Ah, yes, the City of Angels.
The city of high hopes and crushed dreams. The glitzy crucible where stars are forged, where Bukowski battled and boozed, where Hammett, F. Scott and Faulkner drank themselves into oblivion.
When faced with that kind of reputation, you want to arrive a little in the bag, and thanks to a stopover in Vegas that entailed a quick and savage booze binge, I hit the tarmac with a dozen drinks under my belt. I was perhaps a bit more blurry than starry-eyed, but I too had high hopes—of getting monumentally loaded. And with the frantic eagerness of a freshly-arrived theater major from Des Moines rushing to his first audition, I hit the bars.
Hermosa Saloon 211 Pacific Coast Hwy
6 Budweiser bottles
2 Jim Beam shots
The Hermosa Saloon has a lot going for it, including attractive prices, attentive service and aggressively poured shots. Scotty, my native guide/photographer, and I languidly absorbed this while waiting for a friend. I was feeling rather macho knocking back shots of Beam until our friend, Melle, arrived to shame me with a double Wild Turkey, neat. My kind of woman.
After abusing the hospitality of the staff at the Hermosa for a couple hours, I insisted we visit a Tiki bar, as this was California, land of the Tiki.
Point Break 514 North Pacific Coast Hwy
1 Mai Tai
1 Shot Tuaca
1 Bud Bottle
Not precisely a Tiki bar, as it turned out. Lynyrd Skynyrd howled from the jukebox, for one damn thing. On the other hand, my Mai Tai was large, strong, and served in a ceramic Confucius. I settled down at the bar and started up a conversation with a regular named Crock about something so esoteric that my tape recorder wouldn’t make much sense of it. The subjects of Florida, man-eating alligators, swamp gas, and Seminole Indian rites of passage all seemed to play a part, however.
Scotty’s House Redondo Beach
2 glasses red wine
2 Budweiser bottles
I woke up with my nose firmly planted in the carpet of Scotty’s living room floor, mocked by the dust bunnies under his couch. I had no memory of getting back to Scotty’s the night before, although I did vaguely recall a brief, but meaningful encounter with Fat Burger, Inc. I sat up and gazed around. Melle was sleeping on the couch, the very picture of peaceful repose, but I sensed danger. A hell of a hangover was creeping up on me like a dire wolf slinking up to a caveman’s guttering fire. I had to spear the fucker with a strong jolt of booze before he got close enough to crunch my fragile skull between his jaws like a rotten walnut.
Some energetic foraging turned up half a bottle of wine carelessly hidden in the linen hamper, and four beers half-heartedly secreted beneath a layer of celery in the vegetable crisper. I would have to speak with Scotty about his appallingly poor hoarding techniques. I woke Melle and together we sent our respective wolves packing. After a more intense, but ultimately futile scouring of the apartment, we woke up Scotty and went hunting breakfast drinks.
On the Rocks Redondo Pier
On the Rocks is a large sports bar with something like 43 televisions. Not exactly my kind of place, but they had booze and sometimes that’s all you can ask.
Melle immediately unmanned Scotty and I by ordering a double Wild Turkey, hold the croissants, for breakfast.
After my third screwdriver, I finally felt up to par. Furthermore, I had a plan. We’d steal a boat from the marina and head out to the high seas for some serious drinking. We’d raise sail for Polynesia and become rum-soaked pirates pillaging and drinking on the great blue Pacific. I’d be the feared pirate Captain Blackout and Melle would be my trusted first mate, Mean Old Lady. The idea struck me with such poetic vision that my eyes teared up.
“Are you okay?” Melle asked.
“Fuck yeah!” I shouted, perhaps a bit too loud, as the bartender gave me the evil eye. “We need a boat, where can we steal a boat?”
Scotty leaned over and whispered conspiratorially. “The marina, it’s right over there.” He pointed in a vague direction, then spun in his stool in another random direction. “Or, maybe over there, it doesn’t matter.”
Scotty would obviously be useless on the high seas, as he had no sense of direction. Still, we needed him for the initial theft. We’d have to play along until we had the boat, and then Melle and I could jump him. I decided then and there that my first act as Captain would be to make sure that fucker walked the plank. Besides, a photographer on a pirate ship just spells disaster, he’d catalogue our crimes and then we’d all hang. We finished our drinks and ventured over to the marina.
Naja’s Place Redondo Marina
1 Anchor Steam draw
Scotty’s sense of direction proved worse than I thought, as we wandered through a parking garage, a small indoor carnival, and far too many seafood restaurants that didn’t serve booze. By this time the saber-toothed tiger of sobriety was stalking me, I could see him lurking in the shadows, ready to strike. I decided I would keelhaul Scotty before I made him walk the plank.
