Stool Up, Get Schooled

All I ever needed to know I learned in taverns.

Its heartening in an era of dying taverns to hear that the lowbrow Comet Tavern on Capitol Hill (922 E. Pike St., 206-323-9853) has won an impressive cultural award. It is now officially one of the 20 Best Dives in America. Stuff magazine said it was swayed by the Comets bar-dancing girls, bar-crawling drunks, $1.50 happy-hour beers, and occasional drop-ins by Eddie Vedder, a professor of music. The award reminds us that the Comet (circa 1948)like the Northlake (1954) and the Blue Moon (1934), among othershas survived more than a half-century of beer swilling by sustaining its historic role as an institute of lower learning. For example, taverns are one of the reasons I know that a sign that says Free Beer Tomorrow still says it the next day. And that some people come back just to be sure. Unfortunately, economics, tastes, and changes in state liquor laws have been driving taverns out of business or enticing them to reinvent themselves as lounges. In and around the Pike Place Market alone, the graveyard numbers more than a dozen in recent decadesBobs Waterfront, the Focsle, Hideout, Victrola, Pig Alley, and Ireneshome of the 5-cent beerfor starters. The most recent to fall was the Mirror on Pike Street, the kind of place you got thrown into. Just the other day, the last of its low-life partners, the Turf, an eatery and cocktail lounge across the street, left the building. The Turf is where I once went to do a story on the colorful bar, and where, as if to help me out that night, the bartender shot a customer in the leg. I had to do it, Jerry said. He came over the bar at me. You dont come over my bar at me. The Turf has now cleaned up its act and moved a block away into the old Olympic Broiler site (200 Pike St., 206-682-2323). That leaves Starbucks-owned Seattles Best Coffee, with a full-time security staff, as the only drinking spot at First and Pike, once the mental-health crossroads of Seattle. Happy hour is a latte or chai. A hangover is a case of the jitters. Statewide, there has also been widespread pub devastation. The number of Washington taverns fell from 1,429 in 1993 to 826 in 2002. Still, with the Comet and other award-winning educational joints, thats enough to keep most of us swimming in beer culture. If youre curious and want to bone up, here are just a few examples of the knowledge available at the better underbelly universities. What Ive Learned In Taverns If you walk in and call out, Hey, asshole, everyone in the place will turn around. Dont have children with the person on the next stool. A naked customer doesnt get served only because he has no money on him. If he does, said barkeep Tommy Atkins of the now-closed Rickshaw, you dont want to touch it. There are always two guys at the bar looking at each other and thinking, I see that drunk in here every day. It is possible to be arrested in bed for drunken driving. A customer told me police lost him in traffic and then caught up with him at his motel. The early morning bartender job is called the Vibrator Shift in respect to customers with hand tremors. You dont take a piss. You leave one. The price of electronics and small appliances is much cheaper in a bar than at Sears. Theres nothing wrong with a bar shooting, as long as the right people get shot. Its one step to get in but 12 Steps to get out. Some customers think ambiance is what takes you from the bar to the hospital. If you doubt the effects of secondhand smoke, inspect a tavern air-circulation filter sometime. The best tip was $1,500 in cocaine left on the table at a joint on Broadway. The worst was a dirty diaper left on a table at a place in the Pike Place Market. Every other bar has a sign announcing: If assholes could fly, this place would be an airport. The others have a sign that says: If you want credit, go to Helen Waite. Sometimes men are from Mars and women are from Pluto. When people on oxygen smoke at the bar, the crowd grows quiet. Back when they arrested people for being drunk in public, a man named Olaf was taken in 401 times over 25 years and sentenced to 10,680 days in jail (he served just 7,711). Not being able to remember what you did last night is a godsend. You can almost always stop a conversation with the words bra and panties. During the filming of Cinderella Liberty, the movie crew built a fake tavern on First Avenue. A confused drunk named Dean walked up to James Caan and Marsha Mason during a live scene and borrowed a quarter. He ended up in the movie and got $125 for a speaking role. He was later seen celebrating at the Rickshaw, dancing with a beautiful woman who turned out to be a man. Dont marry your bartender. Im still dealing with that one. Never, ever go over the bar at Jerry.

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