Writing While Intoxicated

At the Hideout, everyone's a poet. At least after a few beers.

It's a little after midnight on a Wednesday at the First Hill bar the Hideout, and Greg Lundgren has just emptied the submission box for the Vital 5 Review. A week earlier, he celebrated the release of issue No. 3 of the quarterly, a collection of artwork and musings done on-site by bar patrons. There had been roughly 600 entries to sort through, with plenty of overflow for issue No. 4, which tonight's batch is (maybe) headed for, too. "This one will definitely go in," he says, examining a portrait of a dancing mod couple. "This one," he says of a sketch titled "First Date," "is kinda cheesy, but I kinda like it."

There have been 37 submissions in the last three days. As usual, they include a few doodles, a few masterpieces, and a lot of nudity. There's a pot calling a kettle black—"fuck you," responds the kettle. Two simple contributions—"I want to kiss you but I'm scared" in hard, masculine scrawl; "If I could only tell you" in loopy girlish script—look like they could've been made by potential paramours at opposite ends of the bar. At that moment, "Night & Day" comes over the soundsystem, and I think that with Sinatra in heavy rotation in a place as dark and sexy as this, it's no wonder the Review box is littered with mash notes.

Vital 5 Productions' Lundgren and his business partner, Jeff Scott, opened the Hideout last March as a five-year-long art installation, and its salonlike atmosphere has bewitched artists and First Hill barflies. Inside the unmarked doors, the chandeliers sparkle, the jukebox is free, and you're meant to wonder whether the gin-drinking cowboy next to you (who's profiled in the latest issue) is an actor or merely an eccentric. Lundgren's MO is to transcend accepted standards of what art is, who makes it, and who appreciates it. "Honesty doesn't require a degree in journalism, and creativity doesn't require a degree in art," he says. "Some of my favorite submissions look like they were made by a third-grader."

Hence the Review submission process: Get drunk (as Baudelaire said, "on wine, poetry, or virtue, as you choose!"), ask the bartender for a clipboard stocked with paper, and get creative. "No nights are better than others [for creating]," says bartender Tara McLaughlin. "When it's really busy, people are drinking."

During a bustling Friday happy hour, a group of twentysomething architectural interns are doing both. Copies of the Review are scattered around the bar, and everyone in the group is hunched over a clipboard. "[The Review] made it less intimidating to try my hand at a few sketches," Crystal Lora says later of the zine's mix of high- and lowbrow. "We all seem so insightful while intoxicated."

Her co-worker Winmay Au agrees. "I was surprised how easily poetry came to us while we were drunk—I would never consider myself a poet!"

She and a friend passed a clipboard back and forth, writing one stanza each about their love life ("The end result was quite coherent and truthful," she says). Then she and another friend, Leif Pearson, drew an elaborate story together, sort of a stick-figure death match. "I'm normally not a very good sketch artist, but I learned that I'm even worse after I have a few beers working against me," says Pearson. "The good thing about drinking and drawing is that you don't really care quite as much."

None of the group had been to the Hideout before, but they stayed for nearly four hours. All of their sketches ended up in the pile on Wednesday night. Most contributions are unsigned, so when it's time to compile and issue, there's no preference given to "real"—a term the Vital 5 organization insists is arbitrary—artists. "It's an even playing field. The styles I've come to recognize aren't so much my friends but our regular patrons that have become chronic contributors," says Lundgren. "It's an experiment to see how people respond to that invitation to create something . . . it's kind of like Christmas, opening that box."


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