On the eve of my 21st birthday, I ventured into the night to complete the obligatory rite of passage of going to a bar. An old high school friend braved the journey with me. However, I was such an oblivious goody-goody that I didn’t know the first thing about what was a “good bar “versus a “bad bar” in this town. So we drove around downtown Evansville, in search of the perfect place – perfect meaning crowded with lots of single, inebriated dudes, cheap booze, and loud music.
The first stop was the Peephole, which was not the staple of downtown entertainment that it is today (and one of my favorite bars to stumble to). Dark, quiet, with only a few souls gracing the stools. Over the years, my tastes would expand to embrace this kind of environment, but that night, when the bleary eyes scanned the two novices dressed in their slutty best who just wanted to DANCE, it was decided that a quick exit was in order. Don’t worry. In a few years, I would be back, spending entire Sundays there.
Teetering down the street in heels (fashion often trumps reason when going out), we decided that we would check out the gay bar—it was the one place I had actually heard something about, and even though the chances of making out were slim, it had cheap drinks and drag shows – something that two girls from a tiny town in Indiana found to be delightfully taboo. However, we had no idea where it was, so we continued down Main Street to ask directions at the hoppin’ speak easy that was Hammerheads on a Saturday night.
If I knew then what I know now, I would have known that Hammerheads would become my second (maybe even my first) home. I would have known that I would start going there almost every night to hang out three years later. I would have known that I would experience some of the best (and worst) nights of my life there. I would have known that I would become closer to my best friends, and meet new ones. I would have known that I would fall in love there, and have my heart broken. I would have known that I would experience some of my best stories there. And, at the very least, I would have known that PBR is .50 cents on Fridays, the dart boards are awesome, and the lighting is flattering at 2:30 AM when you are deciding whether the person you are contemplating going home is a river troll or not (experience has taught me that they are almost ALWAYS a river troll).
But I didn’t know this. So when we asked the drunken man hanging over the railing that is miraculously still standing to this day for directions, he half-vomited the way at us and we continued on our mission. We went back to the car (we weren’t drinking yet, EPD), and ended up circling upper Main for about 15 minutes, trying to find the joint. Finally spotting a fabulous queen walking into a non-descript door, we figured we found the right place. Finally, I was about celebrate my entrance into “real” adulthood!
If you have ever been to Someplace Else at 11:00 PM on a Saturday night, you know that you can feel the music before you even cross the street. Approaching the door, the music becomes a living force, and you can feel your teeth pulse with the music. Opening the door was like stepping into what equates to Wonderland for a girl that didn’t experience anything in terms of nightlife before.
Stepping through the door, I was quickly assessed by the hulking door lady bouncer who took my money with a knowing smile. “First time, dear?” she smirked as she scanned my license. Realizing that I probably looked every bit like an over-excited 15 year-old, I schooled my features into a more “I have been going to bars since the day I was born” expression. Looking dreadfully bored, I made my way to the packed bar, and fought through spiky hair, pheromones, and lingering once-overs until I staked out a place where I could order the coolest drink I could think of, and try not to look obvious that I was staring at everything from how the bar looked, to what everyone was wearing.
Maintaining the bored expression was impossible as I ordered my first legal drink. “Vodka and diet,” in a monotone earned me a “Girl, what is up your ass tonight?” and I couldn’t help but laugh. And as I took that first drink, I suddenly didn’t care about what I looked like. I was 21, and I finally could go to any place in town that I wanted after 9:00 PM. A whole new section of time was unlocked for me, and I didn’t have to sit at home or at a friend’s house, or Denny’s, to find something to satisfy my nighttime wanderings (though Denny’s, when you could smoke, was quickly adopted as an after-hours spot when the bars closed. I could write a novel about drunken nights at Denny’s).
That first drink turned into a birthday shot, which turned into a lot more birthday shots (people just love a 21 year old girl on her birthday, right?). My friend and I buzzed around like tipsy bees, talking to anybody that was within hearing distance, and before you can say “wasted”, we were surrounded by about 10 new friends, and I was being dragged on stage for a birthday spanking by a drag queen that was prettier than me.
“We’ve got a birthday virgin!” she crowed, as she pulled me to her with a manicured, muscular hand. I remember giggling my name into a microphone, and the whole bar sang “Happy Birthday” as I tried not to be obvious that I was piss-drunk and about to either A) throw up or B) steal her wig as a souvenir. Luckily, I did neither, and accepted my 21 lashes while the crowd cheered. I remember walking off the stage feeling what I called “grace” and my friend called “retarded staggering”. Then it was downstairs to the dance floor, where me and my 30 new friends writhed and flailed around. When the ugly lights came on, I left feeling euphoric and like a whole new world had opened for me…
…And then I didn’t go to a bar for another two years.
Yeah. Bet you weren’t expecting that, right?
Long story short, I was the oldest in my group of Evansville friends, I didn’t nearly have the confidence that I do now to go out alone, and those new acquaintances I made the night of my birthday were not answering their cell phones (although, the probability that they had no memory of me was high due to alcohol). While this bothered me at first, I found that this is actually a common occurrence when you go out. Sometimes, when you have a great time with people at a bar one evening, it doesn’t transfer over to the next day, or the next weekend. It’s like a fantastic one-night stand—you share a night of intense passion and excitement, but then you go back to your life the morning after, and you don’t capture the moment again. Some nights out cannot be re-created. But that’s a subject for another entry.
Anyway, two years passed, and I was thrust back into the bar scene by a guy I was seeing who loved Show-Me’s ($1 big beers! Pregnant hostesses crammed into short-shorts!) and the Gerst Haus (where I learned that there were more beers than just Bud Light and Coors Light). However, while these can be entertaining venues to pass the nights, they still left me with an empty feeling, like I was missing something…I would think back to my 21st birthday, and wonder if that was just a fluke or if that frenetic energy was real.
Fast forward another year, and I had found a home in 80′s night at Hammerheads (after that relationship ended, I just needed to DANCE again). Gaining bar friends that remembered me the next day, I came back more and more, and soon warmed the stools there on an almost-nightly basis, shooting the shit with my favorite bartenders and living and watching the dramas that often unfold between bar regulars. Gaining confidence that I could talk to any stranger, I widened my bar radius and fell in love with Lamasco, Lanhucks, the Deerhead, and the entire Franklin crawl. In these places, I have seen friendships form, relationships rise and fall, fights ensue, laughter, tears, and many, many drinks consumed in the quest to find something to hold our interest in the night after we leave the daily grind and are too wired to go home. In these places, we have found our own, coming together to fight the good fight against boredom (and sobriety).
It’s true. Evansville is not big. It’s not that cool. We don’t have a lot to offer after 9:00 PM. But we do have some great places in this town to have a drink, dance the night away, hustle some pool, and listen to both fantastic live music and drunken karaoke. There are places where $5.00 could get you wasted, and where you can find exactly what you are looking for, be it a crazy wild scene or a low-key affair. I am starting this blog to write about my local adventures (and misadventures) in the Evansville bar scene.
Stay tuned, kids. It’s about to get interesting.
PS. So, dear readers…what was your first time like in an Evansville bar? Don’t be shy. Share your adventures!