Saturday, May 6, 2017

Missing Marie's Crisis

I am not a bar person.  I barely drink these days, I live in a small town with one lame gay bar, and my PTSD makes crowded social settings more of a trial than ever.

My interest in bars nowadays is mostly nostalgic – remembering the old Rumours in Bellingham or the old R Place in Seattle, and my long-gone bartender crushes at each (definitely stories for another day).  Memorable roadtrips to Portland (real strippers!) or San Diego (cute boys!). Camping out for hours at Sidetrack in Chicago (a story from another day).  Buy me a drink some time and I’ll try to remember a few more embarrassing anecdotes.

Whenever I climb on my curmudgeonly soapbox to rant about how Seattle has changed for the worse in the last quarter century, I eventually sigh “I miss the Ritz….”  Frankly the Ritz closed in 1991, not long after I moved to town.  But it was a piano bar, hosted each night by charming and talented pianist/singers who invited patrons to gather around the piano to make requests and sing along with the crowd. 

I love piano bars.  I have an encyclopedic knowledge of Broadway showtunes, as well as having most of the Great American Songbook memorized.  I have a strong voice and compulsively harmonize.  Although I’ve never been drunk or stoned enough to sing a solo, I’d be one of the top draft choices for any pickup gay chorus.  I consider the hours I’ve spent at Gentry’s in Chicago, the Ritz in Seattle, and 88s in New York to be golden.  Of course, they’re all closed now.  It turns out piano bar is one of those doomed business models that break hearts and bank accounts. 

Right now, Marie's Crisis is my neighborhood bar.  It’s an institution, where singing barflies gather around the piano every night.  Unfortunately it’s 3000 miles away in Greenwich Village. But whenever I’m in New York I’m there until 4 am, long past my bedtime anywhere else.  I don’t go for the singing waiters, off duty chorus boys, or gay and gayish celebrities.  (One night last year Darren Criss and Michael Feinstein each touched me.  Well, brushed by me on the way to the bar.)  I go because that’s where my tribe gathers.

In case you’re wondering, karaoke night is very different from a piano bar.  Monday nights in Seattle you can hear some exceptional karaoke singing at Purr, particularly after the Seattle Men’s Chorus rehearsal ends at 9:30 and a few SMC prima donnas wander into the bar to belt out predictable pop song solos.  Not the same at all.

I loved my fifteen years singing in SMC, which is a well-oiled gay machine, but I was always frustrated that it lacked an after-rehearsal social ritual.  Almost everyone just retires to their Seattle-nice homes.  Purr doesn’t count.  In contrast, when I sang in Windy City Gay Chorus, every Wednesday night after rehearsal most of the chorus headed down the street to Big Chicks, a friendly neighborhood gay bar, for a drink or two.  Big Chicks had a tradition of handing out free shots at midnight.   Every week I would vow to be home in bed before shots.  Instead, I usually made it to last call at 1:30, and learned not to schedule anything important at work on Thursday mornings.  I met my Chicago boyfriend Skinny Pharmacist at Big Chicks one Wednesday night in 1999 after midnight.

I’ve been singing in Vancouver Men’s Chorus for over a year now.  VMC is well run like SMC, but also warm and cuddly like WCGC.  I’ve even dragged myself to the designated post-rehearsal watering hole a few times.  Pumpjack is an agreeable leatherish bar, with a couple of “Reserved for VMC” signs on the tables in our corner every Wednesday.  It’s been great chatting with baritones and basses from the other side of the chorus.   But I’ve never had more than one drink before heading for the border.

This week at Pumpjack I overheard someone talking about going across the street to XY, a bar I’d never even heard of before.  It turns out for the last year XY has hosted a piano bar every Wednesday night, organized by another pining Marie’s Crisis devotee.  Sure enough, the bar was filled with UBC theatre majors and middle-aged chorus boys, singing along with a couple of excellent pianists.  I was there enjoying myself until last call. 

I don’t know whether to thank Jim for telling me about XY this week, or to berate everyone for hiding a secret piano bar from me for the last year.  With my luck it will be out of business before June.  I already love my new mobile Marie’s Crisis.  I’ll be there next Wednesday.  But I’m already resigned to missing it soon.


[Ed. note:  Back to XY in Get Out and Stay Out]