Tag Archives: Jazz

St. Nicks Pub (New York City, New York)

African Nights

By Richard Prins

Not that I wasn’t a Columbia student when I first came to St. Nick’s Pub in 2005; my Swahili professor had suggested the venue for its Africa Night every Saturday, and we made an outing of it, a couple students each from the intermediate and advanced classes. The novelty of socializing with my academic peers convinced me to forgo memorizing a speech I’d have to give in Albany the following afternoon.

I played the native New Yorker and directed our crew of aspiring white Africanists to 149th Street. I had already developed instinctive grudges against my freshman class for their collective reticence to cross 125th. These weren’t first-years; they actually spoke passable Swahili, enjambed entire sentences between our English conversation, and had visited East Africa and done more than ogle exotic animals. They had dreadlocks, and dashikis brighter than my tie-dye, which I also envied as we reached the bright red billboard ST NICK’S PUB and walked down the steps into a tiny narrow bar where instruments were being dragged on stage. Guitars, a bass, a saxophonist with a backwards Yankees hat; what exactly made this African, I wondered.

The waitress in the leopard-skin skirt made us aware of the two-dollar table charge (the complimentary barstools were all taken, and it didn’t occur to us to stand) as well as the two-drink minimum. I asked for coffee, thinking I could stay up all night to memorize my speech, but there was none, so I got a Guinness because I knew what it was. As an 18-year-old unfamiliar with bar etiquette, I didn’t tip. The guitarist’s arpeggios sounded like the Sahara; he sang in smiling tongues even we polyglots couldn’t speak. My colleague stood to dance; I knew soon I’d have to rise to this occasion. She demonstrated the popular dance style of every country she’d ever visited, finishing on our common interest, Tanzania, “Where it’s all in the hips,” and her own percolated. She was electric. Her thickest fuzzy dreadlock bitchslapped my face, and I made a mental note to figure out one day whether my hips were mobile. They were by the time I ran into her a couple years later at a tourist club in Dar es Salaam and chased her across the dance floor like a dying man might chase a pulse.

“I can’t dance like that.” I stood. “But I do a pretty decent hippie-on-acid impression.”

“Acid is for innocents!” she laughed as the keyboardist took a break to dance with her. I let myself be guided towards joy by a second beer and the hollow detonations of a talking drum wedged in an old man’s armpit, which he beat with a stick. What did it matter if I would be speechless tomorrow before a crowd of young activists? The night was coming to life, and my limbs and torso were exploring new rhythmic contortions. Musical guests cycled on and off stage. A Cuban came and blew a shining trumpet – his fedora looked so classy it’s a sin he wasn’t simultaneously smoking a cigar. The waitress recited a lush slam poem; a drunk squealed briefly on a clarinet but was politely ushered off stage. A bald man took over on vocals and sang a song that made us sit back down so we could brace ourselves for its griotic power. Years later I would recognize the song as “N’Toman,” by Salif Keita’s first Afropop supergroup, Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux, and still relish its buoyant refrain.

At 2am the musicians took a smoke break in the backyard patio; mindful of my 9am bus ride to Albany, I said I had to leave. Surprisingly enough, my colleagues wished to follow. It was snowing fluffily. I scooped an armful of it off a brownstone’s ledge and dumped it in her dreads on the way to the 1 train. That was the last time I ever snowed someone. I woke in the morning to a phone call from Albany – there was a blizzard, so I could keep on sleeping.

I only make the trip up to 149th Street a couple Saturdays a year, usually when I’m trying to show off the venue to new friends. I dance so hard they pull me on stage when they can’t find another willing male; I let saxophone solos pinprick my brain and gasp in wonderment; I empty my wallet tipping the band and downing overpriced sugary blonde ales; I wake up the next afternoon and can hardly walk to the kitchen for water because my hips are shaken raw; I fulminate with mirth and pride at everything I’ve acquired from my multiple trysts with the Motherland. An ability to sing along to lyrics whose meaning I don’t know. To greet the Senegalese patrons in Wolof, which has the best “hello” in the world: “Wow-wow!” Wolof’s also the etymological source for words like hip, dig, cool. I’ve put effort into my Africanness, dammit, and Africa Night is my reward. The spiritual nature of the experience becomes only more exquisite.

Exquisite isn’t always a good thing. Exquisite pain, for example. Exquisite disappointment. But I would prefer to experience something exquisite than not. To finger the jagged grain, as Ralph Ellison put it. Unfortunately, most people would prefer a pinch in the cheek to a slap in the face. And I hope they all get fucked in the ass by Lenny Kravitz.

Tonight I have to go there (in order to write this here article). It’s been almost a year (since I spent most of the year frequenting even wilder clubs in Tanzania) so I need a refresher. I was going to go with a fellow St. Nick’s enthusiast who I could sleep with afterwards, but she got invited out to Long Island for the weekend. The last time I went to St. Nick’s, I went alone; I had just extricated myself from a long-term relationship so I was cultivating solitude. I’m not anymore; a sweat-drenched dashiki already makes me conspicuous – I don’t also want to be conspicuously alone. I left a facebook status asking if anyone wanted to see some African music; everyone was either uninterested, or they thought I was inviting them on a no-expenses-paid trip to Dar es Salaam, because the only response I got was from a long-lost friend in Texas informing me that she hula-hoops at a drum circle every Wednesday. So I polish off some Jim Beam after brushing my teeth (bad idea) but before getting on the subway (good idea) and spend the trip listening to South African jazz and Maasai hip hop on my iPod, muttering to myself about how so goddamn many people are interested in African music, or intrigued by it, or feel generally positive and groovy towards it, but so few make any effort to know it. Other than the occasional dreadlocked drum circle or viewing of Fela! – The Musical. Not that both aren’t awesome, in their own way – but what does one really discover? One should see music as Vasco de Gama saw continents!… rape & pillage optional.

Try naming a historical character cooler than Frank Serpico. Sure, they exist, but it’s hard to top a hobo-looking, ballet-enthusiast cop who single-handedly exposed the extent of corruption in the 1970s NYPD and was nearly assassinated by his colleagues in retribution. There’s a reason for the non sequitur; he once said something that I would be remiss not to quote when writing about music. Al Pacino interviewed Serpico before portraying him in the 1973 film of his life, and one of his most pressing questions to the whistle-blower was, why did you do it? Why did you testify against police corruption when the entire NYPD had made it clear you would do so at risk of your life?

Serpico’s reply: “Well, Al, I don’t know. I guess I would have to say it would be because… if I didn’t, who would I be when I listened to a piece of music?”

I like this notion that we are someone when we listen to music; that music acts as a reflective conscience by forcing us to confront our own humanity.

That’s pretentious; I could have just written, isn’t what Frank Serpico said just the most fucking beautiful thing you’ve ever heard? and left it at that.

But I want to know who you will be when you listen to a piece of music. Are you waiting for the spirit to feel you up? Is your untouchedness innocent or lonely, and when it writhes are you also an electric snake, and do you coil through your own spininess? Or shed your skin and flicker your tongue at tomorrow’s edge where each beat is a horizon? Or slither away from all the heroic acts you didn’t perform?

Important questions, these. And who am I each time I venture Uptown, sipping whiskeyed ice tea on the subway so I won’t have to buy too many of their drinks, so I won’t have to feel the letdown of sobriety as I enter the orgy of music, will only feel electricity crossing the diaspora between their instruments and my body? Who am I that Africa Night at St. Nick’s Pub is my favorite music in the city?

“No matter who you are, or where you come from, you are an African,” repeats the guitarist each time he dispatches the tip jar through the crowd – bills which will later be tossed one by one at the musicians. (One must always tip the griot directly. Why do the hunters always defeat the lions in the stories? I once heard asked. Because the lions aren’t the ones telling the stories.)

A text message arrives from a musician friend as the train is rolling over the Manhattan Bridge…  was goin’ on tonight? Probably saw my facebook post – he digs African music. He should dig St. Nick’s – who knows if I ever told him about the place. He should also dig God – he has a lot of spirit inside him, but won’t recognize it as Jesus. We tripped on 2C-E once in high school; he thought he had been poisoned and began calling everyone he knew so he could pin his death on me. Meanwhile I wandered into the bathroom to urinate and felt a supernaturally powerful orgasm rushing through my urethra; it knocked me back on the ground and piss rivulets dribbled in my pubic hair. If he hadn’t been so afraid, God could have touched his genitals too, I frequently remind him; he assures me that my peculiar religiosity is a symptom of schizophrenia, and the public usually takes his side in this ongoing argument.

He asks what the cover is, but the train’s crossed the bridge and entered the tunnel, so I have to get off at Grand to tell him it’s free (not mentioning the astronomical price of a beer) and get back on the next D.

And step into the narrowness and blinkering Christmas lights; the cackling in English, white French, black French, et al. No music yet at midnight, but every barstool and chair lining the wall is taken; the wall is festooned with a collage of photos – as if we’re in the bedroom of a 14-year-old girl who’s got the hots for Charlie Parker. No room to stand without my tote bag from Tanzania getting whacked by the waitress’s beer deliveries.

The only people who come here alone are African. You can walk into a pub posse-less in Africa and emerge with lifelong friends. I suppose it’s a theoretical possibility in America, but I don’t know anyone who makes a practice of it.

