An occasional visitor's view, to add to the great earlier thread. Below the fold in case no one cares. . .
When I travel to a city frequently, I become a quasi-regular in a particular bar. In London, the Holly Tree in Forest Gate. In Dublin, Birchall’s on Ranelagh Road. Roman’s Oasis in Goodyear, Arizona; Mary’s Place in Chetek, Wisconsin; and in Seattle, the Comet.
This seems like a rut, but it’s actually a groove, one best explained in his recent autobiography by the late Roger Ebert. I’m paraphrasing, but he said he always went to Harry’s Bar in Venice when he visited because it provided continuity amidst change. When you go to a bar once a year, you can say: I was here before; I’m here now; I’ll be here again.
As a once-or-twice a year visitor to Seattle since the mid-‘90s, I grew to love the Comet. After a day of touristy stuff or work, I’d stop there in the late afternoon to soak up the sunlight fighting through the dirty windows. Have a few beers, write a few postcards, do the crossword at one of the battered tables. If there was a ballgame on, shoot the shit with the regulars perched on those immobile barstools (which reminded me, in their form and engineering, of the Space Needle). When I first came in, before Seattle bars could serve hard liquor, I watched amazed as people downed countless shots of Sandeman’s Port in lieu of, you know, palatable booze. In 2000, I bought a long-sleeved Comet t-shirt to wear when behind the bar back in Chicago.
The mix appealed to me, a live-and-let-live Pacific Northwest vibe, the mellow upside of the Seattle freeze: older working-class guys, musicians, punks, neighborhood strays both queer and straight. The place had layers of history, manifest in the classic neon sign, the graffiti, the gig posters stapled on the walls. I liked the gags: the dollar bills pinned to the drop ceiling that you had to pony up $2 to have explained. (I refused to play along, then dropped my brother’s name and the bartender folded like a pup tent: Wrap four quarters in a dollar bill, with a thumbtack through one end. Fold the bill like a dart, toss it up to the ceiling and the bartender keeps the change that rains down. Thanks, sucker.) I liked the custom neon above the bar of the late owner, saying (if I recall correctly) “I love all youse people.” I liked the framed fragment of the Kingdome roof that had fallen on the field in 1995. I liked the brass artillery shell that the bartenders threw all change tips towards, a rain of specie ringing off the bottles and the mirror on a busy afternoon. It was unique, itself, unlike any other place, sui generis.
No bar is perfect, though. The only time I was ever in the joint at night, it was a mistake. A buddy from Chicago was in town to visit his in-laws and we met up to shoot pool. He won every game, as I am a terrible shot even when the table is level and the cues true, which they weren’t at the Comet. When he had to cut out, I stuck around and let’s just say that the guy with his name up was a knucklehead who took his billiards a lot more seriously than I do. He thought I was purposefully jobbing him with bad shots to either set up a hustle or just to fuck with him; yet I won without sinking anything when he scratched on the 8 ball. With no other names on the board, it was time for a rematch, and he told me in no uncertain terms that he’d be back to either kick my ass in the next game, or just to kick my ass, and stomped off to piss. I raised an eyebrow at the bartender whose shrug said “What do you want, man, I’ve never seen you in my life, he’s a regular, and he hasn’t actually hit you yet.” I kept my barfight mantra firmly in mind: The only barfight you can ever win is the barfight you don’t even get in. So I downed my beer and went up the hill towards Liberty, leaving the balls racked for Knucklehead to play with himself.
I hear that the Comet will be no more. Another ghost in a city haunted by them. Too bad. I’ll wear that t-shirt when I tend bar this Thursday, in memoriam: Sic transit gloria cometa.