Drink Locally

The Hawthorne Stumble Zone

Four bars in three blocks. What a trip!

By John Chandler May 14, 2009


Finally, after weeks of planning, theorizing, and sending out scouting parties (some of whom never returned—a moment of silence, please), the time had come for our very first stumble-zone run, and on a recent sunny Thursday evening, we hit the street. Or in this case, the boulevard, as in SE Hawthorne.

As you may recall from an earlier post, the point of a stumble-zone excursion lies in its progress. From sober to tipsy, from swank to seedy, from familiar to alien—as the spirits take effect, inhibitions should be left behind in a carelessly strewn trail, like clothes in a dorm room. A stumble zone is an excuse for carousing, certainly, but there needs to be a definite cultural component attached, making the whole business like an educational carnival ride—with booze and fried food.

My fellow researchers and I assembled at the Sapphire Hotel at the upper end of Hawthorne and were immediately beset by calamity. There were too damn many of us to be seated sensibly in this cozy little den. I blame my surfeit of charisma. (Note to self: Like a backyard bug-zapper, my allure needs to be toned down occasionally.) Hats off to the waitress who courageously managed to stuff us into a corner away from decent, god-fearing folk.

If you haven’t been, the Sapphire Hotel is a tight fit for an entire herd, but its candlelit close quarters make it ideal for a tête-à-tête between prospective romantic partners. The out-of-the-way-hotel-lobby look of the place is attuned to a hook-up vibe, and the drinks are exotically infused and sparkle with champagne and fresh-squeezed juices—even if your conversation does not. Lost your life savings to a Ponzi schemer? (Welcome to the club.) Never fear, you may request a PBR here and feel very little shame in the asking. The food is small plates all the way, but well executed. We made short work of our rustic veggie pizza and artichoke dip, and after laboring over the division of the check for a millennium or so, we sallied forth to the next stop. To the kind people at the Sapphire: I’ll be back to settle the remainder of our bill very soon. In the meantime, enjoy my pants and digital watch.

At the Space Room, we had an easier time finding a table, as it appeared that a few members of our company had joined a religious cult en route. Anyway, they weren’t with us anymore, so elbow room was plentiful. The Space Room gets its fair share of hipsters, but the core clientele, usually clustered around the bar, is made up of graying boomers, hilarious old ladies, and other career drinkers. And while you can order food (the Tater Tots are awash in greasy goodness), the main attraction here is change back from your fiver for a really potent well drink, which can be swilled in a dark lounge that hasn’t had any significant upgrades since the (first) Kennedy assassination, right down to the atomic-age décor. And thanks to the puissance of the cocktails, our conversation became more surreal (and ribald) and, thankfully, steered away from work-related topics. Yes, I know the refrigerator stinks. Can we move on?

We were still ten in number by the time we were ready for our third destination, so I volunteered to seek out appropriate accommodations. Both Bar of the Gods and the Tanker were crammed, so I took a chance on the Mt Tabor Legacy. The doorman charitably waved the cover charge for our posse, and we piled into the Sideshow Lounge, the Day-Glo, circus-themed smaller bar on the premises. But here our morale was dealt a cruel blow. It was comedy night, and the fellow at the mic was attempting to amuse the crowd with a Gilbert Gottfried impersonation. Since the entertainment value generated by Gottfried himself is microscopic, the young mimic wasn’t having much luck. Fortunately, the Mt Tabor Legacy (aka the Tabor; aka Mt Tabor Theater & Pub; aka Sabala’s), a venue that has seen more regime changes than an unstable African nation, has a second, larger room, and on this night a young, Caucasian reggae band was onstage giving it the old college try. A few of us (well, me) tried skanking around the dance floor, which inspired us to down a round of Sessions, that tasty little beer in the stubby bottle that you can always make room for.

Finally, we agreed on a nightcap at Angelo’s, a dive bar that I hadn’t visited in more than a dozen years. I recalled grumpy old men nursing cans of Hamm’s and Budweiser around an unlovely bar in a room that could have been decorated by a chain-saw sculptor, but things had changed dramatically. Now there were surly punk rockers nursing cans of Hamm’s and Budweiser in a room that still had all the rough-hewn charm of a logging-camp canteen. By this stage of the evening, concrete memories are few, but I seem to remember a friendly bartender giving me a complimentary warm energy drink (“They’re promotional. We’ve got a bunch of ’em,” she told me), which I promptly chugged in order to ward off the whirlies. The ill-advised potion promptly made my stomach clutch and roll over like a sheepdog, and I knew it was time to get some air and take the shoe-heel express back to my crib. The next morning, the inside of my mouth tasted like sweat socks, vinegar, and misery.

Ah, but such a night. From pink-cheeked lovers straight from the Abercrombie & Fitch catalog to smart-alecky old ladies in bowling shirts, from pale, tentative reggae musicians to simmering souls in leather jackets, we had passed the evening in the company of strangers and hostile natives, and I for one had learned a valuable lesson. Avoid free energy drinks as you would a rabid bat.

Any ideas on where we should go next (besides detox)? Anyone feel like joining us?

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