By 12:15 I’ve nervously sipped away the entirety of my Sugar Hill and only the percussionist is seated on stage. I would say TIA but that’s for honkie tourists. They put “No Woman No Cry” on the jukebox, which I find offensively obvious, though everyone else seems to enjoy it, and a group is singing along to the “Hey hey” in the chorus. A 21-stringed calabash is placed in front of the drumset, the kora-player rocking short, choppy dreads to contrast with the big lady bassist’s back-length tapestries.

Check my phone; no reply from my friend. Probably thought I was going to poison him again.

With a cascading clash of notes. The guitar & kora entangling like two lovers’ inner thighs. On their way to Harlem, they pass the nomadic pastures of the Tuareg and Peul, zig-zag through the heyday of the Mande Empire, raft down the Gambia River, make an unfortunate detour in Brazil for a bossa nova, land in the South and send everything they learn back home via a passenger pigeon nesting in James Brown’s hairdo.

A pierced-eared pansy is dancing better than me. Stiffer competition than usual in the white-boy-ass-shaking contest. Usually I’m the ringer, but that’s when I have girls with me that want to be hit on by the musicians. The chords become major when they sidestep to Nigeria for Prince Nico Mbarga’s “Sweet Mother,” and reach down to South Africa for “Pata Pata,” without the clicks.

I’m singing along to the Xhosa lyrics when he trills homosexually in my ear, “What are you doing here!”

“I just like the music,” I shrug, and somehow feel like I just gave a lame excuse, in the vein of I only read porno for the articles. His hand is on my far hip and the other one asks my hand for a dance. I let him have it, but let it go limp. I don’t know how to politely explain that I’m not very gay, so I don’t dance with dudes at Africa Night.

The chords of the keyboard pull a cord coiled taut around my heart. A sad flash of lightning that knows unbearable joy coruscates from the guitarist’s face and fingers. A djembe strikes midnight, thirty minutes late. There is not enough room to dance between the bodies but I do anyway, though some dressed-up dickhead keeps tapping my shoulder and frowning because I’ve stepped on his overshined shoes. The birth cries of blues are wailed by this small stage; I can’t tell if the top-shelf liquors are rocking to the bass or only appear to be moving due to the flickering reflection of Christmas lights. I fork over eight bucks for another Sugar Hill, and pitch my tote bag at two folded chairs in the corner, with an unapologetic shrug to the ostensible Columbia students whose shoulders I tossed it over.

Despite their svelte sweaters and impeccably-trimmed beards, I can’t help wondering where tonight might send them…. It was less than five years ago that these sonic explosions dispatched me across the ocean to study indigenous music at the University of Dar es Salaam, to traipse to Chamwino to listen to Kigogo choirs, to jet-set to jazz festivals in Cape Town, to ride with local stars to Dodoma & rap in Swahili, and to chase my favorite bands around Mwenge and Sinza.

Anything, anywhere, to figure out who I am when I listen to a piece of music.

Location In New York City

St. Nick’s Pub [closed]
773 Saint Nicholas Avenue
New York, NY 10031-3925

(212) 283-9728

New Orleans, Louisiana

The Big Sleazy in My Eye

By Robin Attwood

Photos by Horatio Baltz

From within the garden party sang merry voices and calls of joy between people young and bright, with music in their blood. The table was smeared in melted ice, and a spilt bowl of hummus and salad drooped off one edge. Beneath it, Sula the dog awaited hungrily with soppy smacking chops. Joey was singing a song from beneath the yard’s green umbrella: “Beer and whiskey and wild, wild women!”. He reeked of pot and floated nakedly over his guitar, while Badonna handed out parting gifts labeled A Hallmark Moment. This was the going away party for a few friends and myself on our way to New York and then on to Europe.

The spinning flies finally left our saucy plates, as Sarah placed scented tea candles around the outside living room. The scene was lit with white Christmas lights hanging from the branches of trees, illuminating all from the dining table to the large green umbrella over Joey. Every forehead was sweating great beads of salt in the humidity. This day it had been 104 degrees and typically the humidity lingered at 90 percet. My pal Ryan was losing his mind, his eyes spinning, nonsense rambling, mumbling in a guttural tone to himself, yet engaging others in a somewhat sensible conversation on his side of the wooden bench we sat at.

He finally got a job again, now working for Emeril’s chef company uptown, and in so doing had to break up a dog fight during his interview. And for one reason or another he decided to get wasted immediately afterwards. When I swung by his place earlier in the day to drop off my suitcase full of books and instruments, he wasn’t in his usual garb of tattered clothes, a shirt with a transgender on a cross labeled Jesus, or his three year old gray converse. No, today Ryan wore a white chef’s smock and black satin pants and a wide grinning smile that stretched to his shoulders, as if he were the Sheik of Araby. It was an hour or two after this that I met up with him at the garden party in the upper ninth ward – he was still just as creepy and grinning wildly like before… my friend Ryan.

A few weeks ago, Ryan and a fellow I met a number of years before, who was visiting New Orleans on his way up to Georgia, were asked to paint a mural on either side of a van. It was a long white box van, shiny and asking for detail. I never saw the finished pictures, so Ryan gave Chris, the owner, a call to come over to the France street house and show it to us. Ryan and I waited in the lamp lit street across from a red brick apartment complex filled with crack heads and screaming children. But tonight, most were quiet on the block of France and Urquart Street, which can make a person’s skin crawl, pinch up like a cat’s back, and make you aware of every slight noise in every direction for miles and miles of the sprawling New Orleans Ghetto. Eventually a small grey Ford came tumbling over the block’s pot holes, and I recognized Chris’ genuine smile and tall approach of innocence. There was a girl beside him smoking a cigarette, puffing on the tedious bit of tobacco left before the butt. She eyed James and I up and down as if we were to be hung…. And then, she cracked a witty grin introducing herself as Laura from New Jersey. I could tell she had an East Coast accent with a large hook nose and a Sinatra like face. Laura was classic and I needed to find out if she had anything to do with Chris.

Turned out Chris had misunderstood Ryan’s message about bringing his white van with the mural on it. Ryan was not stoked, as he put it himself. We walked back inside the garden pushing open the wooden fence of the property, entering through the back and tip toeing over my friend’s garden beds. I handed out the rest of our Schlitz from the freezer and popped the cork of my wine bottle, sharing it with some others cross legged on a plank of wood near the house. Not long after, Ryan stood up proposing we leave to the St. Roch Tavern and pillage a few pitchers, and in doing so, get as fucked up as possible, continuing our evening romping about the neighborhood dives.

The St. Roch Tavern lies in the 8th ward neighborhood, one block away from Music Street and two blocks away from Arts Street, resting comely on the corner of Mirais and St. Roch Avenue. It’s fun enough. Some nights there are special deals on drinks, like Cheap Pitcher Night, or on Saturday it is bounce night, when DJ Rusty Lazer plays New Orleans’ favorite hot jams. I prefer the local Abita Turbo Dog to all the rest on tap, which is mostly piss beer in a cup. All of the young punks, weirdos, travelers passing through town, and other creative folk come here. It’s probably one of the better known dives for travelers to come to in the country. It’s the real thing! Fights break out all the time, you’ll see scores of gambling tables in the wintertime, and outside across the street there is an art gallery open from time to time. Not the place you want to go if you’re avoiding the scene, but on the nights when you’re up to it, the St. Roch Tavern can be a great way to begin the evening. To your right in the front is a small seating area devoted to the St. Roch Café, which is more or less a restaurant serving typical bar food like burritos, hot dogs, nachos and cheese fries. Towards the back is a small square stage with a carpet on top of it. All types of music can be heard here. Anything from a shitty old time band to a local soul group, or some mix of circus and performance art with an Eastern European flare. Also in the back is a pool table, janky, but it’s got all its balls unlike the old hang out, The John.

Before there was St. Roch Tavern there was a crusty dive at the bottom of the Frenchman Street strip called The John. It used to be the spot, until the management replaced the pool table in back with a ping pong table. It was also the place to find your guy you’d been waiting on around the corner. But all has changed. However, The John is still known for its stiff drinks, smoky red lit atmosphere and toilet bowl shaped seats. The bartenders use Mason jars filled near to the brim, no kidding, with alcohol and just the top of the drink is touched by mixer. I do have to warn you about the John. My friend has developed two ulcers in the past year from drinking their whiskey sours. You can find this smoky oasis on the corner of Frenchman and Burgundy Street just outside the French Quarter.

Ryan really wanted to find some pot for the tumbling evening ensuing, and sure enough after we hit the tavern I bought some from a friend of mine at Mimi’s in the Marigny. Before all this and two pitchers of dark Abita, watching the punks, the crust lords and neon lights glow to a dark and doomy jukebox – a mix of metal and Motown – I talked my friend Carrie, who had been sitting at the bar, into driving back to her place so I could pick up some aderall. Carrie used to study at Oberland in Ohio and ended up becoming the largest scammer of aderall there. She made a wicked living off of it. She is full jewish and knows how to handle money and people well – her honesty is a useful tool. I bought a few orange pills from her and so did Laura. Ryan was out of his mind as he and I began crushing the orange pills into powder, and then railing it up our noses with a twisted dollar that had been laying on the living room table. Laura was going to save hers and stand back, as Chris smiled his beaming happiness all over the night, and Carrie waited for us with beautiful drooping eyelids and a bright full mouth among a head full of black curls. After this we left soon, dropping Carrie back off at the tavern. I gave her a big smooch yelling goodbye, and then someone brought up the idea of paying a visit to the bar Mimi’s.