We finally got lucky. We found not only the marina, but a bar as well. Naja’s is an open-air beer and wine joint with an insane array of taps. Overwhelmed by opportunity, I ordered the sampler, then tried to work out a mathematical theorem that would determine how many years and dollars I would have to spend sitting at the bar to make my way down the taps. Screw being a pirate, I would glue myself to this bar every waking moment, sleeping in the parking garage when necessary. I had a new career, a new life.
Scotty, true to course, shook me from my reverie by asking the owner which boat he should steal. My dreams of being a beer scientist scuttled, I promptly decided that Scotty would be flogged in addition to being keelhauled and made to walk the plank.
Fifteen minutes of observing marina security made us understand that the three of us would never be able to overpower the guards, seize a vessel and sail away to adventure. Even if we knew how to sail, which we didn’t. We needed an experienced crew, and where better to find a crew than a bar?
Pat’s II 1312 S. Pacific Coast Hwy
1 Vodka Tonic
As I recall, Pat’s II is long and dark and serves hot nuts. Our waitress from breakfast was sitting at the bar, and joined us for a few drinks.
I’d been in town for a little over a day and things were already sinking into a pattern. I started to brood. I felt that the whole story was veering off course. I was in Los Angeles to find the magic that had attracted gullible and wise people alike for nearly a century. The big dream — or the big lie — that had waitresses from Iowa swarming into town on Greyhound busses with stars in their eyes and fame-greed in their hearts. Yet I was in Redondo Beach, land of surfers and slackers. I needed to absorb the sinister and jaded vibe of Tinseltown, not the laid-back beach groove. I vowed that we would hit Hollywood that night.
3 Budweiser draws
2 Double Wild Turkeys, neat
Every trip I take, I find a place that feels comfortable—a home base, where the staff is even kind to drunken degenerates, where the comp drinks flow unabated, where I can knock stuff over and they don’t get all worked up. For this gig, Hermosa Saloon was that place.
I decided it was high time to beat Melle at her own game. I wanted to prove that I was a man, much more so than she; that I could not only dish out any number of high-concept piracy theories, but also drink high-octane liquor by the bucketful.
So when Melle ordered another double Wild Turkey, neat, so did I. I felt on top of my game. My hangover had long ago been sent yelping away by the bright lights and noisy shotgun of a civilized binge. I felt tough, rugged even.
But I knew I was less than the man I should be when the bartender refilled Melle’s empty glass, then, with an almost embarrassed grimace, topped off my half-full one.
Fuck it, I figured, it was early. Slow and steady wins the race. I was still a man, that was for sure. I stroked my beard. Could a woman grow such a thing? No, sir, I was still a man.
We continued drinking and knocking stuff over for the friendly staff to pick up until 7pm, when we realized that we were due in Silverlake to meet a friend and kick-off a night of serious barhopping. I idly wondered how that would go, considering it was relatively early and we were already knocking things over.
But what does a man, a real man, care?
1 Early Times & Perrier
The Great Ema sculator went home to change while Scotty and I headed back to suit up. It was time for a full-bore suit night: dress up, kick it off with fancy cocktails at a fine establishment, then work our way down to swilling Wild Irish Rose from a bum’s boot on skid row.
Like a proper gentleman drunkard, our pal Erik had stocked up for our arrival: a case of PBR and a handle of Early Times to complement his already well-stocked liquor cabinet. We settled down to drink and await the arrival of the Great Emasculator. I was starting to feel my drinks, and I admit I was a tad worried. If I was this drunk, this early, what would the night turn into? Only one way to find out, a manly internal voice growled, and had Erik fix me up an Early Times and Perrier. It’s much more manly than it sounds. By the time Melle returned, I was fairly reeking of testosterone.
Damon’s Steak House 317 N. Brand
1 Mai Tai
Known for its excellent steaks, Damon’s is the kind of place you need to wear a suit to feel comfortable in. And we were. Braced with a trio of Tiki drinks, I teetered at the edge of the pinnacle and gazed down into the chasm below. It was going to be a long fall.
Some Tiki bar
Not a goddamn thing
Stumbling drunk and argumentative, we captured a cab and headed to a bar the Damon’s staff had recommended. We fought our way to the bar through a bustling crowd, not afraid to toss a discrete elbow where needed. We swayed at the bar authoritatively, waving handfuls of cash, and when that didn’t attract the bartenders’ attention, we started flailing our arms like wild monkeys. No dice. We were invisible. We retreated through the crowd and wandered down the street toward a bar that Erik swore would serve our kind.
