holding the tray.

 “Comin’ Through…!”

From its opening until it finally shut down The Bar had the best looking cocktail crew in the area for an easy fifty miles.  The faces and forms would come and go because cocktailing is a draining occupation and there was quite a turnover.  The Bar had basic requirements and the scheduling followed a formula.  During lunchtime and “Happy Hour” one waitress usually sufficed.  Two, sometimes three, very pretty girls working on band nights.  

 But day or night, “Very Pretty” was the standard…
_____________________________________

She was a piece of work. 
The pretty legs, the nice figure, the sensuous walk and the paint… she had really lovely, soft, hands (Vargas hands) and knew how to wear rings… small and simple rather than garish and showy, to show her perfect manicure.  She moved with a practiced sexuality when she wanted to, stirring lustful thoughts…knowing this but not really caring because she wasn’t looking for a man.  However having the ability to raise lustful thoughts usually meant larger tips. 

It’s a balancing act.  Make the men like her but at the same time she manages to let the women know that she’s not out to Steal The Boyfriend.


She did it very well when she was feeling good…all with a trayload of drinks balanced and high… 
Dolly Parton would have understood her completely but Dolly’s presentation was an act that she turned it into a multi million dollar business. 
The cocktail waitress’s presentation was an act, too, I guess… not quite as lucrative as Dolly’s… not by a long shot…
 But when she put her mind to it she was a Helluva waitress…
______________________________________

Were all of the cocktail waitresses like the one described above? 
Hail, No!
But all of them had some of those qualities, some more than others but the only quality they all had was the “when she put her mind to it she was a Helluva waitress”. 
You hoped.

They were a kaleidoscope of beauty… tall, short, girl next door types, striking model types, some were gamine and cute, others were heartstoppingly beautiful, beautiful enough to be actresses.  Some were slender, some were not, some were tall, some were not, but all had their admirers.  Few were older than twenty five.  Most had problems, in that respect it was just a matter of degree… seemed that way sometimes…

Some of them were going to school…working their way through college.  Some were just ‘going’ stopping at The Bar to see if it was any different than the last one they worked at. and usually finding that the set may change but the script does not.

Some, the new girls saw it as a way to make money for doing almost nothing…

 “Comin’ Through…!”

Consider the left arm of a waitress…

What does a trayload of drinks weigh?  Ten pounds?  Twelve…?
Held at an Egyptian Dancers angle or at a frightening, arm straight overhead height as they glide miraculously through a crowded room …never spilling a drop.

We won’t try to describe how precarious it is to tote a tray full of empty long-necked beer bottles through the same crowd on the return trip.  A crowd steadily getting more inebriated, a crowd mostly concerned with its own pleasure.    Empties are less stable than full bottles.  What keeps them from falling off the tray?  What keeps the drinks from spilling?

It’s a secret that ancient slaves figured out thousands of years ago and passed on to all servants bound or free and the secret is…  

                                  “They won’t spill if you don’t look at them
 …and they don’t!
  A miracle of physics, of balance, based on blind faith that not looking at something keeps it steady.

        Ah, yes… for a large part of the run of The Bar I hired the waitresses…

 Stay tuned… I have stories and fables…

 “Comin’ Through…!”

Paper Dolls by Vann ~ Boudoir

This is one I actually have hanging on the wall in my apartment.  Taken from a magazine tear-out
Because it’s here I can relate what is written on the back.
First line reads “Didn’t get her name” But it has an asterisk and it goes on to say
“Based on a pose by Barbara Bouchet.  Not a portrait” 3/17/93

It was a hard angle for me to catch facially and she ended up looking more like Marlene Dietrich than Barbara Bouchet who was one of “Bond’s Girls” in a James Bond movie of the day.
The face could have come out better but, overall, it’s a nice pose and a fair looking work.
                                                                    

From The Bar ~ Make ‘Em Dance!

Another segment of a project The Rise and Fall of a Saloon In The Latter Part off The Twentieth Century. These excerpts are not chronological. In fact very little logic prevails…

                                                      


A saloon is a man’s domain by virtue of attendance.  Men go to a saloon for the ‘good ol’ boy’ camaraderie…the sport talk… the loud dice play
There are always more men than women in a saloon but the men that are there keep hoping it will change.   Although they seldom admit it, the men like the idea of having women around.