Jessy Carolina, New Orleans

Mimi’s is a great neighborhood red-lit dive with a pool table and dartboard downstairs, a gourmet restaurant upstairs and a haunted floor of wood you can stomp and shake a leg on. Once we got there I bought Laura a Highlife, fairly cheap for how cheap it is and how cheap this town really is: two dollars plus tip. I remembered it was a Monday, and that my friend’s brass band was playing upstairs. Every Monday before Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns play, my buddy Peter and a girl Miya teach swing dance lessons in lieu of Meschiya’s band at ten o’clock. The Little Big Horns are a revolving group of great musicians, with great senses of humor, that spin in and out of many other traditional jazz bands in town. Playing everywhere from Frenchman Street to Bourbon Street, these musicians work hard around town every night to spread an age of American music well forgotten into the 21st century.

The four of us walked upstairs and found a table, and then sat down to polish off our cold drinks. We got there right in time to catch the last song of the second set. As the Big Horns dismantled I walked up to my friend Steve, who plays a steady washboard, and asked him where I could get some pot. His slicked back hair and bristly black moustache glistened in the dim lamp near us towards the back window. While Steve motioned us outside and down the stair well, I noticed he had a cuff of tattoos wrapped around both his ankles above a pair of cream colored Dixie stomping shoes. Outside we passed around a one hitter and talked percussion history with our buddy Christopher Sax. We’re all stoners, us musicians, and the rhythm only gets worse the more we’re unable to pay attention to time and space – or anything. But all in all, nothing beats a joint and the writhing groove of splash and brass, with Meschiya’s voice of melting butter in the crackle of her ageless microphone.

We listened to their last set, and before Steve left I asked what he was doing after the show. He said going back to smoke at his place, which turned out to be the childhood home of a great jazz composer by the name of Jelly Roll Morton. By the time the group had finished their pints, Steve and Chris Sax had already left. But I had been to the Jelly Roll house in January, with a blues musician and a minstrel and a house full of swing dancers, so I remembered very well how to get there. It was in the ghetto, of course, of the seventh ward. Down Frenchman Street, past St. Claude Avenue, almost to North Claiborne Street, Jelly Roll’s home has been preserved in its red brick painted ambiance on the corner of two streets crossing. The four of us walked in, and I saw tattered brass instruments tacked onto the walls, old posters of dance nights from Los Angeles to Istanbul, 78 RPM records glorified in frame and a number of worn through washboards hanging by the stairwell in the back of the Shotgun home. Steve and I got into it about washboard players, seeing as I am one myself, and started poking videos to play online on his glistening bright laptop. While passing around weed, weed and more weed.

By this time, night was beginning to crawl into morning and the others we’d come with wanted to go home. Chris and Laura dropped Ryan and I off in the Marigny outside his house on Spain and Chartres Street. As barges pushed silently the world’s industry along the river, seagulls flew over head and a train sang along the tracks in the distance between the Marigny and ninth ward, awakening the beginning of another day at the port along the Mississippi.

Ryan and I were talking completely incoherent to each other now, sitting in his living room contemplating the last orange pill, and then decided it was my last night in town and we had better do it all for satisfaction’s sake. Ryan’s house is a two room shotgun of wood floor and decorated walls covered with his charcoal and oil pastel paintings. A number of his photographs taken in New York and Georgia hung on the wall in strange display. The faces and actions of old friends hung like psychedelic trips captured and put up for show. It was just another evening gone wry with beer in our belly and a number of joints to the head. We were lucky Ryan’s girlfriend decided to spend the evening uptown so we had the place to ourselves. Although we railed that one last aderall, I passed out shortly after, as Ryan described something silly to me in his mumbles.

There are many beautiful sights to this city and all its neighborhoods, hung in deep vine and sooty dampness, cobblestone paths and lamp lit buildings, but there is a reality as well, one in which the passing tourists from around the world never gets to see. When you’re all fucked up from Bourbon Street, and all you know about this city is what you saw in the French Quarter and what you heard from the historic buggy rides – it is nothing like what this town is actually like. Bourbon Street, the heralded walk of booze, strippers and shitty Zydeco music, is incredibly expensive. Along Bourbon many of the clubs sell what are called Hurricanes and Grenades, which are essentially bright neon colored mugs of alcohol and toxins whose soul purpose is to make money and waste away people’s vacation stays in the Quarter. Families, I do not recommend bringing your children down Bourbon Street. It is a horrible place full of idiots and sour mornings.

I do have to say, living down here is joy, perilous joy, inspiring and lots of work. Neighborhoods are rough, the bars are full of drunk punks and interesting artists, but something haunts this city. As if in the humid air there breathes both life and death. I would say that a fine line exists sharper in this city than anywhere else. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina still lingers about like a weed that can’t be pulled, and the history of this city’s poverty cries out so loud it breaks a person just to visit.

When I awoke later that day, it was ten o’clock or so. I found Ryan sitting up in the corner of his bed stroking his two cats, shaking slightly kind of frantic with a look of wild space in his dry eyes. I guess he hadn’t gotten any sleep and was waiting on his girlfriend to come home and take care of him. I nodded, understanding what a fucked up evening we had had and left through the front door, unlocked my bike along side the neighbor’s fence, and left. New Orleans is such a seedy place and a reality with no rules but to party. At this hour of the morning there is a real innocence to the Big Sleazy, as if the night before had never happened, or was now just another wounded bout of lust.

Locations in New Orleans

St. Roch Tavern
1200 Saint Roch Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70117-8305

(504) 945-0194‎
Google Maps

The John
2040 Burgundy Street
New Orleans, LA‎

(504) 942-7159
Google Maps

2601 Royal Street
New Orleans

(504) 872-9868

Music Featured

DJ Rusty Lazer

Meschiya Lake

The Little Big Horns

Barcelona, Spain

A Red-Lit Basement

By Bobby Rich

Photos by Sarrah Danziger

The night was similar to every other night we had had in Barcelona. We’d go for a drink and take it from there. If nothing happened we’d go back to our place and have a couple bottles of cava. If something did happen, like we found a party or met some people who were club hopping, we would hang with them until we got bored. This was the easiest way I had found to discover a city. When doing this there was no telling where you might find yourself, who you might meet or what you might end up doing.

The next stop of the night would be Marsella, an absinthe bar. It was a tourist bar, I suppose, but it was the best tourist bar in the city. It was first opened in 1820, and the absinthe, from what I have heard from a reliable source, is brewed in the back of the bar. One thing I can tell you from firsthand experience, I have never been as happily drunk as I have been here. It’s even better when you realize you’ve only spent seven euros to feel drunk.

Bar Marsella

We had met this guy earlier in the night at a bar somewhere in the Barrio Gothic. We had just been standing there at the cigarette machine. Sophia and my friend Claire, who was from Paris and visitng Barcelona for the first time, were laughing and I wasn’t listening to them. There was bad music playing and we had just paid too much for our beer. It was precisely at that moment, when everything was adding up and I was about to be in a bad mood, that I heard a trailing voice pass me: “You from America?” it said. The girls weren’t paying attention to it, but I looked up and saw the man that the voice had come from. He wore a Yankee’s cap, so I pointed to my head and said, “We’re from New York City.”

He said, “Yeah?” It was questioning, as though he didn’t believe me.

I said, “Brooklyn.”

He said, “Yeah?” His eyes sparkled, “I’m from Queens.”



“Off the J?”


“I’m off the J, too. The Flushing stop.”

“That’s where my brother lives.”

We thought about what else we could say.

“Uh-huh,” I muttered, “another friend of mine from Flushing is living here. Right down the street actually.” (This is the friend who told me Marsella makes the absinthe in the back room.)

“I haven’t met anyone from America here.”

“Really? There are people all over Barcelona from America”


“Yeah, I meet them all the time. People from all over the fucking place. Texas, New York, California, Washington. Shit, Claire’s from New Jersey and I’m from Georgia.”

He laughed. “Shit, where in Georgia?”


“Aww,” he said, understandingly. “I’m moving here soon, I think. You know, because the situation in America is so fucked up.”

“Yep,” I said. I had recently watched Zeitgeist, and crazily thought he was talking about how fucked up American politics were. “Well, I really think you’ll like it here.”

We walked away from the cigarette machine and left the girls where they were. I said, “It’s similar to New York here, you have a subway at least. It’s just a lot smaller. You’ll figure it out in no time. If you got New York City down, then this is easy.”

“You know, I don’t know how to get around, so I’m just kickin’ it at my brother’s. I’ve been living in Camden, NJ since ’97.”

I laughed. “Just get a map. Do you even like it here so far?”

“I don’t know. The bitches are different. And they just pass you off like what?

“Well, I guess it’s difficult if you don’t speak Spanish.”

“Naw,” he said, “I do speak Spanish. My father is Dominican and my mom’s Puerto Rican.”

