It was all hot and sweaty at Kendall's last Thursday night, and there was entirely too much TV--just TV for TV's sake, not even good shows. A Kevin Bacon movie on TNT, Elimidate, a fat-burning infomercial, some gray shows on AMC and the History Channel, and the news all blinked simultaneously on large-screen plasmas. The constant clink of beer bottles being tossed into a trash can was about all I could hear over the din of a bunch of tone-deaf dudes yelling along to "Sweet Child O' Mine."
You might need two IDs to get into this Lincoln Avenue bar--that's how many fakes they see--but bottles of Bud cost $1 and there was no cover for the ladies the night my friends and I went on a whim. It was spring break in Lincoln Park and we were going native.
A short, voluptuous woman at the bar held up the back of her shirt while a tall, skinny guy fumbled with the two twisted-up ends of her bra. "Hey," he called to me. "Can you hook this for me, please?" The woman said it just came undone, she didn't know how. I fixed her up and she kissed me on the cheek.
Later a tall ash-blond 24-year-old guy named CJ approached me, wondering what I was doing with a notepad. When he found out I was a reporter, he told me of his desire to tell an important story, one that would, he said, "impact a lot of people."
"So tell one," I said. "I'm listening."
CJ's ass hung off the edge of a bar stool as he slanted forward, his left foot stuck out to keep him from crashing face-first to the floor. He was decked out in a red T-shirt that said HAWAII in a retro-looking font, baggy jeans, a hemp necklace, and thick, slip-on brown leather mandals. He hemmed and hawed for a while, then I asked about his best spring break. He told me he and five buddies went to Cancun in 2002, "before hurricanes and underage drinking ravaged the place." First order of business was throwing down more than $300 for liquor and some cheap sports equipment from Wal-Mart. In the parking lot they ditched the volleyball and basketball but kept the packaging, in which they stashed the booze. The hotel where they were staying didn't allow outside alcohol; apparently these guys had never heard of garbage bags.
But right when they entered the hotel they saw a security guard--"and I don't mean to be politically incorrect or anything," said CJ, "but he was Mexican." They paid him $40 to keep quiet about their contraband. For each of the seven days they were there, the first thing they did was wake up and get drunk. "There's so much to say about waking up at 10:30 and drinking warm rum and Coke," he said. I went to find my friends.
We were still reeling from our visit earlier that night to the grand opening of Maxbar, the brand-new club inhabiting the space that used to house Blu, run by Crobar owners Joe Vartanian and Mike Matuschka. Located just a few doors down from Kendall's, it looks like a sports bar: lots of wood, generic tables, rectangular holes in the wall where the flat-screen TVs will eventually go. This is where Lincoln Park people go when they think they're too classy for a place like Kendall's. The hats at Kendall's had university and sports teams logos; the ones at Maxbar said Von Dutch.
The drinks menu offered a buffet of date-rape innuendo ("Very simple," it said under something called the Pair-a-Dice. "Drink this. Get lucky!") but said nothing about what actually went into each concoction. The bartender got pissed when I returned my Cherry So Very ("Once you pop you just can't stop") because it wasn't cherry flavored at all, and when I asked for a plain old dirty martini he served it without olives. This is a marginal complaint, but don't charge me $12 for a drink if you don't know how to make it.
Toward the back of the place a dance floor shimmered with multicolored lights arranged in a pattern that resembled psychedelic vomit; a five-ass pileup was writhing in the middle of it. A blond woman dancing on the subwoofers slipped and fell, cracking her chin on the table I was sitting at. She propped herself up and smiled at me like it was no big deal. That's the spirit!
The people watching was even better upstairs, where a guy in pristine puffy Asics and a pinkie ring slumped on a bar stool, a black handbag slung over his shoulder. It didn't go with his outfit, but I never saw a woman come to fetch it.
A copper-tan leprechaun in shiny clear lip gloss, smoky eyeliner, and an ostentatious calf-length D&G coat approached me with a stack of postcards. Would I care to sign up for the club's mailing list? he pantomimed. No, I motioned back. He frowned, then burst out laughing, playfully hitting me on the shoulder. "I-a fuck-a bored," he said, rolling his eyes. Then he lifted up the enormous tails of his coat, stuck out his ass, and started pumping to "Another One Bites the Dust" like a cat badly in need of a Q-Tip.
I joined him for a second, then he grabbed my notepad and scribbled "LUCA ITALY SMILE." He kissed me on the cheek and flared his coattails, and with a twitch of his bum he was gone.
I was still at Kendall's when the bartender announced last call. On my way out the door I overheard a guy tell the lady clinging to his neck that hugging him was fine but she better not kiss him. The guy next to them tapped a woman on the shoulder and said, "Hey, you look like a slut. Let's go." She shrugged her shoulders like, sure, why not? Someone else was practically sobbing to his friend, "What kind of life do I want?"
My friends and I walked out in a daze, simultaneously entertained and disgusted by what we'd seen. As we were walking back to the car, a dude approached us with an orange safety cone on his head. He threw it into the street with a loud grunt. People streamed past us laughing and screaming, jumping on one another's backs.
"Unga!" yelled a man in ill-fitting jeans and a ringer T-shirt. Some girls across the street screeched in response. A car drove by and a guy leaned out and howled. Someone else barked. It was like a scene from a sitcom where a kid imagines the crazy people around him are monkeys. Only it was real.
Oh how I've misjudged you, Trixie and Chad. I thought my friends and I were libertines, but we still have a lot to learn.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Andrea Bauer.