I'll drink alone all night as long as I have a seat at the bar — as long as I can bullshit with the bartender and other patrons, practically reach my next drink before it's even poured. But put me at a table or booth removed from the alcohol IV and suddenly I'm back in middle school, entering a crowded lunchroom by myself, scanning the room for someone I know, convinced that everyone else is noticing how awkward and out of place I feel.
That's me tonight when I walk into Satellite Bar at 8:30 p.m. and every bar stool is occupied. Damn. Assuming I'm only a few minutes ahead of the two friends who plan to meet me here, I order three two-dollar cans of Olympia and grab a chair at the only remaining table in the middle of the loud, cozy spot. Then I sit. Alone. Three open beers my only company. With mixtures of hope and pity in their eyes, strangers keep angling their heads into my line of vision and asking if I'm "using these chairs." Yes, I am. I swear I'm not here, at this table, by my lonesome. God. How long has it been? What happened to the first two Olys sitting empty next to my winter gloves? Why am I so sweaty?
My buddies eventually arrive around 9 p.m. Parking. Took forever. Sorry, dude. I'm already into the third can, so they glance up at the Left Hand Brewing chalkboard menu and decide on cans of Schlitz from the impressive list (Busch, Hamm's, Natty Light, a bunch of microbrews). Behind us, near the pool table, 1986 Billy Dee Williams smirks ever so smoothly from a mint-condition (perhaps a remake, actually) light-up Colt 45 sign. "It works every time," I can almost hear him saying as his can goes ka-chh! and a frothy head spills over the sides.
All around us, the place fills to near capacity, the shuffleboard table never without a crowd, people standing around every table and booth because there's nowhere to squat. So we bail, head across the street to CityGrille, which at this time of night almost has a Midwestern supper-club feel — the dining room dark, the bar abuzz. We have no trouble getting stools here. I ask the bartendress if anything's special, and she tells me just the top-shelf tequila: two dollars off until 10 p.m. Two Bud drafts later, however, I still can't commit to one from the list of more than fifty, and happy hour's over, so she pours us all shots of Cazadores and runs it in the computer as something cheaper.
I'm starting to feel pretty abuzz myself when I notice the bartendress handing a plate of vegetables to two guys with neck tattoos eating hot wings next to me. On the plate? Tomatoes, mushrooms, cucumber and red pepper, all sliced into salad-sized pieces. "What the hell is that for?" I ask.
And they tell me: They asked for a veggie plate assuming, you know, it might come with celery and carrot sticks. Maybe red or green pepper. But mushroom? Tomato slices? We laugh, because it's kind of ridiculous.
"Are you gonna charge me for this?" the one with the ink all across his hand and fingers asks the bartendress when she next shuffles by.
"I was thinking about it," she replies.
"How much?" he wonders playfully. She pauses.
"Maybe two bucks?"
When she turns her back, he gives me a look like, "I could fight this injustice, but fuck it, right?" And I nod.
By now, one of my buddies has invited three girlfriends to join us, so we cash out, coat up and all head back to the south side of Colfax, this time to Uptown Brothers Brewing Company, in the old Red Room space. Even though a live band is playing and the place is pretty busy, here, too, I stroll right in and onto a bar stool, which continues to heal my Satellite Bar scars. Immediately, I notice Boulevard Wheat on tap, a Kansas City-based beer that I used to drink in college. I plan to "Walk the Boulevard" — drink all three flavors of Boulevard that Uptown has on tap and be entered to win a pint glass and other prizes — but I keep at the Wheats, throwing 'em back with enough voracity that I don't notice until it's too late that one of my pals is making out with a girl in the back seat of a cab, on their way to Rockbar. Whoops. When I turn back from the window and don't see anyone else I know, I think:
I'll drink alone all night as long as I can keep this seat at the bar.