“That makes sense,” I said. For some reason I hadn’t assumed any ethnicity for him. “Well, you’re set then. I think you’ll like it just fine. What are you doing here, anyway?” That was the most New York question I had asked since I arrived in Spain. I felt like I was betraying my purpose for traveling. But sometimes these kind of feelings can be wrong, because the next question this guy asked me was: “You do coke?”

I was taken by surprise at first, but out of habit I then asked, “Why, you selling?”

“Yeah. And this shit’s good, dawg. I’ve seen them cook it.”

“What do they cut it with?”

“Baking soda. Shit’s ninety-seven percent pure.”

“I don’t know.” I was playing the game, the New York game possibly. I wanted a free bump, and he knew it. You at least have to get a gummer before you throw fifty down on a sack.

“Try it,” he said.

“Yeah?” I said, excitedly. But I wasn’t blowing it.

“I don’t care. I just moved here three days ago, and I’m trying to get some regular customers.” He handed me a folded-up American fifty dollar bill.

“How much of this do you have?” I said, referring to the currency.

He opened up his wallet and flashed me the cash. There must of been $7,000 in it. I acted cool, even though I wanted to knock out his teeth and take every cent of it, and then laugh in his face like a banshee in the night. Instead I would make him feel less about himself, since he had no previous international traveling experience. I laughed condescendingly, “That’s like monopoly money here, fool.”

“I know,” he said, but he wasn’t about to give it up. And I let a greedy wave, that had probably shown in my eyes, pass through me and be taken with the winds that howled in the alley. He then asked how much I paid for my ticket from New York City to Barcelona.

“Three-hundred. You?”


“Twelve-hundred dollars!” I repeated. “Man, I’m going to go to the bathroom and do this coke, but you got ripped off.”

“Shit,” he said, “Where did you get it?”

“Cheap Tickets dot com, or something. Be right back.”

I passed Sophia and Claire, who had taken a seat at a table by the window. Sophia looked at me. I wanted to tell her the news, but the girls and I had talked earlier about getting coke and they had said they didn’t want it. I knew both of them would take it for free, but I always like to hold someone to their word.

The bathroom looked very hipster. They had Vice magazine pictures glued to the walls, very attractive women and men necking and sucking and even fucking! Pictures of cops getting head from young Spanish brunettes, bro’s rocking a shaka sign and boning a prostitute over the toilet! Pop culture had become sick and twisted, and I was glad I stayed out of it as much as I could. I hadn’t had cable for over five years, and I thought it was distasteful when someone did. I was so far distanced from what was happening I hadn’t even heard of HD until three months ago.

I shook my head and took my eyes off of the Vice pictures, and then I opened the door to the bathroom and some chick was squatting over the toilet. I closed the door fast, my cheeks running pink from embarrassment. Then I tried to open the other door across from it. It was open, but apparently someone had been waiting in line before me. He pushed me aside and went in. I didn’t start an argument because my Spanish wasn’t good enough to do so. I waited my turn and, when that asshole who had pushed me aside was finished, I went in the stall and locked the door. The coke was folded up in the fifty dollar bill in a little square. I looked inside of it, and there was a lot more coke than I thought there would be. I looked in my pockets for my house key, but I knew it would do nothing for me in this situation. It wasn’t shaped the way normal American keys are shaped (perfect for doing bumps of coke), it was shaped like an old lever key, which is triangular and not useful for doing coke. I searched my pocket for anything that may help me in my mission, but I found nothing. My credit and bank cards had been left at home and none of my coins would suffice. I finally dumped the whole thing into the palm of my hand and lifted it to my nose, sniffing like a pig in heat. I looked into my hand, expecting to see some coke left over, but there was none. I shrugged my shoulders and walked back toward the street, passing the girls and seeing Sophia again. Already I had that coke horniness, and so thought the stuff was good. I interrupted Sophia and gave her a kiss. She didn’t seem to be impressed, but as I walked away we looked at each other and had eye sex right then and there.

I knew she had liked it, and, at the same time, found it surprising. I felt good about it, anyway. At least she didn’t roll her eyes, I thought. That would have been a dagger to the heart.

He was standing outside. “What’d you think?” he asked.

“It’s all right. I think it’s laced with speed, not baking soda. That shit will keep me up all night with the shakes.”

“Naw, I’m telling you, it’s pure. I watch them make it.”

“Alright. Well, let me get your number. What’s your name anyway?”

“Jay,” he said. “Actually let me get your number. Then I’ll call you, and you’ll have mine.”

“Works for me.”

We made the exchange and he said, “Call me anytime. I’ll be around.” We shook hands and went our separate ways: him down the dark alley of Caller de Avinyo, and me back to the bar and the girls.

The girls, once again, were talking, and their conversation couldn’t have been any more boring to me. They were talking about birth control and the effects it had on a woman’s mental state. Claire had recently stopped taking birth control, and now was just going for it without any protection. Sophia and I thought it was a bad idea. The difference between Sophia and I was that Sophia told her it was a bad idea and I didn’t say anything. As far as I was concerned, she could do whatever the fuck she wanted.

Sophia always told the same story about her birth control experience. It went something like this:

(I’m actually going to ask her to tell the story now. I’ll record it and transcribe it later. She is in the room alone with the tape recorder, and I’m in the living room writing this. She’s telling her story, the horror story of using birth control. And she’s not the only woman who has had these problems. If you are a woman and you’re feeling crazy, it’s time to stop blaming it on your period, it’s time to stop blaming it on your boyfriend, it’s time to stop blaming it on your ex-boyfriend, it’s time to stop blaming it on your parents, your husband, or your children. It is none of the above, it is your birth control. Wake up! Read the reviews and the side-effects of your prescription! This isn’t news, ladies. This is a fact, and it may be happening to you! So if you are a crazy bitch, go talk to your doctor right now and get another script, get some Xanax – get something! But take Sophia’s advice to Claire, don’t actually stop taking birth control, just find the one that makes you least crazy. Because truth be told, us guys, we don’t like using condoms. It gives us even less of the pleasure we as men are able to feel. It’s a scientific fact, ladies, that the sexual regions of a woman are ten times more sensitive than a males’. So, in short, honey, baby (whatever the fuck he calls you), go crazy for him, but don’t go so crazy that you bother him and everybody around you. You have to be perfectly crazy to turn your man on. And I mean that with all the love in the world.

Yours truly:


I was smoking my twentieth cigarette by the time Sophia finished her story and I was ready to leave the bar. I knew a place that had good jazz some nights, called The Pipa Club, so I told the girls about it. We had all finished our absurdly small beers, that were quarter pints at a Euro-fifty a glass, and we were ready to go. We had a bottle of wine stashed in Claire’s purse, so the plan was to chug it while walking to the club. The club was about six blocks away at the Placa Reial.

For anyone who finds themselves in Barcelona and want to see good jazz, or wants to play good jazz, go to the Sunday night jam sessions at The Pipa Club. Jam sessions are equivalent to America’s open mics, except jam sessions are themed. At some places it may be Rasta themed, at some places it may be Electro Jazz themed, at some places it may be Flamenco themed – in the case of Sunday nights at the Pipa Club it is acoustic Ragtime and Gypsy Jazz themed. The address is 3 Placa Reial. To get in you have to buzz the bottom right button of the intercom, and they will let you in if they’re open. The bar is on the second floor. The focus there seems to be on stringed instruments, but the musicians are usually open to anything, as long as it fits the genre. I have seen some of the greatest unexpected orchestrations here. Seven guitarists, two violinists and a bassist, half of whom the regulars didn’t know the names of, and they managed to improvise one of the best stringed versions of “Dina” I had ever heard.

Sunday Nights at Pipa Club

The Pipa Club is not all great though. All in all it’s a hit or miss club. I have found Sunday nights to be consistent, but there have been other nights, nights when I was drunk and searching for jazz, only to enter the Pipa Club and find a room filled with Australian and Brazilian tourists wearing silken  shirts with their top three buttons undone, listening to house music, bobbing their heads, and speaking unfathomable babble to women way out of my league. So, in short, go to the Pipa Club at your own risk. And I suggest getting drunk before you get there, because beers are five Euros and straight liquors or mixed drinks are at least seven Euros, and the prices go up from there.

When Sophia, Claire and I got to the Pipa Club this night, after chugging our one-twenty euro bottle of merlot, we didn’t get buzzed in. We walked away from the door looking up to the second story windows, but unfortunately we didn’t see any lights on. I asked Sophia what time it was, and she told me it was past midnight. I knew they had after-hour times on Friday and Saturday, but it seemed strange to me that on Saturday they wouldn’t be open at midnight. “Well, Claire,” I said, “We tried to show you a cool club. I know they’re open on Sundays so, if you wanna, we’ll go there tomorrow.”

“That’d be nice. For tonight, it doesn’t really matter.”

Claire and I started walking to another bar, while Sophia trailed behind taking photographs.

“Are you tired?” I asked Claire. She had mentioned earlier she was tired from not having slept for two nights, and wanted to go home early. “If you wanna go home, it’s no big deal to me. We’ll walk you to your hostel from here. Or do you think you know your way by now?”

“I could probably find my way.”

“To tell you the truth, I’d rather walk you home anyway. That way it will give me an excuse to go to the absinthe bar. ‘Sophia, we’re already in this neighborhood, we might as well get an absinthe.’”

