Two men at the bar are playing a game of uncertain origin called Big Bank/Little Bank. It is a simple game, yet it makes remarkably little sense: The participants' wallets and pockets are relieved of their cash contents, and the individual with the most money—the Big Bank, one explains helpfully—gets to take it all. Questions about the arbitrary nature of this are disregarded as impressive piles of cash accumulate; he who will be declared the Big Bank stops counting at $400. The Little Bank, who proposed playing in the first place, surrenders his own not inconsequential amount of cash to the incredulous Big Bank, who protests that he cannot take it. But that's the way the game works, he is told.
Eventually the two reach a gentleman's agreement that involves the Little Bank buying drinks—a lot of drinks—and (at some future unspecified time) tattoos for the Big Bank and his twin brother, also seated at the bar.
It's Monday night at Sonya's, which has the distinction of being the only gay bar downtown. In fact, only the separate back bar is gay; these men are up front, and their intentness on discovering whose bank is larger has aggressively heterosexual overtones. An inquiry is made about another game rumored to be on the premises, and eventually a battery-operated console with four metal handles connected to it by wires is produced. If a game can be even simpler and more inane than Big Bank/Little Bank, this is it: The handles are held, the game is turned on, and after a random period of suspense, one handle issues its holder a substantial shock. Big Bank's twin, the howling loser of round one, refuses to play again, prompting his own brother to call him a sissy.
The back bar's neon OPEN sign beckons, but it's empty tonight except for a couple of lonely souls singing karaoke to nobody in front of a window that looks out on a darkened Puget Sound. The front bar, on the contrary, borders on raucous. The bartender (dark-haired, handsome, funny) has declared it Name Your Own Price Night; his caveat that he has to agree with the price named renders it meaningless, yet it seems to inspire ordering drinks with abandon. The other bartender (redheaded, handsome even with his mullet, he affects gruffness but is also hilarious) shows up on his night off, to general acclaim, and a round of shots appears magically. Someone knocks over a chair.
It's said that in its former location up by the convention center, Sonya's was the place downtown businessmen would stop for a drink on their way to work as well as after. It's also said that Sonya's has good burgers. The former may have been true; the latter is no longer. As of a couple months ago, the kitchen scaled back: No more burgers. The perpetual special now is liquid: a shot called a Mind Eraser, only $3.
Sonya's, 1919 First Ave, 441-7996.