Ye Rustic Inn 1831 Hillhurst
Things were getting ugly. We had wandered for what seemed like hours, fighting our way through irate kick-hungry crowds, and tensions were running high. So Erik and I decided to defuse the stress with a bit of good old-fashioned drunken sparring. It made perfect sense. We squared off in the parking lot and began wailing on each other. I thought my Drunken Moron Style was more than a match for his Booze-Fueled Monkey Style, until he landed a solid punch against my ear. It was then I decided that enough tension had been expelled.
Laughing, perhaps he more than I, we walked towards the door to Ye Rustic Inn. The diminutive and somewhat alarmed hippie bouncer stopped us at the door. He’d been enjoying some manner of dubious-smelling cigarette in the alley, and had witnessed our entire tension-expelling exercise.
“Dudes,” he trebled, “you can’t come in here.”
Erik and I looked him up and down. We had our macho dander up. Should we whoop him and stroll in at our ease? Then vault over the bar, seize whatever bottles struck our fancy and, guzzling with one hand and karate-chopping angry patrons with the other, drink the joint down to its very foundations? We discussed this possibility in whispers, further alarming the bouncer. Were we men enough to pull that sort of king-hell act of savagery?
Apparently not. We gave the bouncer one last Bruce Lee glare then surrendered the night. Unsure where we stood in the World of Men, we retreated back to Erik’s to try to get a handle on it.
1 Early Times & Perrier
I was feeling down. The suit night had proved to be a total disaster. My masculinity was rubbing against the reef. Just hours before I had imagined myself an excellent candidate for pirate captainship, and now? If I couldn’t keep hold of my masculinity, how could I muscle my way around the velvet rope guarding the Great Hollywood Dream?
These are not pleasant things to consider while swilling cheap beer and mineral-water cocktails in a dark room. I swore that tomorrow would be different, tomorrow I would be a goddamn man.
“Hey, we’re out of Perrier,” I informed Erik. He nodded blankly and I gritted my teeth. What was a man to do?
I woke up sprawled on Erik’s couch. I’d slept all the angles off my suit and my tie had vanished. My ear hurt. My machismo hurt. I liberated a beer from Erik’s fridge and thought, three more days of this. So be it. Erik woke up, we slapped some shape back into our suits, then headed for the bar.
The Red Lion, Downstairs 2366 Glendale
1 22oz Dinkle-Aker
3 22oz Kostawarsa
1 22oz Spaten-Munich Optmater
6 Shots Apfel Schnapps
The name might hint of an upstanding English pub, but the Red Lion is in fact a two-level German bar. Our bartender, a matronly German woman named Rosie, recognized our dilemma and treated us like her long lost drunkard children. We glumly started wading into the dozen German beers on tap, then Erik perked up enough to insist we get into the Apfel Schnapps. Sweet and tangy, it teamed up with a plateful of sausages and made quick work of our hangovers.
We were content to sit there and drink down the afternoon with Rosie. There’s nothing in the world like a bartender with your best interests at heart. She admonished me when I tried to order vodka, informing me that the German and Russian liquors got along as well as Hitler and Stalin.
It was a fine afternoon, four hours of smooth sailing after a night in the tempest. Four hours later, when happy hour finally rolled around, Rosie turned on us savagely and kicked us out. It wasn’t exactly an 86, it was more of a request to go drink upstairs, so we would stop scaring the early-dinner crowd.
Red Lion, Upstairs
We crept upstairs, blinking against the light like prisoners being released from solitary confinement. Unlike the fickle Fräulein downstairs, the wide-open blue sky seemed to approve of our rugged natures. Scotty joined us, and happy hour pulled down the sun and I suddenly realized I’d been lulled into shirking my sacred, manly mission. It was all fine and good to hunker down and drink away the day, but it was no way to find the Great Hollywood Dream. We needed to march on the city.
Cha Cha Lounge 2375 Glendale
1 Vodka Tonic
The first leg of our march only took us as far as across the street. The Cha Cha counts itself among LA’s army of Tiki bars. We settled in until I got the call I’d been waiting for. My native beach-bum guides were failing me so I decided it was high time to bring in some heavy-duty inner-city talent in the form of Skot and his wife Jaime. Skot crewed on several Hollywood films and I thought him the perfect person to show me the secret side of Los Angeles.
We went outside to find a cab and I couldn’t help but notice that, once again, things were getting sloppy early into the evening. My body had decided that walking was not the easiest thing in the world to do. I argued with it, explaining that we’d been walking for many years now and were quite adept at it. Our cab arrived just after Melle did.