“Okay, okay,” she said.

We stopped completely and waited for Sophia to catch up.

“All right,” I said, “We’re going to walk Claire home.”

“Okay,” she said. Sophia was used to doing this. Claire had only been in town for two nights and we had walked her back to her hostel on both. Granted, it would have been extremely easy for Claire to walk there from where we were, all she had to do was walk straight until she hit Paral-lel. But Claire kept insisting she didn’t know her way, and then Sophia whispered into my ear, “Why don’t we just tell her to go by herself?”

I have always been good at keeping a secret, but never any good at subduing my excitement. “Because I wanna get an absinthe,” I blurted. She didn’t say anything. I had gotten an absinthe every night for the past two weeks, and, in that time, she had gotten used to the flavor, which she initially hated. Still, I knew she didn’t want to go to Marsella. “C’mon,” I said, “It’ll be fun. And I promise, I’ll just have a quickie.”

She pushed me away from her. “That’s what you always say.”

“Well, this time I mean it. One absinthe, and then we can go home.”

She gave me a dirty look that in my mind meant, “Yes, of course you can go to Marsella for an absinthe. I love you.”

I gave her a kiss. She gave me another dirty look.

Bar Marsella is located at 65 Carrer Sant Pau, and, like I said earlier, it is about two hundred years old. Many say it was the first bar in Barcelona. I don’t believe the place has been dusted since the day it opened. There are liquor bottles caked with resin an inch thick lining the interior walls, and chandeliers hanging from the ceiling that are caked with resin just as thick. And just imagine, you can sit there looking at all this and think, “That’s the resin from the cigarettes of Picasso, Gaudi, Hemingway, and Dali!” And then scribble in your little notebook.

Unfortunately Bar Marsella is not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s a great place, and, as far as I’m concerned, the only place to get an absinthe in Barcelona. However, on a Friday or Saturday night it is packed shoulder to shoulder, reminding one of a club in New York City. And don’t go there expecting to hear any music made before 1985. They love to play artists such as The Cure, Queen, and Tom Petty. And they do not take requests, so don’t even try it. Apparently it’s one of their policies.

In no way were Claire and Sophia interested in being at Bar Marsella tonight. They hadn’t told me this, but it was all too clear by their expressions. I walked in with them, we stood in a circle in the middle of the crowd, and I was unable to hear anything they were saying. The crowd was so loud I couldn’t even hear the bad music that was playing. I asked the girls if they wanted a drink, and both said no. “All right,” I yelled over the buzz of voices, “I’ll be right back.”

I went over to the bar and asked for an Absinthe.

“Con agua?” asked the barkeep.

“Si, senior,” I answered. My Spanish wasn’t great, but I knew how to be polite.

The barkeep went to the next customer, and I dropped two sugar cubes into the absinthe. As the sugar absorbed the liquor I looked for the girls, but they were gone. I left my drink where it was and went searching for them. I found them outside smoking cigarettes. “What are you doing?” I asked.

“It’s too loud in there,” they answered.

I was annoyed, but wasn’t going to leave my drink unattended longer than a minute.

The sugar had already started to dissolve into the absinthe when I got back. I used the fork which was placed on top of the glass to mix the sugar. Many people like to light the sugar on fire, but I think that’s just a parlor trick, it’s a novelty, like blowing fire with 151. It becomes trite after a while, and you realize how unnecessary it is. Eventually you just want the drink, and that’s all that matters. Next, I mixed in the water and watched the clear yellow liquid become a milky green. I looked at it with a fiendish glare, and then drank it in two gulps, gagging discreetly on the second. Then I walked back to the girls, feeling congenial now.

“You didn’t have to drink it that fast. We’re fine,” said Sophia.

“I told you I was going for a quickie.” For once I had kept my word on such a promise, and I was sure Sophia was happy she hadn’t waited on me for an hour, like she usually did.

It was at this time that I heard a familiar voice call my name. I looked over my shoulder and saw that it was Dan, Natalia, Xavier, and a couple others whom I hadn’t met. We started talking the shit: “That’s crazy that we just ran into each other like this”, “I tried to call you earlier tonight”, and “What have you been up to tonight?” We sorted through all the bull-shit and decided we’d hang out for a while. With everyone being excited for the next bar, we left bar Marsella behind and at the same time Claire. I hadn’t even realized she was missing until I asked Sophia. Then she told me she had forgotten to tell me that Claire had said good-night.

I didn’t like the next bar we went to. It played techno music, it was packed even more than Marsella (but people were trying to dance), the drinks were expensive, and it was extremely hot. It was so hot in this place that I decided to go outside for a cigarette. To my surprise everyone I had come with was outside smoking a joint. What’s crazy about Barcelona, and possibly all of Spain, is that its citizens are allowed to have two marijuana plants in their home, legally. It’s also legal to purchase weed, but illegal to sell it. It’s common to see a person light a pipe or roll a joint at the bars there, which suited my fancy. I had never been one to purchase weed, but any time it was around I smoked it.

I passed the joint to Dan, and he said the shit was making him tired and that he wanted an upper. I didn’t know Dan well, but I didn’t have any qualms telling him that I had just met a guy from New York who sold coke and delivered, and, if he wanted, I could call him and hook up a deal. Dan asked me if it was any good and I answered, “Well, I’m on it right now, and I like it.” That was a good enough answer for everyone. Xavier, Dan, Natalia, Sophia, and I decided we’d pitch ten each and get a gram.

I called Jay and told him I wanted to get a sack. He told me that wouldn’t be a problem, but that he had gone back to his brother’s and would have to meet me in thirty minutes on Las Ramblas. I confirmed saying, “All right, I’ll meet you there at one-thirty.” Everyone wanted to know the status of the deal, and I told them I was going to meet Jay in a half-hour. That sounded good to everyone, and they all handed me their money. During the waiting period we went back into the club. I attempted to dance for a few minutes with Sophia, but there were too many people and we couldn’t move the way we wanted. “Do you just wanna get some beer on the street and wait for Jay?” I asked Sophia.

“I don’t wanna be here any more than you do,” she answered.

We had a problem getting out of the club though. I told Dan we were going to meet the man and that we would be back in an hour maximum, but he said he wanted Sophia to stay as collateral. But Sophia didn’t want to stay, so I comforted him, reminding him that he had my phone number, my email, and all my other information. I also said I had no intention of ripping him off, and this pacified him.

Like it always happens, the dealer was running late. I tried calling him, I tried calling Dan, I tried calling Natalia, but no one would answer their phone. As I was stressing out, Sophia was gaily taking photos of the prostitutes across the street. I knew they all would think I was sketchy now, but I shrugged my shoulders to this idea, instead deciding to blame it on them for not answering their phones.

Ladies of the Night, Barcelona

So, at quarter past two, I finally get a call from Jay. He’s getting out of the subway right now and he’ll be there in a few minuets. I tell him not to worry about being late and I’ll see him when he gets here. When he does get here the exchange is made with a handshake, and then we both part ways. An hour and fifteen minute wait for a ten second exchange and a fifteen minute high, I think to myself, what a deal!

Sophia and I start walking back to the club that we left, calling Dan and Natalia, but neither will answer their phone. Sophia and I are nervous about this, but at the same time it only means there’s more for us. This revelation brings comfort to our stroll, and we start realizing what beauty we are walking through. Barcelona is truly one of the most fantastic cities in Europe. Besides the Gaudi, just the simple Gothic architecture can make you feel that you are in a different time. All the cobble stone alleys, the terraces, and the dim-lit bars make the Barrio Raval and Gothic romantic at anytime. So Sophia and I decide to hold hands and enjoy it while we can.

Barrio Gothic, Barcelona

By the time we got back to the club it was closed. Sophia asked me if I wanted to call them again, but I said, “What’s the point? We’ve already tried to call them ten times.” She agreed, and we started to leave. But as we were going down the alley to the train station I received a call and looked at the number. It was Dan.

“Where you been, man? We’ve been waiting for you.”

“I tried to call you. You should pick up your phone every once-in-awhile. Hey, we’re at the club, where did you go?”

“Did you get the stuff?”

“Yeah, I got the stuff.”

“We’re going to this after hours club on Cera and Sant Pau. You know where that is?”


“All right. Stay right there. Natalia and I will be there in a minute.”

The after hours club was located at 55 Ronda de Sant Pau and Carrer de la Cera. The place didn’t have a name, nor did it have any specific hours. It was ran by a group of hip African immigrants who threw parties whenever they felt like it, said Dan. All I knew was there was no cover charge to get in, and I didn’t have anything to lose. When we got there we all waited in line for the bathroom, and when it was our turn Dan, Natalia, Sophia, and I crammed into a small stall together and finished the sack in no time. But it was too long for someone who kept knocking on the door.

The dance floor was downstairs in the basement, and it didn’t take long before I realized I didn’t want to be there. Once again it was some bad techno music, which seems to be an overwhelming trend that has spread uncontrollably throughout Europe. Currently I was a little drunk and extremely high on coke, but the music just wouldn’t do. I just don’t like techno, it doesn’t matter how high or drunk I am.

