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Bloody Marys and musings at Markham Street Pub
Some nights, less is more. Less alcohol, less stimulus, no conversation. Listening closely, the first exchange that struck me went like this:
“You got any N.A. back there for alcoholics?”
He’s a short, slender man with straw-colored hair and a dyed black fu manchu. He asks this over my right shoulder to the babe at the bar.
The back of Markham Street Pub is occupied by Ed Bowman and his crew of bluesmen who are jiving through “The Thrill Is Gone” for a trio of rapt, middle-aged women sitting at a long table in front of the stage. They look as if at any moment the men’ll quit playing and call out the next bingo ball — N39, N ... 39.
“I think we got O’Doul’s,” the gal says.
It’s bright in here — like a highway truck stop. I can see clear from the front corner of the bar to Mark Wright, the drummer. Light denudes us. Bows our heads down when we sip from our glasses.
“Yeah, that import stuff’s the cat’s ass, though,” he tells me, apropos of nothing as the French say.
“Clausthaler, Kaliber, St. Pauli Girl N.A. — almost tastes like real beer.”
He says this wistfully. Real, real wistfully.
Is it cool for a recovering alcoholic to be in a bar? Like, what would his sponsor think? His meeting? I just couldn’t ask him. I don’t have addictions, you know? Recovering addicts, if there’s any grace in it, it’s that they’re part of a fraternity, and just like the Greeks on campus, you really don’t pass judgment unless you’re in it. Sort of like this guy I ran into the other night, Ben.
Young guy, with a lovely drawn out nose and close set eyes like Pete Townshend circa My Generation. We were sitting together in a bar downtown on Election Night, and he confessed he didn’t vote this year. He wanted to, he said. Someone piped up, “Right, like a felon, you wanted to but they won’t let’cha.”
“Exactly,” he said. “That’s it. That’s why.”
There was a moment when everyone adjusted to stupid reality bubbling up in our booth where before it was low-cal. Finally, I said that I didn’t think felons should be disenfranchised forever. Do the time, then back to the grind. Full reinstatement.
“Well, I just have to wait another two years and they told me I’d get it expunged.”
“I like that word,” someone said. “Ex-punged.”
“You know what words I like?” said Ben, perhaps eager to vote on something that day. “Oil, and porch.”
But back at Markham Street Pub, it’s damn empty. Someone asks a barback (or some kind of manager maybe?), What’s the story? How come so empty? He says, “All off hunting, I guess.”
Oh, right. The “modern gun” season for deer was to begin in two hours. (Do you know that on the Game & Fish website they list a season for snipe hunting? That joke just never gets old.)
Markham Street Pub is one of those unambitious bars that I just can’t find much to say about. That, I tell myself, is something commendable to say about it.
Around the place are photos of sports icons like Babe Ruth and Muhammad Ali, and there’s about four television screens turned to college sports, but this ain’t no sports bar. The bartop is marble, and to avoid smashing the bottoms of your bottles there’s coasters from jewelers Bailey Banks & Biddle at Park Plaza Mall with holes cut out like an old rotary telephone, and they’re ring sizers: “Come on, he’s not a mind reader. Let him know your ring size...”
The highchairs offer a thin leather seat cushion tacked down with brass rivets. There’s a good drink selection — a shot of 18-year-old Macallan goes for $20 — and behind the bar sit three round glass jars with spigots and three varieties of flavored vodka. The savory medley — garlic, peppers, tomato, onions, dill — is what makes the Bloody Mary here ($6.50) so good you should order it anytime, not just the morning after. I had one, and it was like a salad and a shot, and afterwards I got sleepy. Salads often do that to me.
On the way out I stole a glance at the alcoholic. Still with his O’Doul’s, thank goodness.