Blue Room 916 San Fernando
5 Budweiser bottles
We rode that cab into the abyss. We surfaced at the Blue Room in Burbank. My legs came back but my brain took a powder. I recall meeting with Skot, Jamie, a cat named Louie and others. The tape recorder offers no insights— Louie apparently appropriated it for a long-winded rant about redemption, revolution, and how much Burbank sucks. I remember excessive confusion about the bar tab, arguments over the bar tab, over-payment of said bar tab, and general disgust about, what else, the bar tab. Erik disappeared, then reappeared in time to prevent a major brawl breaking out between our drunken crew and the bar staff. He reminded us that an excessive bar tab is better than a night in the Burbank jailhouse. Seeing his point, we paid up and stumbled into the night, our collective spirit shattered. We decided to head to Skot and Jamie’s house, far from cruel bartenders and premonitions of time in a cage.
Skot and Jamie’s House
1 vodka tonic
Dropping into a chair at Skot and Jamie’s, I felt like I’d run a marathon only to collapse 15 feet from the finish line without the strength to crawl the remaining distance. I felt utterly thwarted. Every time I made my run, the City of Angels managed to flutter just out of reach of my grasping paws.
Over my nightcap I determined I was approaching it from the wrong angle. Instead of probing its thick, glitzy hide, I would attack its soft, filthy underbelly. I would hit Skid Row, Bukowski’s old stomping ground.
Skot and Jamie’s House
I awoke to the enchanting aroma of frying bacon. Feeling much better than I should have, I followed the scent to the source, took one bite, then ran to the bathroom to throw up. Fine. Food was off the menu.
Two stiff cocktails managed to settle my stomach and I found myself eager to get started. Walking outside, I experienced a momentary loss of motor control and pitched forward onto the sidewalk. Thinking quickly, I broke the fall with my face and tore open the knee of my suit. I lay there bleeding and, yes, giggling. It was really too much. My descent into Skid Row hadn’t even started and I was already rolling around in the gutter like a goddamn wino.
The Barrel 4547 Van Nuys
4 Captain and Cokes
We walked four blocks to Skot’s neighborhood bar and drank away the morning, nursing our wounds and loading up on free hotdogs and popcorn. Melle and Erik played games on a crippled shuffleboard table and I leaned over the bar and tried to stanch the flow of blood from my face. After four rounds we decided that the world was too bright and cheerful to be out in, and crept back to Erik’s to hide in the dark and wait for the sun to die.
4 PBR cans
We killed that rat-bastard of an afternoon drinking PBR, watching movies, and generally hiding from the hideous sunlight. I didn’t bother cleaning my wounds, figuring a high BAC would kill any and all bacteria. I wondered if this was how Bukowski had sometimes felt, hiding in his Hollywood apartment, drinking beer and banging on his typewriter.
When the sun finally crept behind the horizon, we loaded up the car with beer and headed for Tinseltown.
We hit Hollywood Boulevard like a gang of wino commandos. We drank openly from our cans of PBR, feeling we were immune to the laws of normal society. Louie ran into a building to use the restroom and came back with a strange story to tell. By sheer chance he’d stumbled upon an AA meeting. He froze in the doorway, beer in hand, staring down the room of startled 12-steppers. It was a silent tableau, a straight Sergio Leone moment. Louie broke the tension with a wicked laugh then stumbled back onto the street, where he felt it necessary to drop his pants and stop traffic. The boulevard was crawling with cops, but none seized him. We felt it was a powerful omen. It was obvious we were invincible and it wouldn’t be long before we hunted down Bukowski’s ghost and made him tell us the secrets of the Great Hollywood Dream.
Jumbo’s Clown Room 5153 Hollywood
2 Heineken bottles
1 shot Jim Beam
Jumbo’s brings to mind Circus Circus in Vegas. It lacks the gambling and trapeze artists, but makes up for it with naked women. We camped out around the stage, swilling beer and throwing money at bored strippers doing the same old bump and grind. I was laughing like a drunken idiot on the outside, but inside I was disappointed. I had expected much more from a place called Jumbo’s Clown Room. I had expected a surreal David Lynchesqe nightmare crowded with half-naked clowns and hideously deformed ringmasters. Instead, I got a strip club barely past ordinary. Not a single stripper wore clown makeup or floppy shoes, and none had the even the common courtesy of sporting a big red clown nose. It wasn’t nearly weird enough for our purposes. We needed to venture deeper into wino territory.