So I decided I would explore the building of this after hours club. In a way it reminded me of a warehouse party, except for the fact that it was located in the center of the city. It was an entire apartment building. The top three floors were personal rooms for the owners to bring their girls into, the ground floor was where the entrance and bathrooms were, and the basement was where the party was. On my way back to the dance floor I noticed a door that was cracked open, and peeked inside. Sitting in a circle were three men and one woman. One guy had a guitar and the other two men were singing call and response, as the woman would clap. It was Flamenco, my first experience with the heart and soul of it, and I couldn’t have been happier.

I went back and retrieved Sophia. The scene was so enchanting in that little room it was hard not to be mesmerized. There was a dim red light hanging above them and they all had six packs beside them. They were crying out there souls to each other, and those who were there were actually listening. Sophia and I just sat there watching, and soon the speed thoughts of cocaine vanished and all we could pay attention to was the next electric moan of the vocalists, and the encouragement of the listeners and the plucking of the guitarists. The next thing I knew I heard someone singing from across the way, and realized there were now more people in this room than there had been on the dance floor.

I had no idea how much time had passed, or where Dan and Natalia were, but that didn’t matter to me. People all over  the room were taking their turn singing now, women were dancing, people were clapping. If you weren’t participating you were watching with amazement. But all good things have to come to an end, and unfortunately this party got broken up by the owners of the club. They were pissed off that everyone was in this room and not buying drinks at their bar on the dance floor. We told them to fuck off at first, but they kept bothering us. In the end, I guess, the owners got what they deserved for breaking up our party, because the cops busted in and everyone slowly began to leave.

Sophia and I commenced our walk to the subway, which runs twenty-four hours on Saturday, but first talked to a street peddler and bargained two beers for a Euro. They tasted nice and cold in the cheap air.

Locations in Barcelona
Bar Marsella
C/ Sant Pau, 65
08001 Barcelona, España
934 427 263
Pipa Club
Plaça Reial, 3
08002 Barcelona, España

933 011 165
After Hours Club
55 Ronda de Sant Pau (at Carrer de la Cera)
08001 Barcelona, Espana

Los Angeles, California

La La

By Marshall Presnick

The first time I noticed was a Saturday night in spring. I was cruising down Sunset from Chinatown, heading to Vine in Hollywood. The windows were down, the music was right, and I was afloat on the electric buzz of life and the city. I had just left a group of friends at the Grand Star in Chinatown. Upstairs at The Grand Star was a dance club, and a pretty cool one on hip hop night, when DJs spun underground – which at that time was rising up to counter the growingly commercial cliché of gangster rap. But we had been downstairs, in the restaurant, listening to the jazz combo that featured an old Chinese guy on drums. Rumor had it that he had played with all the greats, including Charlie Parker, when they would come through L.A. And one night a week, the night the Grand Star hosted live jazz karaoke, he played with anyone who had balls enough to get up in front of the crowd of hipsters and belt out their favorite Sinatra tune. I was on my way into Hollywood to meet another group of friends at Daddy’s – a cocktail bar that had sprung up in the wake of the Swingers era, and whose vibe and décor met all the prerequisites that entailed: deep leather booths, mood lighting that turned all the girls into babies, and bartenders who knew that to get a good tip you needed a good pour. I was in the middle of a perfect Saturday night, and that’s when I knew. The next time I took a plane back to L.A. from New York it felt like coming home. I had lived in L.A. for three years.

Frolic Room, Los Angeles                                                       Photo by Noelle Thurin

Three years is about what it took me to figure out the riddle of Los Angeles, and I think that probably is a decent average. When I first moved there I hated it. I had been there as a tourist a few times, but seeing L.A. from that perspective it seems exactly like what all the critics say it is: a strip mall with palm trees and good weather. The paradox of Los Angeles is that a city which has withstood so much criticism for being superficial, and for fostering superficiality, lives so vibrantly beneath the surface. The city of Los Angeles is obvious only to those who don’t dig. Walking down a street in New York, you can linger at the window of a restaurant, checking out the patrons or the menu. You can hear the music blaring from an underground club on the Lower East Side, pop in and check it out. But L.A. is a driving city, and drivers don’t linger. You have to work at knowing Los Angeles. And knowledge we gain from work just feels more valuable. Everyone loves New York – foreigners, southerners, Midwesterners, even Texans – because it is so easy to figure out the cool shit to do there. But once things click for you in Los Angeles – once you figure out which hamburger stand has the best fries, which Hollywood dive has the best jukebox, which after-hours club spins the best house, which night is free at Spaceland – the city is yours.

Things don’t stand still in Los Angeles. Daddy’s is closed now, or has been turned into something else. The drummer from the Grand Star died, and there is no more live jazz karaoke in Chinatown. People say that Los Angeles has no respect for its own history. Maybe. But Los Angeles is very much alive and life is change and the city keeps moving forward. For every Daddy’s that closes, another spot opens up.  And it’s because Los Angeles has no old-world romanticism about the past, because Los Angeles is on the edge of the continent that points away from New York – from Europe, because the sun sets in the Pacific Ocean and the coming of night means the coming of a brand new day, that there will always be a new Los Angeles to discover.

Sluts For Hire

The first time I saw them was at Mogul’s, just off Hollywood Boulevard next to a family style Italian Restaurant.  When Mogul’s closed they turned it into one of those velvet rope places, Les Deux Café or something, outside of which Lindsay Lohan “accidentally” gives crotch shots to the paparazzi.  That’s what passes for gentrification in Los Angeles.  But back then it was a big box of a room with a wrestling ring pushed up against the stage.  My guess is that in between punk shows they had foxy boxing.  Bob and I were there to see Texas Terri, who had just gotten new tits and was showing them off nightly.  We had taken some cheap trucker speed from the 7-11 on Hollywood and Van Ness and gotten there early to check out the opening bands.  There were less than a dozen people milling around between the bar and the ring, and our expectations were low, when Bimbo Toolshed took the stage.  The super hot strawberry blonde in a Catholic schoolgirl mini-skirt and motorcycle boots strapped on a guitar.  The wiry black dude sat himself behind the drum kit and spun his sticks.  And the goateed guy in a straw cowboy hat lit a cigarette and pulled on his bass.  Then the lead singer staggered onto the stage, with her short bleachy blonde hair looking for all the world like some California chick who had just ridden down the coast with the Jokers Motorcycle Club – cigarette in one hand, and a plastic cup of whiskey in the other.  She teetered on platform sandals, and Bob and I looked at each other as she nearly knocked over the mic stand with her head.  Then the drummer banged out the time in the air, the guitar player spread her feet and ripped into a riff somewhere between punk and good old fashion rock n’ roll, the bass player leaned into the beat, and Swoopo sang.  She was like Janis Joplin with attitude – so much so that I suspected what was actually in her cup was Southern Comfort.  It was real, it was raw, it was ROCK.  But that was just the start of the night.  Then THEY came on.  I had never seen anything like them before.  They looked punk, sure.  They had tattoos, they had dyed hair in various colors.  But they were different somehow.  Maybe it was Miss Koko’s silver corset and giant pink sunhat.  Maybe it was Sam’s tight rubber shirt, or Dennis’s silver pants.  They were punk, but more importantly, they were fun.  As my head began to tingle from the pills, and I could feel every individual strand of hair on my head, Miss Koko took a deep breath.  Then she screamed into the mic: “I’m not a BITCH!”  The guitars answered her first, and then the band: “Yes, you ARE!”  Bob and I looked at each other again.  This was for real.  What followed was a single minute of pure punk attitude, tongue-in-cheek but never sarcastic, playful but never jokey.  And the songs!  Average length a minute thirty.  Fast riffs, loud guitars, the underlying tunefulness only obvious when they reference the opening of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds at the beginning of their paean to Disneyland, Happiest Song on Earth (and their 48 second version of Please Please Me.)  And they all sang, even the drummer!  At one point during the set, Miss Koko and Sam both got into the ring, mashed their guitars together, chords all tangled, and ended up rolling around in the middle of a song, without missing a note. These motherfuckers were TIGHT.  And they were called Sluts For Hire.

Bob and I didn’t hang around for Texas Terri.  We followed Sluts For Hire out to the parking lot where, still roiling from the set and the pills, I riffed an impromptu poem in their honor.  For some reason, they asked Bob and me if we would like to be their managers.  Obviously, despite knowing nothing about managing a band, we said yes.  What I got out of it was the opportunity to follow these guys around the L.A. club circuit – making sure they got their drink tickets, or got paid, but most importantly watching them play, at places like the legendary Al’s Bar downtown; The Garage in Los Feliz, across the street from the also departed best burger stand in L.A. (Jay’s which, like a zombie, has been risen from the dead in a much less attractive state); and Bar Deluxe, the red box at the top of the stairs off Hollywood Boulevard that used to share its parking lot with Musso & Frank.  After trips up to the Bay to play with Bimbo Toolshed, and a crazy tour back and forth to SXSW in Austin (just remember kids, the UFO museum in Roswell closes early), we also became friends, and would end up bowling all night at the departed Hollywood Star Lanes (they filmed The Big Lebowski here, and then they tore it down to make way for a school), where the band would draw more stares than Fred Durst rolling with two Playboy models the next lane over.  I will never forget those days, when I was getting to know Sluts For Hire and my new city at the same time.  It leaves me nostalgic for the departed places of Los Angeles.  The music scene is just not the same.  It was a community back then, and the bands knew each other, and played together, sometimes to crowds that consisted only of each other.  But there’s still Spaceland.  And luckily, in my life, there’s still Miss Koko, and Sam, and Dennis.  My friends, Sluts For Hire.