 
If you cannot find a way to attract women, a lot of women, to your saloon what you end up with is a neighborhood bar.  Neighborhood bars are fine, don’t get me wrong but the difference between a neighborhood bar and a saloon that is a nightclub is the difference between a mom and pop grocery and a Supermarket.

 
Most women who go to saloons go there because they want to be entertained.  They want to go out with their friends, male or female to see and be seen, to laugh and have a good time.  Maybe even go home with someone for some joyful carnality.  But, first and foremost, women go to a saloon for one thing…
 Most go because they want to dance!

_________________________
                                                        Yonder comes the invading hordes…
        ‘Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and Loud, Loud Music…’___ old country song


The customer comes into the parking lot, parks the car, gets out and goes to the line that has already formed.  Inside the foyer they see a picture on the wall near the doorman.  It is James Butler Hickok, “Wild Bill” himself, in a small 4X8 frame in the famous photo posed in his buckskins.  Ivory handled Colt pistols thrust, butts forward, one on each side as was his habit and a long, unsheathed, butcher knife carelessly stuck under his belt.
 His hair had been oiled and hung in ringlets his mustache trimmed… he looked Elegant.


“No Sidearms Permitted Within”


 …was the admonition scripted beneath the picture…
Wild Bill in his finest hour reduced to a Xeroxed clipping in a dime store frame…posted at the front door of the kind of business he knew and loved…

The doorman is collecting a cover charge tonight and some patrons groan and challenge the need for this.  They claim they feel insulted that they should have to pay.  They have no real reason to put forth why they should be exempted. 

There is not a mortal living who does not think they deserve special treatment, particularly in places like this.  Special treatment is, after all, status!  Getting special treatment, like getting past the doorman without paying cover or having the bartenders call  you by name, gave some people a sense of importance. 

The truth is “They learn you by what you drink before they learn you by your name.” 

There are some very creative lines used to try to get past the doorman without paying but none of them work because he’s heard them all.  Besides, it’s a good band tonight.  If they’re not on the Guest List they’re out of luck.
They pay their money and go in.  By eight o’clock the band has started and if  the patron is lucky they get a seat. 

The waitresses are busy tonight so it might take a while for the drink to arrive at the table but they know it will eventually get served up.
Or the customer might try their luck at the bar.  One way or another they find their spot and take it all in…

Much as the men may like music that’s really not why they’re there.  They’re either on a date or they’re looking to meet someone.  
Oh, some may say they are there ‘just to have fun’ but it is largely to see and be seen.

But deep down we all know why they’re there… they wanna get laid!
____________

Entering a saloon is almost like being thrust back into your high school years in that you want to be accepted and be deemed popular by joining a group of insecure, self centered creatures that are largely strangers.


     It’s worse, actually.  

    In a Saloon the insecure, self centered creatures that are largely strangers have  been Drinking…
                                                                                            ____The Write Down Book

_____________

It is always interesting to see how individuals scan a room.

 Guys look around to see if they’re noticed.  They ‘check out the stock’ as one guy put it.  ‘Check out the babes.’

The boys do the Turkey Strut and try to catch a Hen…
 Bird Dogging is rampant…
  It is The Mating Dance in full force.

 Women check out the competition.  Then, if they’re On The Hunt, they will do their own version of ‘checking out the stock.’
      Girls don’t worry about being noticed.
      They are women. 
      Everyone notices them.

      They watch the men doing the Turkey Strut with some amusement because the women know that no matter what a guy does or says it is ultimately a ladies choice.  (Please refer to the Mighty Hunter Speech elsewhere in this series).

________________

The difference between a neighborhood bar and a night club is that at a live music Saloon will be having said live music. 
Bands, if they’re hot, a DeeJay if they cannot afford bands or Karaoke if there are severe space limitations.
And if you do it right, women will flock to your saloon, all pretty and bright eyed and the men will follow in at LEAST a three to one ratio if not more.
Get that right and your saloon will make money!
Get it wrong and you just have a neighborhood bar.

The best band years for The Bar were when it first opened up.  One of the bartenders, a lovely lass, tall, with waist length hair, was the Music Director and she did the whole thing, audition the bands live, book them, handle the publicity including print media. 
She even ran the sound board but most of all, she would drive to the different clubs in the area and see who was playing where and what kind of draw they pulled in.  Her “era”, if it could be called that was roughly two and a half to three years. 

