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“a woman walks into a bar…” the Frolic Room, Hollywood

on 12/04/11 at 4:40 pm

a woman walks into a bar..., BoozeBlog

Hollywood, land of shattered dreams and broken promises, delusional aspirations and down-at-the-bit human detritus still waiting for their ships to come in, the dangling carrot of stardom.  And home of the Frolic Room.  Born in 1934, once owned and operated by Howard Hughes in the 40’s and 50’s and who put up the iconic, eye-popping sign. If the walls could talk.

Time for the Monday night Bukowski reading for a little cocktail lit. The room’s dark and almost empty. Where are the readers? Scattered boozers dot the bar, a threesome caucus toward the back, the scene looking like a Hopper barscape. I’ve entered the realm of an alternate universe. An empty bar stool beckons…and so does a leering drunk. Ooops, not here. “Hey, whatsa matter? Ya don’t wanna sit here? I’m insulted!” Hey, there’s a place at the end of the bar. Sliding in, the bartender’s already waiting. Scanning the beer bottles, there’s nothing crafty, settle for a Sam Adams, he nods his approval. No mixology here. Oh, hi, guy next to me. When’s the reading? “You just missed it by 5 minutes. Done.”  Shit. But there’s a Bukowski tome in front of him. Hey, would you read something for me? He obliges with a poem about love. Excellent. Turns out he won a free drink for his rendition as the best performance of the night.

Blues Brothers song, Rubber Biscuit, blares from the juke. Ian comes to life, eyes closed sings and plays air guitar. No holds barred here. He’s definitely had a few and intermittently seems lost in thought but we chit chat and conversation gears up as it’s wont to do. “See that guy there. He’s a douchebag from way back. Hits on all the ladies.” Him? The skanky one peering into his doughnut? Incredulous, I ask if this guy scores?! “Naw, he just cockwalks.” Whatever that is, at least I don’t have to picture the unimaginable.

Ian knows all the regulars, a fraternity to which he belongs. “Oh, dude. Love this song. Anal sex. Blah, bah, blah.” “What? This song is about anal sex?” “Nooo, Anglo-Saxon, Brit pop…” Ooooh, the din distorts in mysterious ways. It sure sounded like anal sex. He buys me a beer. “I like talking to you.” Thanks, I say.

Ian unfolds from his barstool. Whoa, this guy’s tall! 6’7″, lanky, black with a fro that adds another few inches. “Didn’t notice you were that tall, Ian.” “Yeah, I’m an ectomorph, blah blah blah.” Ian says blah blah blah instead of ‘you know’.  It’s the coda to his every thought. He makes his way to the jukebox and tries to find a jazz tune for me.

Meanwhile, a steady stream of purposeful regulars convene, disperse, reconvene, like men on a chessboard, first here then there, dangling unlit cigarettes. Guys look serious. They press the flesh, awkwardly hugging. What the hell are they talking about? Making deals? What kind? Or just bullshitting.

Ian sees me taking notes, approves of me writing about drunks. He sez he loves that. Points out the lonely guy – aren’t they all – nursing a drink. Looks real hangdog. I say he looks uncharming, Ian says you don’t have to have looks, you can just have swagger and be amazing but he just looks pathetic. He continues, the best way to get some of the opposite sex is pretend like you don’t want to fuck ’em. Blah, blah, blah. Hmmm, good advice, I assure him.

Oh man, the Commodores are swingin’. Ian pulls me up to dance in the tiny space near the jukebox. This is definitely not a dance floor but we jive up and down the narrow bar, twirling and laughing. Song’s over, back to the bar stools when a grizzled old guy makes his way over and plops on the empty stool. “Say, you got the moves”, says Tony De La Paz. He wears the burden of his years with resignation and a captain’s cap to top it off.  He wants to dance, too, so I roll with it. His face lights up. “When’s the last time you danced, Tony?”  “You got the moves, girl.” More laughter. He tires and we get back to our drinks.

Who’s that guy circling us like a shark? Well-dressed, good looking, 3 sheets to the wind, manages to navigate over. Why it’s Jimmy Swan. For real? Is that your real name? I’m in love with your name. Can I have it, Jimmy Swan? Is that the best name ever? Tony sez Jimmy’s a real live rock star, sings amazing. At that, sure enough, Jimmy pulls out a CD and gives it to me. Slurs, “I’ve been so close to being a fucking superstar so many times.” On the cover, Jimmy’s head is thrown back, blowin’ smoke, cig in his left hand, shot glass in his right, looking weary. CD’s called Enlightened Cad. Full of tortured love songs. He turns on his heel and slides out for a smoke.

Tony’s story: First came to the Frolic Room in 1965. Vietnam ’67. Came back two years later and wanted to go back to the place he had his last drink before ‘Nam. Been here ever since. Yeah, married 13 years. Did my hard time. She tried to kill me twice. First with a huge blade I brought back from ‘Nam and next with a cast iron pan. She was drunk and crazy. No kids. Been a photographer for years. Shot every celeb in the 80’s, did every red carpet, shot the port of LA for six months, and so much more. His photographs sound like a treasure trove of LA history. Donating them to USC. Naw, not interested in doing a book. I’m a writer now.

Jimmy’s back. Hey, wanna play Trivia? Sure, what’s that? It’s a slot machine that eats your dollar bills and offers up trivia questions. You get points and satisfaction if you know the answers. We play a few rounds, Tony cheers us on. Ian nurses another beer. This trivia stuff gets old pretty quickly. Back to finish my beer. Ian disappears for a smoke, comes back to say ‘bye and lets me know he thinks I’m ‘fine’. Drinking does that. Jimmy confabs with a patron at the other end. Seamus arrives, Tony’s Irish drinking buddy. Hair pulled back in a long brown braid to his waist. Kind brown eyes. Tries to get up to speed with all’s that’s going on. There’s a new kid in town…me.

Beer’s done, don’t want another. Been here a few hours. Time does fly. I gather my stuff and bid Tony and Seamus goodnight. Tony can’t believe it’s my first time at the Frolic Room. “It’s like you belong here.” Isn’t this where some scenes in Barfly were shot? Me, Barfly?! That’s cool. Tony wants a hug, and Seamus holds out his arms for one, too. Say goodbye to Jimmy for me.

Outside – Hollywood Boulevard – street of dreams.

UPDATE: Jimmy Swan, Enlightened Cad…pretty good. Hey, Jimmy, you deserve to be a superstar.

The Frolic Room
6245 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90028