The Los Angeles Ageless


Musso & Frank’s
The oldest restaurant in Hollywood and the menu is evidence enough.  The menu here is the single most archaic document I have ever read.  If you can wend your way through its old-fashioned organizational system (cheese has its own section!) and ask your grandma what’s actually in some of the ancient dishes, you can have a good meal here.  But more importantly, soak up the atmosphere.  Everyone from Bogie to Chandler to Faulkner to Jim Thompson drank here.  The waiters are pros, not wannabe actors, and the bartenders make great martinis served in properly sized, small, glasses (don’t worry – the little carafe that comes with it holds even more!)  The interior is old-school beautiful, and Al Pacino, Lawrence Fishburn, and Fisher Stevens (having dinner together at the next table) once sang me happy birthday here.

The Burgundy Room
LA Weekly’s Best Dive Bar, 2008
I hear Torrance Jackson is still working the door here.  If so, tell him Marshall says hi, and ask him to sing for you.  The man is a Hollywood institution, knows everybody on the street, and has a great baritone.  Inside, you’ll find good music, dark lighting, and Red Hook on tap.  It’s a rock n’ roll kind of bar, and back in the day they used to set the bar on fire whenever anyone played Ring of Fire on the jukebox.  Unfortunately, some assholes (me and my friends) put an end to that the night they fed five quarters into the machine and played it 10 times in a row.

The Room
Across the street from the Burgundy Room, you used to enter through the alley around back, and you could give the homeless guy parked on a beach chair a buck to watch your car in the lot of the BBQ joint next door.  It’s kind of a lounge type place now – but I think you can still dance here.

The Frolic Room
Possibly the original dive bar.  Still has the best neon sign in L.A.  Small, and not as dirty as it should be.


Korea Town:

You ask me, this is THE place for steak.  Inspired me to learn all the different cuts, and the various attributes of the culotte.  Red leather booths; the Molly salad is their version of the wedge; and ask for the skirt steak special, even if it’s not on the menu.

Soot Bull Jeep
Just a block or so from Taylor’s, this is Korean BBQ at its down and dirty finest.  If you don’t like smoke, and you don’t like meat, don’t come here – the ventilators above each table have seen better days, and meat is what’s for dinner.

The Prince
If you drink Crown Royal so quickly the bartender usually leaves you the bottle, you’re really into Korean Techno, or lawn jockeys and mediocre British landscape paintings are your décor of choice, this is the place for you.  Only L.A. could create a restaurant/bar Frankenstein monster like this.  In a former Art Deco hotel, the Prince is a Korean restaurant where the hotel bar used to be.  I have never tried the food here, because I come for the Asahi and Soju. And so should you.

Karaoke is for attention grabbing solipsists.  Song houses are for people who love to sing.  Rosen’s will rent you a private karaoke room of any size, for 2 people up to 30.  The song selection is large, and you just have to ring the bell and a waiter comes to your room to serve you.  The best part?  The one way mirrors allowing you to watch your neighbors belt out Sister Christian.

El Cholo
Classic.  L.A.  Mexican.

The H.M.S. Bounty
Another bar in a former Art Deco hotel, the Bounty used to be across the street from the Ambassador, the famous L.A. hotel whose famous nightclub was the Coconut Grove, and whose famous kitchen hosted RFK’s famous assassination.  But they tore down the Ambassador to build a school.  To mourn its passing, why not spend the cocktail hour hunched over a stiff one surrounded by neighborhood regulars who might have actually cut a rug in the hopping nightspot across the street?


Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park:

This place is a legend.  It’s what music should be about.  It’s small and they only book good bands – touring and local.  There have been times in my life when I just went to Spaceland – not even checking to see who was on that night.  One night I went to a benefit for Possum Dixon, whose gear had just been stolen.  Beck was the headliner, solo acoustic accompanied by a small beat box machine.  He sucked.  I noticed Pat Smear in the corner.  My buddy Jason noticed Dave Grohl.  Then they both strolled to the stage and put on guitars.  Dave Grohl leaned into the mic three feet from me, and announced, “We’re the Foo Fighters,” then proceeded to play their first concert ever.  I think Monday nights are free.

I’m not ashamed to admit that there was a time in my life when I was at this local strip joint at least twice a week.  “Cheetah’s is different,” I’d tell myself.  And you know what?  It fucking was.  Jezebel was this super tatted Asian chick who only danced to Sabbath.  Athena was eventually arrested for stalking Brad Pitt.  This one chick danced to flapper music and didn’t even take off her clothes.  And then there was Raven.  I don’t think they make places like Cheetah’s anymore.  Where you can hang with your friends and the girls aren’t constantly hustling you for a dance.  But they did once, and it was miraculous.

The Tiki Ti
Warning: this place is SMALL.  I have tried to go here several times but never actually made it inside.  But the place is classic, from what I hear.  Let me know what you think.

The Dresden Room
If you saw Swingers, then you may remember this place.  Another old-school classic.  Wonder if Marty & Elaine, the entertaining if mildly competent jazzy duo, still play?  Me and a departed friend spent a season here once, whiling away bright hot L.A. summer afternoons hunkered over martinis, in the dim cool comfort of the bar.

The Smog Cutter
Speaking of karaoke.  The Asian women who run this tiny dive are crazy.  The crowd is suspect.  The karaoke is awesome.

The Drawing Room
God, I can’t fucking remember the name of the bartender with beautiful blue eyes whose glittery makeup just could NOT keep your attention from wandering to her enormous tits.  It would have been easier if literally 80% of them hadn’t been exposed to the open air.  A classic dive, this place opens at 6 A.M.  There’s a spot across the street called Ye Rustic which supposedly serves a good brunch.  But who needs brunch if you start drinking at 6?

Good Luck
In old Hollywood everything used to be themed: Egyptian movie theaters, Under the Sea car washes, Post-Apocalyptic smog testers – everything.  This bar is themed.  Chinese this time.  I have enjoyed this place on and off since it opened.  Comfy.  Good jukebox.  I once picked up a chick here who looked like Jennifer Connelly and was moping about being dumped by Jacob Dylan.  When I got her home she drank a bottle of gin in one go, took off her clothes, and hid in my closet for several hours.  Sometimes the west-side invasion makes this place suck, though.  Check it out.

My favorite gay/straight bar.  Only on the east side.

La Frere Taix
This is a French Country Cuisine restaurant.  I ate here once, I think.  All I remember is that it was expensive.  But you will go for the lounge.  They have open mics once a week or something.  But again, it’s when the hipsters meet the old regulars that sparks really fly.  And this is one of those places.

The Brite Spot
After the Taix (or before) you could eat here.  It’s just across the street.  A cool guy took over a failing diner and this is what happens.  Good food.  Cool people.  Open late.  Nough said.

The Echo
Prime rock and dance club.  East side.



Mr. T’s Bowl
Yes, this used to be a bowling alley.  For a while, you could get behind the curtain and go backstage with the bands and see the actual alleys – pins and balls strewn in the rubble.  I have seen some awesome rock shows here.  And the tiny bar area still fills with local alcoholics on some nights.  Cheap Miller High Life, and attitude from the bartender – who was almost hot, in that indeterminately Eastern European, super-tight blond pony-tail, and braces kind of way.  The braces are probably off by now.

All Star Lanes
Since they closed Hollywood Star Lanes this is really the only spot to roll.  They recently redid the lanes, and the bar is big – and has karaoke!  I once rolled a 260 here, unconscious.

Locations in Los Angeles

Grand Star Jazz Club
943 N.Broadway (Sun Mun Way)
Los Angeles, CA 90012


Musso & Frank’s
6667 Hollywood Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA

(323) 467-7788

Burgundy Room
1621 1/2 N Cahuenga Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90028

(323) 465-7530
More Info

The Room
1626 North Cahuenga Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90028-6202

(323) 462-7196‎
Google Maps

Frolic Room
6245 Hollywood Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90028-5310

(323) 462-5890
Google Maps

Taylor’s Steakhouse
3361 West 8th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90005-2438

(213) 382-8449

Soot Bull Jeep
‎3136 West 8th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90005-1903

(213) 387-3865
Google Maps

The Prince‎
3198 West 7th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90005

(213) 389-2007
Google Maps

Rosen Music Studio‎
3488 West 8th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90005-2518

(213) 387-0469‎
Google Maps

El Cholo
1121 S Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90006

(323) 734-2773

The H.M.S. Bounty
3357 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90010

(213) 385-7275

1717 Silver Lake Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90026-1221

(323) 661-4380‎

4600 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027

(323) 660-6733
More Info

The Tiki-Ti
4427 Sunset Blvd.
Hollywood (LA), California 90027

(323) 669-9381

The Dresden Room
1760 No. Vermont Ave.
Hollywood, CA 90027

(323) 665-4294

Smog Cutter
864 North Virgil Avenue,
Los Angeles, CA 90029-2941

(323) 660-4626
Google Maps

Drawing Room‎
1800 Hillhurst Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90027-4408

(323) 665-0135‎
Google Maps

Good Luck Bar‎
1514 Hillhurst Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90027-5516

(323) 666-3524‎
Google Maps

4356 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90029

(323) 665-6810

Le Frere Taix
1911 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90026


Brite Spot
1918 West Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90026-3229

(213) 484-9800
Google Maps

The Echo
1822 Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90026

213) 413-8200

Mr T’s Bowl
5621 1/2 Figueroa
Highland Park, CA 90042


All Star Lanes
4459 Eagle Rock Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90041

(323) 254-2579

Swanage, England

A Walk in the Park is Inevitably Interrupted by Some Dirty Old Bum

By Sasha Boyesen

Swanage is a seaside town set on the beach. It is situated at the very tip of the Isle of Purbeck, a penisula where perhaps the only palm tree in Britian can be found. It is so far south it is even blessed with its own weather system. Some days, if you sit-down on the beach, you can look out to Bournemouth and see it pissing down, while you bask in the sunshine on a clear day. In lingering moments you can even see the Isle of Wight in the distance and hear the ministry of defence bombing away at their practice range up in the hills.

