"Oh, we have to leave," Brian says, not thirty seconds after stumbling into Swanky's and finding me alone at the bar. "Immediately." Brian is wearing a vintage Chicago Bears sweater, the white version of the blue one Mike Ditka sports in the now-infamous middle-finger photo. Swanky's is a Green Pay Packers bar, complete with a "No Favre Jerseys Allowed. No Exceptions" dress code and enough Cheesehead paraphernalia to give a Bears fan nausea. I couldn't spare two turds for professional football, so I hardly noticed; Brian is struggling to cope. "I'm going to go find the bathrooms," he announces, "and piss all over the floors."
I have always admired my friends for their class, in the same way I admire Swanky's — where the bathroom walls are papered with soft-core porn, the bar walls feature faded photographs in dated frames and Sharpie scribbles, and the bevy of televisions occasionally screen whatever humpfest Skinemax has regularly scheduled — for its, um, ballsy approach to ambience. In the absence of the bygone Bourbon-meets-Blake-Street, oysters-and-Cajun-food of its early days, this once-Bayou-themed bar now offers a white-trash, Wisconsin-themed menu of cheese curds, tater tots and other Midwestern fare. Which pleases Brian very much, though only because I'm buying. "I'd love to get a drink," he quips after returning from the can (which he didn't desecrate after all), "but I really can't see myself supporting this place."
Fine, you baby. I'll pay.
1938 Blake Street
Before arriving, I could have sworn I'd never been inside Swanky's before. Two or three steps inside the front door, however, and I was overcome with Drinker's Déjà Vu, that unfortunate condition of entering sober a place only the blacked-out bowels of memory know by name. The visions came in flashes: I'm slumped over that high-top. I'm spilling a full beer on that shuffleboard table. I'm smoking a cigarette in front of that window. Goddamn: I have been here before. But when? And why?
Tonight, I decide not to put my memory to task, though I need to drink off the aches and pains of a previous evening spent camping near the Continental Divide. I am initially enamored of the Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy on tap, as well as the Honey Weiss and Red Lager in bottles. When 10 p.m. rolls around, I switch to the late-night special: signature Frozens (alcoholic slushies) with an upside-down plastic bonus beaker of Crystal Palace vodka for $4 (normally $5 without the floater). First up is a half Big Lebowski (White Russian), half High Octane (orange), which tastes just like a Dreamsicle. When I can't decide between a Bee Pee Lemonade and the Grape Ape for my second, the bartendress suggests a suicide.
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More visions, these from adolescence: I'm battling brain freeze from my third suicide Slush Puppie inside the general store of the Wisconsin campground my family frequented. I'm puffing and chewing on candy cigarettes while playing Super Sprint at the adjoining arcade. I'm catching a bass off a pier over Clear Lake and dragging it to my campsite in a bucket.
I'm back inside Swanky's, cringing from an alcohol-induced ice headache and staring at an "I Closed Wolski's. Milw. Wisc." sticker on the front of the Swanky Spank Me Frozen machine. I've never closed Wolski's, and I may not close Spanky's tonight, but I've definitely been here before.
According to the déjà vu, more than a few times.