When I came to Seattle in 1995 the city was in growing pains. 1st Ave was still a heady mix of sex shops, pawn shops and import shops. The bars I found were rough and most are gone now or remodeled and sweetened up. The Frontier Room was a fine place. It opened at 6:00 in the morning and could lay a person flat by 7:30. I remember taking an acquaintance there one night and warning him that the bartender had a heavy hand. He ordered a whiskey and coke and we watched her pour the glass half full of whiskey, yank up the coke nozzle, start talking to someone else, squirt the cola all over the bar towel, and then noticing the glass was still only half full topped it off with more whiskey. I think we got into a fight with someone that night. You can still go to the Frontier Room, the neon sign still hangs over the door, but the place I went to is gone and you better believe the days you’ll get more whiskey than coke are gone too.
There were other places to hole up in, the Alibi Room, also remodeled now, The Art Bar, now the Noc Noc, and a terrible Irish bar that’s still standing. God damn the Irish. There’s one bar though, maybe the best of them, that’s still there, unchanged as the blue haired, yellowed teethed place that it is and while I don’t go as often as I once did it still warms a lonely night.
The Nite Light sits at 1920 2nd Ave and has cheap beer and stiff pours and a jukebox. There’s usually a fair amount of country music on the jukebox mixed in between the pedestrian Bob Seeger hits and jam sticks into my ears Eagles to make having loose change a good thing.
Twice in my life I’ve been responsible, for there’s no other word, in causing a bar sing-a-long. Once in Albuquerque to Garth’s “Friends In Low Places.” We were mighty and we were plowed. Not my best moment. The second time was at the Nite Light. It was a cold wet Seattle night. We were the huddled masses, all five or six of us sipping our whiskey and gin. There were two other tables and everyone was getting down to personal business. I don’t know, maybe it was holiday. I knew that it was down right depressing though and the place was much too quiet. To the jukebox I went. At first little satisfaction was found and flipped and flipped between the crummy classic rock albums that deaf dogs don’t even need to hear again and just when I was about to give up and settle for some sad Willie Nelson tunes I saw it; the golden hits of Kenny Rogers.
Now you may think this is all late ’90s irony, but no, I grew up listening to Kenny Rogers and there was true love in my heart. I scanned the track listings: Lucille, Don’t Take Your Love To Town, Coward of the County, they were all there and I started pressing letters and numbers.
Lucille had begun by the time I returned to the table with fresh drinks and everyone moaned. It was punishing. But they couldn’t resist the husky charms of Kenny Rogers for long. Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town is always a rough one and everyone felt pretty broken up for a moment. And then came Coward of the County, that one everyone hated. The pitiful Tommy refusing to fight until his best girl gets raped and then he whoops the offenders asses. Score settled no doubt.
The night seemed colder, wetter, and the drinks not strong enough after Coward of the County, but there was nothing to be done. Then up from another table stood a skinny pretty girl who walked over to the jukebox and dropped in her quarters and punched the buttons. She turned and said to the entire bar, “his fingers just hit the wrong button is all,” just as some steady fingerpicking began to play through the speakers. She looked at me and smiled and the words rang true:
On a warm summer’s evening
On a train bound to nowhere
We sang the first chorus as a duet. The second time it came around it became a choir and we beat back the devils and chased away the ill ghosts and reveled for three minutes and thirty seconds. Sometimes a cold night just needs the right hands.