View of Swanage

The Isle of Purbeck (explicitly not the ‘Purbeck isle’ but ‘The Isle of  Purbeck’) is in the County of Dorset of south east England. For decades it has been the destination for idylic British holiday-makers. The only way in and out of swanage is a very narrow countryside lane. You can be sure in the Summertime rain or shine you’ll find yourself in traffic stuck behind hoards of merry sunscreen-smeered jolly conservative Mommies and Daddies pulling sticky, screeching Jamesies and Bettsies leaning out of windows back into their cars. They clutch their little plastic sandcastle-buckets and pudgy sugar-stuffed tummies, while the metaphysical stout iconic British-Bulldog pants with pride in the backseat.

Up the road from Swanage is Corfe Castle, home of Enid Blyton, England’s most beloved children’s writer. The genius of “Noddy”, “The Famous Five” and “The Magic Far Away Tree,” the last which was my personal childhood favourite, can be seen clearly in the hills, pasture land, cliff side walks, and woodland; making evident the magic fantasy world that ran rampant in Enid’s mind.

“Oh how I do like to be beside the seaside,” The alltime British holiday maker’s anthem, was surely composed for Swanage. The Funworld Arcade on the beach – equipped with minature carousel – entices all children.  Punch and Judyin the sand 15 Times a Day, Ice-cream, Beach huts, Fish and Chips, the pier, peddle-paddle boats, the steam train: this makes up the picture-perfect image that is Swanage.  Roll up, roll up, folks, this ain’t Cornwall, but it will do.

The Ice-Cream Starts to Taste of Childhood Lost

As I have often done for 18 pounds (extortionate), you can take a bus from Victoria Station in London to Poole. It takes approximentaly 3 hours. You arrive in Poole, a town near swanage. From Poole you can catch a bus to swanage costing a fiver and another hour of your time. But take note, there is only one bus that leaves Swanage for London at 6am everyday. Most likely it will be raining upon arrival, and after passing the lucious greens of the vallies, hedges, and hills on your bus-ride, Swanage may look bleak and somehow gray. There’s something about the old Purbeck stone houses in contrast to the very tastless 6o’s-styled Mowlem Theatre, the supermarket, the drizzle, the pensioners dressed in their fleshy colored clothing, that can make you sigh.

One night some years ago in Harmans Cross (a mile and a half outside Swanage) two of my good friends had come to visit me on the farm where I was living. I was getting a good deal on a static caravan from the farmer there. We walked into Swanage through the woods, had a pint, dawdled around with the locals, and then with the boredom of youth running rife we decided to get coked out in the countryside, which is probably not the best thing for stiffleing boredom. With no real solution to our desires we drank up and marched back toward Harmans Cross, with the sharp countryside air whipping in our ears, listening to The guise of silence that dissolves into melodious fresh bird-song and chirruping insects.

One of my friends visiting at the time was a dashingly androgenous young lady by the name of Joe. To her delight and conveniance, as she had a preference for seducing woman, she was perpetually mistaken for a teenage boy. Myself, Fidan, and Joe came to the edge of Swanage, and we found ourselves outside The Legion Club. Legionaires, British nationalists, etc. were only allowed here. At the door of The Legion stood a lad, 20 something, smoking his fag. “Hey mate,” Joe said to the lad, “What’s going on in there tonight?”

“Aw, nawt much, eh? Just a bit of this n’ that,” said the lad.

I asked the lad for one of his fags and took a post beside Joe. “Hey, Joe, maybe he’s got something,” I murmered.

“Ask then!”

I introduced myself, my companions, and asked the lad if he could score some blow.

“Yeah sure, I just haveta call my mate ang on a sec.” The lad disappeared inside, I felt gleeful to be seeing another side to this strange legionaires joint that had always seemed shady.

The lad reappeared. “Hey, yeah. Girls arn’t alow’d so yell. Hayve to wait here.” The lad nodded to Joe, and Joe grinning at the hilarity followed the lad inside.

Joe reappeared 10 minutes later with the stuff and a very funny story to tell. She had followed the lad down into a stall in the mens room (as he supposed her a bloke) to make the deal. As well as pulling out the Coke, the lad also pulled out his cock. he stood there looking expectant. Joe laughed and suavely said, “I’m not inta that, mate.”


Walking is really the only way to get around Swanage. You may find yourself walking to one of the neighboring villages just to broaden your horizons, and to get the hell out of Swange before the robust everyday British routine gets too much.

You will find the nearest village is a minimum of 2 miles from Swanage (Hence this walking business). Gets a bit iffy after the 5th time.

Up the hill a few miles away, past langton, is Worth Matravers. You can find a gem there by the name of The Square and Compass, the only Pub worth going to for miles. Its round cobble stone walls and steamy windows glowing with a warm light, and the shingled mossy roof, confirms any sensation of timelessness you may have.

Since 1907 The Square and Compass has been run and owned by generations of the Newman family, the pub and venue of exotic weekend delight, shrouded by decades of gossip chattered with well-founded reason. It has been the haunt of oldtimers and goodtimers alike. It was 1776 that The Sloop in Worth Matavers, aptly named as it was the reputable place for smugglers to converge, became an ale house . In 1830 a stone mason by the name of Charles Bower took over and changed the name to The Square and Compass, by which it is now known.

The Square and Compass hosts a selection of annual events that everyone looks forward too: the jazz festival, the stone carving fair, the pumpkin contest, The Square Fair, and somehow every Friday and S aturday you can expect something good. The Square has become very, very well known for delivering in abundance some of the best acts to be found from all around the world.

Mama Rosin, The Luminescent Orchestrii, The Dead Plants, Delaney Davidson, The Hightown CrowsPhilip Clouts Trio, The New Prohibition Band, Rag Mama Rag, The Rude Mechanical Theatre, GadjoPronghorn, and numerous others have all found their way into the back room, nestled in amongst scores of locals and tourists, boozed-up, vice smeared and jolly. Only slightly aware of the saga they are partaking in.

Luminescent Orchestrii

The ghosts of good times, sometimes a classic good time, sometimes a tainted and drug addled good time, sometimes a quiet good time, sometimes the good time of wellies and Barbour jackets and jack russels, sometimes the good time of city dwelling youth well dressed and bubbling, sometimes a good time of gaunt wanderers stumbled upon unknowingly, sometimes the good time of woodfires and musty books, sometimes the good time of drunkenly hugging the wall.

The holiday makers piss off… And now it’s winter.

fucking hell!

The long cold, biting winters that linger eternally in the nip of sea wind bring a feeling of desolation to the villages in the Isle of Purbeck. From Worth Matravers to Swanage the beaches are abandoned and night time swiftly sets in. The locals meet in the pubs and warm their blood with whiskey ciders and draft beers. It can get awfully quiet and lonesome.

Rodger Brown, Philanthropist

Rodger Brown (an infamous local) can be seen peddling his electric bicycle from pub to pub, making his daily rounds of drinking, as he slowly makes his way home up the hill, donning his long white beard, rain mac and cussing breathlessly. He once said to me in his thick Darset accent, “I’ll take ya dawn thayt garden and give ya a good shagging!”

I kindly declined and settled down to drink my ginger wine and watch the crows make their daily jaunt from the rubbish tip to the woods.

Swanage is certainly stuck in her ways.

John Mowlem’s Grave, Founder of Swanage

In fact I just saw Rodger today. True to his routine, and the ways of Swanage, this morning he was sitting outside the pub waiting for it to open. Rodger kindly agreed to pose for a picture. I asked Rodger if he had anything to say about swanage. In reply he didn’t mention the Chalk Cliffs of The Isle of Purbeck, Gallows Gore, John Mowlem the founder of this fair town. He didn’t mention he is a stone mason, nor did he mention the weather. Rodger turned his grubby face to mine and in his flemmy, gruffy voice he said, “Ave an awful, awful day. Just have a bad day!” And then he disappeard inside the pub to commence his drinking.


Locations In Swanage

Square and Compass
Worth Matravers
Swanage, Dorset BH19 3LF

01929 439229

Bands Featured

Mama Rosin

The Luminescent Orchestrii

The Dead Plants

Delaney Davidson

The Hightown Crows

Philip Clouts Trio

The New Prohibition Band

Rag Mama Rag