The Bar was brand new then, lean and sassy and, outside of a few bars that featured hardcore country, they were the only club for a twenty mile radius. 

Those days had some really great bands.  Most are gone now.  Some are considered absolute legends.  The musical lineup in the first days, actually the first couple of years,  was varied indeed…

There were excellent rock and roll groups… Uncle Rainbow…Stu Blank and his Nasty Habits…50’s retro groups like Daddy-O… marvelous country western flavors like Back In The Saddle…Chuck Wagon and The Wheels…  There was Flip Nunez, among others, for Jazz  which was on Tuesdays…Country flavors on Wednesday, new bands on Thursday and full on rock and roll on Friday and Saturday featuring variations of covers of the music of the day…

All of those bands made people get out on the dance floor.  Made ‘em Dance!

  Those bands are, for the most part,  gone, now, of course.  Saloon bands seldom got out of the ‘club circuit’ in those days and either burned out or graduated to a better paying circiut in their never ending quest for “The Big Time” of Fabulous Fame and Fortune. 
Consequently, most of those bands are just names written in the dust.   If you had never seen and heard them (and most of you have not) they are just that…names.  

Over time The Bar had to cut Wednesday and Thursday night music.  There was no money in it after you staffed the crew, waitresses, bartenders and doorman.  There was also the problem of attendance.  The Bar was, after all, located in a small town.  Not many local folks were in a position to ‘party hearty’ and go to work the next day and there was no reason for tourists to look The Bar up.  The local people preferred to let it all out on the weekends.  So the live music eventually got reduced to Friday and Saturday nights plus Jazz on Tuesday night.

The lovely who did the booking during those heady days eventually left (some say ‘escaped’) the bar business and went on to other things.  Her position was taken by yet another young woman.   It became clear that an era of sorts had passed.  The new bartender/booker was not as successful in her bookings so she too packed up her tent and left.

Was her lack of success simply bad taste in music?  Probably not. 

The Bar had one built in flaw.  It had a posted capacity of 180 people.  Of course, on a good night this  might get exceeded but not by a whole lot.  Some people love crowds, some do not.  It is hard to enjoy yourself in a saloon if you cannot sit and be comfortable at least part of the time.   When you limit how many people can get into your place of business you limit your potential income.  But still, it could be a struggle to keep your 180 patrons coming in steadily.

  Some of the better bands knew they could get more money if they played a larger venue for obvious reasons.  A larger venue meant more money at the door and in most places this money had a direct effect on what the band got paid.  Some bands that played The Bar demanded and got a higher cover charge and just worked for the gate and did very well indeed but these bands were rare and you could count them on one hand.

In any case, T.O. had a budget, a limit to what he would pay bands and that often hinged on a cash plus part of the gate.  Or nothing from the bar and the band takes the gate.
Some bands…and it eventually became most of the really heavy drawing bands…would no longer play there.  It just didn’t pay them what they thought they were worth.

The bands The Bar could get still had some good music and excellent musicians but between the expense of the bands and especially the increasing local competition, the crowds could no longer be taken for granted.
Eventually the band booking duty fell to me.
I’ll start right off and admit to a weak spot when it came to booking bands.  Looking back on it all it may have been something of a liability.
Or maybe it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
I did not drive at the time.   The problem this caused was that I could not go to other clubs and see bands in action.  Audition them live. And more importantly, check out the crowd draw.  See what they brought in. 
I’m a musician.  For a few years I played with the great and the near great as they say, along with a goodly portion of talented amateurs and local saloon bands.  A few years of working in a music store gave me some diversity of exposure and I knew hundreds of musicians on a first name basis but that’s not good enough.

We will come back to my band booking chores in another chapter…

In the meantime, rememeber this…
The paying public wants one of three things from any live music they’re faced with.
They want it unobtrusive if it’s background music.  Maybe that’s’ why they call it background music.
They want it perfectly played if in symphony.

 In a live concert it must be spontaneous and exciting.

But in a saloon…
It must be entertaining at all times.
    ….but more importantly… if you want ladies in your saloon…
                                       You must make ‘em DANCE.