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Barricuda's

Their people make the difference.

I have every intention of drinking on my first trip to Barricuda's (1078 Ogden Street), but it doesn't happen. I glance longingly at the beer taps — Swithwicks? No. Guinness? Huh-uh — but can't talk myself into a cold one. I make eyes at a Bloody Mary two tables over and try not to spit up. My mouth tastes like two packs of cigarette butts, and my skin smells like a dripping-wet beer-pong table. I close my eyes and think hair of the dog, hair of the dog, hair of the dog, but I quickly get the spins and have to grip the table for balance, my bottle-rocket-residue-stained fingernails a painful reminder of a Fourth of July party gone horribly right. It's no use. Instead I rely on overeating — chips and guac, eggs Benedict with browns, biscuits and gravy — and six or seven Sprite refills, which do wonders for my stomach but little for my head. I go home and nap until the sun goes down.

Four days later, I return to Barricuda's, this time for happy hour. I belly up, flip through the menu — expansive even without the breakfast pages — and drink my first two beers in silence while watching the home-run derby on television. I couldn't care less about professional baseball, but an older gentleman on the next stool wants to talk small about the Atlanta Braves and whether or not the Cubbies have ever won a World Series, so I oblige. Based on how close he's wiggled his elbows to mine and the number of times I catch him staring, though, I'm pretty sure he's working up the courage to hit on me, so I respond only when addressed and keep my eyes on the TV.

Over the course of the next two hours, the three or four televisions within eyeshot of the bar show everything from ultimate fighting to Age of Love to the original Jaws. Star, who has taken over bartending for Josh, keeps both my beer and water full and somewhat neurotically switches between satellite-radio channels — country-Western (Merle Haggard), hits (Beyoncé), indie rock (At the Drive In) — until the bar gets busy enough for people to feed the Internet jukebox. Some guy in a blue bandanna and a Led Zeppelin hoodie plays "Sunday Bloody Sunday," so Star turns it up with her remote and we all sing along.

At some point, I switch from $2 PBRs to pitchers of Bud (always $6) and start making friends. First there's the guy without an ID who swears he's of age (he has a "goddamn DOC number, for chrissakes"). He speaks loudly, engaging everyone who accidentally makes eye contact, and tells us that he's getting drinking cramps. This, it turns out, is what occurs when you take lots of short gasps of air while drinking. I suggest that he drink slower, and he laughs like it's the most asinine thing he's ever heard before telling me that drinking whiskey often gives him collarbone kinks.

Time to smoke.

Outside, I meet a Haight-Ashbury hippie with a gray ponytail who has just finished smoking a joint with two other people and is now looking to bum a cigarette. Mine are menthol (he's allergic), so he snorts a couple shakes of German snuff off the back of his hand before trying to sell me hallucinogens and then asking to borrow my phone. He struggles to dial ("It's the THC, man"), so I do it for him, and when he's finished he tells me that the Colombian guy he just spoke with refers to him as "muchos locos marijuana" and that he's gotta go. Peace, dude.

Back at the bar, I meet up with one of the other joint-smokers. He pulls at a mixed drink (always $2.50 wells at Barricuda's) through a straw and tells me he's so stoned he doesn't know whether he's here or there. I laugh in a you-should-see-yourself-right-now kind of way and feel a little jealous. He stands, then forgets why, and figures that as long as he's standing he might as well tell a terribly inappropriate joke about showering with a nine-year-old boy. I grimace slightly and he saunters off. Later, I watch him and three other guys make pirate noises while taking a round of shots and I think:

Goddamn, am I glad I came back.

 
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