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hollywood’s seedy and golden ages


I appreciate a dive bar. You know the kind (I hope you know the kind). Glassware with questionable marks staining the rim. Gum and other sticky treasures permanently affixed under bar surfaces. An indistinguishable odor permeating the air that would be in everyone’s best interest to stay unknown.  Sweat dripping down the walls like candle wax. Shady characters who may never have seen the light of day hiding out in darkness, beady eyes staring down on you, the imposter.

You’re cringing aren’t you? Feeling out of your comfort zone and like your skin is crawling with a thousand caterpillars. Myself, I like a good tickle and caterpillars are kind of cute and furry.

It started out as one catch up drink with a friend, continued on to middle eastern princes, and ended with a Thai afterhours that required a password at the gated door. I was in Los Angeles for a weekend break that had not met expectations and was hoping my Sunday night could throw a flicker of light on my trip.

I had met my friend, Marc, on a bar stool a few months earlier at the Sunset Marquis’ Bar 1200 and hadn’t seen him since that enlightening two hour conversation. With long brown hair and beard, Marc fit his musician bill to a tee, as well as pulling off a convincing Jesus.

He’s mysterious and has a thousand layers that I’m ever so slowly peeling off only to discover another tapestry. Like the curling wallpaper in a historical home that reveals each owner’s previous life.

We started our Sunday evening at the Frolic Room, a quintessential dive bar straight out of the 1930’s, reeking of disillusionment and lost dreams. A hole of despair in a glittery town. It’s no wonder Bukowski called it home. One foot set inside the room and I felt the heavy history bare down on me like a weighty yet welcoming fog. This was not a bar one came upon to celebrate, this was a bar one visited to drink away sorrows. Plagued by a recent unsolved murder, the Frolic Room is still the best choice on Hollywood Blvd for a conversation and cheap drink.

We sat in the weathered bar taking refuge from the flashing lights and intrusive noise of the busy Hollywood street. After ordering a couple of very boozy drinks, we bee-lined for the jukebox where we compiled the ultimate rock and folk playlist, much to the chagrin of the man dropping in coin after coin destined for morose soul. The characters in Frolic Room that night were rough around the edges and complex, at least on the exterior.

What is it about a tortured life that is more intriguing than one laced in gold? Hardship sells. Especially when you aren’t the one experiencing it.

Sipping on drink after drink I shaved off a few more layers of Marc’s character, hanging onto his words. Swinging from one to the next like I was Tarzan gracefully leaping between trees on leafy vines. I was compelled. We complemented each other and fell into an ebb and flow of conversation like old friends.

As our last song, Harvest Moon, played its soulful tune we settled our bill on this November night, and he grabbed my hand as we dashed across Hollywood Boulevard dodging headlights and playing with our lives.

Our new destination was juxtaposition if there ever was one from our last station. The Living Room at the W Hotel. Glitz and glam. Sophistication and riches.

We arrived as the sultry Brenna Whitaker and Her Little Big Band were finishing their enchanting jazz set. Just as we thought her last song was on its end notes, a man in the audience offered thousands of dollars to hear “just one more song”. Rumour had it a Middle Eastern prince was making the request.

This most certainly was Hollywood. I fancied myself in the golden age.

There was a lot of buzz in the room and most of it, particularly amongst the women, was directed towards one man sitting in the middle of the cavernous space. I followed their mesmerized gazes and found my eyes traveling up tattooed arms and into the Adonis face of one of Britain’s greatest exports.

David Beckham.

I was transfixed. Marc was even glued to the spot as he looked upon his fellow countryman. Here was proof that soccer (*ahem* football) stars are royalty.

He was out with the boys. No sign of his beautiful wife, which made him available in the minds of some daring women, who approached him with fluttering eyelids and pouting lips. He was civil to all who dared intrude in his evening, but his whisper of annoyance was still loud enough to pick up from my side of the room.

Briefly deserted by Marc, I was now a target. Eyes from all kinds of testosterone filled beings landed on me and my modestly covered body compared to other felines in the crowd.

The first who entered my space was one with an exotic and thick accent, wire rim glasses and thick wavy hair. He was the messenger of a higher being, one who requested my company at his table.

An Arabian prince.

I had never been summoned by a prince before and I let the invitation deliciously wash over my body as though I were Cinderella and invited to the ball. I explained that I already had a companion for the evening and would sadly have to decline the kind offer. My glass slipper had already been found by another.

Sometimes I imagine what would have happened if I had accepted. Would I now live in a beautiful harem?

Marc and I were getting cozy. Comfortable. The kind of familiarity one gets after years of knowing someone, not just a few hours. My arm laced through his with ease as though that were its natural home. After a quick trip to the loo, and an arresting eye contact moment with the handsome soccer star, we left the flashy venue for one last drink.

Being part of both Hollywood’s raw underbelly and glimmering coat, Marc was an encyclopedia of knowledge when it came to locations of the best establishments. The bars were closing and he suggested a seedy Thai after-hours on a quiet street in East Hollywood. I was game. I wanted to see all of Hollywood’s multiple personalities.

I felt like I was walking into an opium den in Thailand as we passed through the rusty gates. Los Angeles was behind us. The room was lit by strands of luminous white lights, creating pockets of darkness in places it would be best not to examine too closely.

The couches were a black hole with all sorts of treasures lost within their depths. With two drinks in hand, we ventured up to a dark loft to sink into the sofa. The only thing we lost between these cushions were our inhibitions, only coming up for air and into the present when a group of track suit wearing men set up their poker game in our sanctuary.

It was time to break the spell and end the night. To let the moonlight lead us back to our respective beds. Yes, respective. It was the moon that had made our night magical, and the glaring appearance of the sun may cast too many shadows on the evening.

Lessons from a bar stool:

1. Plan for the unexpected so you can react accordingly. Interpret as you wish.

2. If he’s touted as being the most beautiful man in the world, telling him how handsome he is as your opening line is stating the obvious and boring. Be original, or better yet let him enjoy his night out free from harassment.

3. Real princes don’t come around very often. You may kick yourself if you don’t investigate their world when you have the chance.

4. When hosting a woman for the evening, take her to out of the box places. Stay memorable.

5. As a straight man, it’s perfectly ok to admire a handsome fellow. Appreciation of beauty goes a long way.

6. Making sure your lady gets home safely by driving 20 minutes out of your way in a cab with her is a noble gesture. Plus, it’s 20 minutes more kissing time.

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[...] Perhaps the ultimate gain from the experience was to see Los Angeles in a new light, not through a hotel room window but as a city I could live in. I also came away with a friend for life. Plus, the way fate ended up working on my last night in LA, perhaps my reason for being there was to make a new connection with somebody from my past. Tale here… [...]

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