Patrick and I had barely settled in at a table on the far left of the room, with a good view of the stage and a clear path to the john, when the waitress stepped over from the bar.
“Hi, guys! What can I get y’all?”
“Uh … whaddaya got on tap?” Pat asked.
“Well, we’ve got Miller Lite, Old Style, and PBR. It’s $2.50 a mug, $15 for a pitcher.”
Carol’s Pub hadn’t changed at all.
“Y’all like some nuts?” Sure, why not. “OK, I’ll bring you some pistachios.” Seconds later she was back with the pitcher, two plastic cups, and a paper napkin full of nuts.
It was early in the evening – for Carol’s, on a Saturday – not quite 10 o’clock. The place looked exactly the same as I’d remembered it, except nobody was smoking. The last time I’d been there, you could still smoke in bars in Chicago. And I did, frequently and enthusiastically.
So no smoking at Carol’s … in that respect, we’d changed together with the times. As far as I could tell otherwise, I’d changed more than the old honky tonk had, over the last decade, give or take.
For one thing, I was no longer in the market for a place to drink until 4 a.m. When I first started hanging around the corner of Clark and Leland in the Uptown neighborhood – in December 1998 – the existence of 4 a.m. liquor licenses (and 5 a.m. on weekend nights at some places) was a thing that made me feel like I’d found a reasonable town to call home.
But my stamina isn’t what it was, so I was happy to nurse a few beers and watch an early set of the house band, Diamondback, with the old crowd. The regulars, the folks from the neighborhood who’ve been coming out to Carol’s to drink and dance to good old country-western music for the better part of 35 years.
By the time the clock strikes two, and most of the other bars have closed, the young hipsterino crowd will be rolling in. I think the reports of college brats slumming for ironic thrills are exaggerated – or they were, as I recall. Most of the crowd by that time is primarily there for a couple more hours of heavy boozing, and is so drunk already that they can’t tell if they’re having fun as a joke, or if they really mean it. Or what.
Regardless, I’d just as soon avoid them. I don’t have much choice anyway. Not only do I need my sleep, but hangover-avoidance is a major portion of my weekend strategizing.
So I didn’t re-live the experience of closing Carol’s, settling instead for a relatively sedate 90 minutes or so of watching older couples two-step and line dance to Buck Owens and Merle Haggard covers.
Which was nice. Brought me back to my childhood more than to my early 30s. I grew up in a small town, where people were welcome to bring their kids with them when they went to the local neighborhood tavern for a couple beers on a Saturday afternoon. I spent a lot of time in the kinds of places where people weren’t there to get blasted or to get laid, they were there to spend time with friends they’d known forever.
I would drink fountain cokes (invariably in tall frosted glasses with ice and a skinny cocktail straw) and pump my parents for dimes to feed the pinball machine and the jukebox, which was always loaded with what we’d now call “classic” country music – Willie, Waylon, Merle, Cash, Conway Twitty, Porter Wagoner, and so on.
Those old taverns didn’t have live bands, and weren’t quite as rough around the edges as Carol’s Pub, but the vibe was similar, especially on a slow weeknight or the early phases of a Saturday evening, before the party people show up.
So I’m thinking maybe what happened last night at Carol’s was that one of those hardcore partiers showed up at a time that wasn’t right, for him, for Carol’s, or for anyone.
Reports from Chicago’s two major newspapers vary, but what seems to have happened, in a nutshell, is this:
Two staffers of a popular Uptown neighborhood dive bar are being questioned after a patron was stabbed during a brawl at the establishment Wednesday night on the North Side.
At 7:33 p.m. the 48-year-old intoxicated customer got into a fight with two employees inside Carol’s Pub, 4659 N. Clark St., according to police.
The fight continued outside the bar where responding officers found the 48-year-old man, suffering from three stab wounds, police said.
There’s some gossip flying around on community blogs, of course, but I think it’s too soon to jump to conclusions. There’s also a lot of typical anonymous commenting on the Sun-Times story that is better left ignored, in my opinion.
Still, it does remind me that there’s a dark side to all this homey warmth I’ve been going on about. Emotions and attitudes can change from sweet to savage in an instant if someone decides you’re not “one of them” – and I’m talking about the staff as well as the patrons. Not just at Carol’s Pub, but at many places. Although there’s no denying the fact, too, that Carol’s – a predominantly white bar operated and frequented by white transplants from Kentucky and Tennessee – is something of an anomaly in a neighborhood that is very ethnically diverse.
So … what happened last night? Was it justified? Was it an assault by a racist bouncer? I don’t know. I don’t even want to guess until some time passes and some facts have a chance to come out.
(To be continued, maybe.)