Bar 107 107 4th St. Downtown
1 Old Style draw
1 Jim Beam shot
When I saw the Old Style Lager sign over the keyhole-shaped door, I knew we were on the right path. Over a beer and a shot we admired the stuffed animal heads on the walls. It seemed like a decent bar, perhaps a little too decent for the likes of us. For some reason I sought out the owner and interviewed her in an upright and professional manner. I can’t exactly recall what the interview was about, but just as I was about to head butt the woman, for her own good, Erik put the clamp on me and suggested we leave.
The King Edward Skid Row
2 Budweiser draws
We were reaching that fine edge, that uncontrollable and incoherent stage of drinking. I told my tape recorder what I was drinking and after that it’s all screaming, ranting, and bartenders yelling at someone for sleeping. It also appears I attempted more off-the-cuff interviews concerning important subjects like the possible brand of Bukowski’s typewriter, and whether , by chance, anyone had seen his ghost hanging around.
1 PBR can
Once again I awoke in my suit, only this time it appeared Hell’s own tailor had made some radical, punk-rock inspired alterations then painted it with blood. It didn’t smell so hot either. None of us smelled so hot. We had a quick beer, then fled the apartment just to escape our own stench. We shuffled to the nearest bar, hoping they had good ventilation.
Ye Rustic Inn
Back to the scene of the crime. On our way we wondered if the high-strung hippie bouncer would be on hand to crush our groove. Would he remember the missteps of the previous evening? Would we have to fight our way in?
Erik loudly swore that the Rustic was a good and decent bar, and no goddamn hippie was going to stand in our way, regardless of the consequences.
It turned out they didn’t feel the need for a bouncer at noon on a Sunday. We attached ourselves to the bar and tried to ignore the screeching jukebox. The bar was oddly packed for a Sunday afternoon and I found it hard to think, to decipher the value and purpose of the previous evening. Was anything meaningful accomplished? Had the assault on the beast’s underbelly delivered any truths? Or had it rolled over like a fat crocodile and drowned me in its vile swamp? Was I making any progress toward the Great Hollywood Dream at all? Who were all these goddamn people and why didn’t they shut the hell up?
Drawing Room 1800 Hillhurst
2 Budweiser bottles
The Drawing Room sounds like a fine place to think in peace, but its penchant for karaoke makes a lie of its name. Furthermore, I knew matters had already taken a dark turn when the stoner bartender from Ye Rustic Inn walked in, took one look at us, then ducked immediately back out the door. We were giving off an evil vibe; anybody with any instincts at all would avoid us like the plague.
We were locked into a rolling blackout; we were an 86 waiting to happen. They cut me off after my second beer, and treated us like stone-broke degenerates. Then we started getting into that filthy karaoke. Members of the gang lost their grip on the merry-go-round and disappeared into the night. I crept to the restroom and examined myself in the mirror. Fuck being a man, I didn’t even look human. When I came out I knew it was time to let go. Our chances of sneaking up on the Great Hollywood Dream were nil. It would smell us long before we got within sight of the beast.
We stumbled back to Erik’s with vomit breaks along the way. The entire enterprise seemed doomed. Los Angeles had worked us over but good, leaving us bleeding, blind and adrift.
The morning found us back at square one, Redondo Beach. We managed to foray out to a half-dozen Pier St. bars, but none of it mattered. What matter minor skirmishes, when you’d already lost the war? We drank with the gloomy spirit of wounded deserters freshly returned from a disastrous campaign. We put on brave little faces and told the brave little lies that French soldiers probably passed around the cafes of Paris, after the Wehrmacht rolled through.
But mostly I drank and tried to forget.
My flight was way too early, and I stank of booze and bender. No one sat next to me on the flight and over Bloody Marys I tried very hard to put all the broken pieces back together.
What had gone wrong, exactly? And, more importantly, who could I blame? Was it possible that I had dropped the banner, or had my scouts been working against me from the start? Or was the enemy so powerful and evil that we never had a chance at all?
It wasn’t long, however, before these uneasy thoughts were pushed aside by something more powerful than blame-mongering—an itch to return and make it right.
My wounds had even started to heal, and I desperately wanted to get back in the ring. I wanted the plane to turn around and land at LAX. I wanted to parachute onto Hollywood Boulevard and make a fresh start of it. Like all the fools before me, I wanted one more ride on that evil merry-go-round and this time, yes, this time I would grab hold of that goddamn brass ring.
Photos by Scott McGlassen
Editor’s Note: Two weeks after this story was written, Nick Plumber packed his bags and moved to L.A. He is presently unemployed but optimistic about his prospects.
Update: Nick has returned to Denver and is optimistic about the prospects he briefly abandoned.