The bartender poured a pint full of froth, frowned at it and poured it out. He then did it again. And again.
“By the end of the night when it’s been pouring all night, it’ll be fine, but it takes like 10 beers to pour one good one,” he said by way of apology.
The sound system alternately trickled the Sox game and blasted a sort of dancey reggae as a young Latino man ran back and forth between the dreadlocked DJ and the mic setup over the conga drums on stage. It was 9 p.m. at a 4 a.m. bar, so they had a while before the music was set to start.
A gigantic swarthy man stood by one of the registers, poking at it lazily and cradling a phone receiver between his ear and shoulder as he left a message for the manufacturer.
“I’m trying to run a business here, so call back when you get this message,” the large man said in an upsliding frantic.
After a few more pints of foam, the bartender and I switched from the Shiner Wild Hare to a Hacker-Pschorr, which promptly served up a pint of more Germanic foam. The bartender kept pouring out the lather until we arrived at something not entirely unlike 5/8 of a pint of beer.
I smiled at my girlfriend, who had been patiently waiting with her Goose Island Matilda.
“It’s warm,” she whispered when the barman turned away.
The Sox game clicked to a blast of dub.
“I’m on the fucking phone!” the manager screamed.
It was 9 p.m. on a Saturday. The girl and I were the only ones in the bar.
The bartender had blond hair laden with product and a short-sleeved white beach shirt. I would have assumed he was stoned except for the fact he seemed so damn stoned. He was like an actor playing stoned, an aging Spicoli who dressed 25 and must have been 40.
He laughed nervously at the bad pulls of beer, at the alternating soft game/loud dub and at the fact the register developed dyslexia when printing our tab and decided $8 plus $4 equals $21.
“I’ve never seen it do that before,” he said, nervously.
A man in a long-sleeved white shirt came in with a business card and flier. He wasn’t a customer. He wanted to be the new house band.
“I was at the Green Dolphin for four years. It was our home,” he said. “We can pack ‘em in.”
The bartender said he would pass on the info and gave the jobless musician the OK to check out the stage setup. When the musician got halfway to the stage, the DJ called out to him.
They were old friends. They did the backslap hug and caught up.
This is life in a bar, the life patrons don’t often see. It’s registers messing up, musicians slumming for work, bartenders pulling from foamy or warm lines. It was the guts and gristle behind a thousand corner haunts in Chicago.
“It’s like ‘Before Hours,’” the bartender said, nervously laughing.
He became thoughtful for a moment, looking around the bar, vacant but for two on a Saturday night.
“But we’re open,” he said.
The Sox game cranked to dub.
“I’m trying to run a business here!” the manager screamed to the empty bar.