Wednesday, February 16
The sign painted on the building reads Delicious Food, Great Beer, Philanthropy, but I won’t notice this until I leave. For now, I dart from my car into South Park Abbey, too cool — but wishing I weren’t — to hold a newspaper over my head. The rain is going to deflate my carefully picked-out Afro.
It’s quiet inside: two sweatshirt-clad guys (watching an Aztecs game) and a cozy couple at the bar (all but rubbing noses, these two), a lady fiddling with a microphone near the door. She’s on me before I can settle onto the barstool. “Are you here for the open mic?” Her face is eager. I tell her yes but not to perform. “Oh,” she says. “I thought maybe you were a singer.”
The woman is Sindi Somers, comedienne and current host of the weekly open mic. The rain, she tells me, seems to be keeping people at home. Though the sign-up began at 8:30, only one person has signed up so far.
On the wall to my left, just past the cozy couple, a large chalkboard lists 16 Belgian and craft beers on tap. It also lists the brewery, alcohol content, price, and style for each beer. I’m lost, don’t know where to begin. Amanda (to whom Somers will later refer as “our bad-ass bartender”) suggests the Saison De Lente. I find it on the list, see that it’s made at the Bruery, has a 6.5 percent alcohol content, and is considered a farmhouse ale. I’ll take it.
The lighting is warm and intimate. A string of tiny white lights adds a festive note over the front windows. Even though the room is a large open space, with no separation between the bar and the restaurant — currently crowded with 20 to 25 empty tables — the dim lighting and the glossy wood tabletops give the place a comfy, homey feel.
Into this scene walks a tall, bowlegged gentleman in a Blues Brothers hat and a dark tweed jacket. His wavy red hair hangs in a long, loose ponytail down his back, and he carries a guitar and wheels a suitcase. After Amanda takes his order for a Crown and Coke, he introduces himself to me as Reverend Stickman. His large front teeth are slightly gapped.
By the time Somers steps up to the mic, a handful of people have been seated at tables in the restaurant, and the bar has filled up with three or four more people. Because of the low turnout, Somers offers 20 minutes (instead of the usual 15) to all performers. The Rev is up first. He dedicates the first song to his ex-wives. It’s called, “Thanks to You,” and he says, “When I write songs about my ex-wives, they’re blues songs.” A couple of people snicker.
The sweatshirt-clad guys keep watching the Aztecs game on the TV above the bar. The snuggly couple snuggles, and everyone else watches the Rev.
Amanda brings my beer in a glass with a stem. “Because you’re a lady,” she says. SmilesThen tells me that serious beer drinkers don’t want the heat of their hands to affect the temperature of the beer. Hence, the stem.
The Rev keeps singing. Some people keep talking anyway. Because the Rev and I have exchanged names, I feel as if I should be looking at him, but Amanda brings a plate of wings to the man on the stool next to me, and they look good. “You ordered the hot?” she asks him, setting down the plate. He nods. “Good luck with that.”
The wing-eater’s name is David. He, too, has a long ponytail. And he knows exactly how hot the wings are, thank you very much. He once tried the “Tough Guy” wings (for which you must sign a waiver before eating), and though he “ate them and smiled, it was a little too much.” David drinks a White Russian.
My head is a little swimmy from the beer. I order the sweet and spicy wings on Amanda’s recommendation.
Somers is the first to clap and hoot when Reverend Stickman finishes his set. Others follow with a couple of hoots of their own. When the Rev comes back to the bar, I ask what he thinks about the fact that some people talked during his performance. He says, “People are here to have a good time. Every once in a while they really love you, but when they don’t, you can’t take it personally.”
The people at the tables aren’t eating. Some of them aren’t even drinking. Two young guys at separate tables sit up straight, bearing the nervous looks of pre-performance anxiety.
A tall blonde named Celia is up next. She wears black jeans and Converse sneakers, and she informs us that she’s arrived by way of another open mic at Mueller College. She sings lines like “I wanna get inside your head” and “My heart’s always racing but nobody knows.” The Rev calls her sound “mellow acoustic.” I find it sad-sounding.
Next to me, David sucks his wing bones clean. The Rev tells me he always stays to hear at least one person after him. “To be nice,” he says. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Amanda leans over the bar and says the establishment puts 3 percent of every sale toward the charity of the customer’s choice. We have four to choose from. The Rev and I chat about the charities. Huntington’s disease? Animals? Environment? Cancer? I choose Huntington’s. He picks the environmental cause and says, “If we took care of it, maybe the rest would take care of itself.”
Somers is always the first to clap after a song. Then the people at the tables. Amanda only stops wiping down the bar long enough to clap on every other song or so. David doesn’t clap once.
Amanda puts a plate of wings down in front of me.
“Leave her alone,” she says to the Rev. “She’s gotta eat her wings.”