A sign that I may be entering a new phase of my dotage: I was looking at a picture by LeRoy Neiman recently and I thought, You know, that’s really not so bad.
Plenty of art snobs have sneered at the late Mr. Neiman’s work and I admit I’ve sometimes joined in. A painter who does a lot of pictures of sportsmen and a lot of work for Playboy really isn’t all that likely to be embraced by the world of high art, and it seems not to have bothered him. He famously said, ““Maybe the critics are right. But what I am supposed to do about it?” But the picture that really got to me, was this one:
It shows the bar of the Pump Room in Chicago and was done in 1956. It’s perfect in its way, and it seems to me that it shows a Platonic ideal of what an American bar should look like, but in reality very rarely does. Turns out Neiman did quite a few bar pictures, including this one of Frank Sinatra at Rao’s in New York.
Now, life being the way it is I went to a local bar here in Los Feliz, in LA, on Sunday afternoon, a place called The Rockwell. It has an interesting space, a sort of indoor/outdoor patio with a tree growing in the middle. It was quite fancy but very friendly and it was a very satisfactory place to lose part of a weekend afternoon. It looked more or less like this:
I’ve had quite a few conversations with people about whether you’d rather have good food in an ugly restaurant or bad food in beautiful one. Of course you want to say the former, but sometimes I’m not so sure.
Of course when it comes to drinking there’s less at stake. Naturally booze is more expensive in a fancy watering hole than in a dive, but less markedly so than food. And so the Loved One and I discussed which were the best looking bars we’d ever drunk in.
We began by admitting that the majority of bars we’d been to had not been chosen on the basis of their attractiveness – we’d gone to them because they were there. But we agreed that we both used to love a bar called simply ñ (and pronounced enya) in Crosby Street in lower Manhattan – the interior looked like this:
It’s closed now but at least it continues to exist on yelp – where you’ll find this picture - a scene to which LeRoy Neiman could have done justice:
The last place I lived in London was walking distance from a pub called the Warrington. One story had it that it used to be a brothel, with ladies of the night displaying themselves on that curved staircase.
And you can just about see a mural at the left above the bar that I guess is Art Nouveau although it also looks a bit like a psychedelic album cover. It was a genuine local pub and I once I had a conversation with a lad in there who gave me a brief consumer’s guide to the various local prisons in which he’d done time, “Wormwood Scrubs – it’s like a fuckin' holiday camp,” was his opinion.
I find it hard to believe that David Lynch spends much time in bars, what with all the coffee drinking and the Transcendental Meditation®, and such, but he sure knows what people want in a bar, whether it’s a great neon sign, or a dark space where lights flash, people take their clothes off and the music is pretty great. I’m describing the creepy, sexy, wonderful club in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.
Commentators describe it by various names, but in the screenplay it appears like this:
INT. BORDER TRUCK STOP - NIGHT
The front room is a bar and restaurant with about THREE PATRONS.
Above the bar is a sign that reads:
CAN - A - DO and U.S. OF FUCKIN' "A"
The BARTENDER presses a release underneath the counter that allows
Laura to take her three friends thru a door over which a sign hangs
announcing in red neon letters:
135. INT. PARTYLAND
The group enters a large room with the filthiest wall to wall carpet
imaginable. In the back corner is a small stage. On it a three
piece HELL-METAL BAND is building up toward oblivion. The LEAD SINGER
is dressed in a buffalo skin complete with at least half the buffalo
head and horns. He wears spray painted, day glow orange cowboy boots.
Some HALF DRESSED GIRLS and COWBOYS are dancing to the band. In
darkened corners away from the stage other groups are racing the
band to oblivion.
Laura leans over to Donna noticing her shocked look.
Don't expect a turkey dog in here.
Of course Lynch’s bars are fictional, a matter of cinematic smoke and mirrors, but sometimes the distinction gets blurred. One of the very best reasons for having a time machine would be to go back to 1966 and visit, as Life magazine described it, “The hottest place in the San Francisco suburb of Sunnyvale.”
They’re referring to a joint named Wayne Manor. Life again says it was “named after Batman’s straight self, Bruce Wayne … The Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin are painted in throbbing colors on the walls, and villains cackle in fluorescence. Behind a plate glass screen, girls dressed like Robin lead the crowd in the Batusi. Batman sells tickets at the front door, the maître d’ is the Joker, and drinks are served by Wonder Woman.” Well yes, maybe, but in the Platonic bar of my dreams I think the drinks are served by Catwoman.