By AlCantHang © 2007
It was five o'clock in the morning and there was a knock at the door. I was sitting at the bar drinking with the owner and I was caught red handed. A couple friends were looking through the glass door, we all knew my night was over, it was the end of my Key West vacation. If you had given odds at the beginning of the week that I would spend my last few hours and have my last drink at a country bar someone would have been very rich.
I am most definitely not a country boy. I may have the hair of a hippie but that shouldn't confuse you when it comes to my musical appetite. My tastes lean towards loud, heavy, and fast in that order. My comfort zone is a dive rock club where I can chain smoke, power drink, and have my head assaulted with decibels equivalent to a jumbo jet taking off. The next step down the ladder would be the pubs and bars the exist for sole purpose of its patrons getting blitzed on various hardcore drinks. Then comes the sports bars, strip clubs, snooty yuppie bars, and hotel watering holes. Near the very bottom would generally be any place that plays country music. If there were such a thing as opera bars they would be the only thing ranking lower. Practically god's own miracle that after seven days in Key West I found my most comfortable spot on the planet ponied up to a self-described honky tonk.
This wasn't my first trip to the tiny two-by-four mile island with intentions of drinking to excess while groping various forms off female flesh in the name of sanity reclamation. There are the standard bar options each trip down, the menu consists of four or five bars and two strip clubs to finish off each night. You would most likely find me sitting in front of a band or staring blankly at a random sporting event while chasing away my sobriety. This time around I found my elbow leaning in a painted plywood bar watching the country music channel.
It was all because of the people. When I am on the road, I like to find bars where I don't feel like a mark for the locals, dead tourist money waiting to be sucked from my wallet. In Key West I have the normal options but found myself being talked into trying out a place called Cowboys Bill's. Several blocks away from where we were hanging out and miles away from where I would normally go. But I can be talked into just about anything by anyone of the opposite sex that looks good in a mini-skirt.
I let it slide when the doorman proudly announced PBR tallboys on special and turned a blind eye at the mechanical bull sitting idle in the middle of the outside bar. I was looking for shots, maybe a football game, and something to make we want to come back. The barstaff was the deciding factor. By the end of that first night I was placing friendly wagers at the pool table with locals, telling classic bar bullshit stories with the bartender/bouncer, and actually planning my next trip back to their bar. The extremely generous size of their shots and the blind eye towards my barely existent bar tab had only a little to do with this decision.
Two nights later I found myself sitting at the same spot at the bar drinking with the same results. I had been promised a fantastic show that evening. Nekkid girls riding the bull. I barely even noticed that we were forced to suffer listening to a hillbilly band live on stage while waiting for the festivities to kick off. The rest of my crew had their spirits broken by the band but I was sticking around. Not for the bull riding.
After the surprise of the first night's enjoyment, I received my second on my next trip back when I was introduced to the owner of the bar. She remembered me from her previous employment at another bar where I'd spent too much time and too many dollar bills. She personally welcomed me to her bar with promises of good times, endless drinks, and as much fun as I could handle. Still skeptical but I was loosening up. I was given the tour and introduced to the lovely ladies of Cowboy Bill's. I still don't think you could predict how the week was going to end but the foundation was set. Still couldn't stand the music though.
I spent the rest of the week either starting my night or ending it sitting in Cowboy Bill's drinking myself deaf. I never once felt like an outsider or a walking ATM machine. I was bought as many drinks as I dished out. I met other members of the staff and I started to feel like I was two blocks from home instead of 1,000 miles. Even at times when I should have been at home in bed getting ready for a 6 am fishing charter, I found myself shooting another game of pool two hours before I was due to step up dockside.
The final piece of evidence that I had found my new Key West playground came on my final day in town. I found a bartender who liked to drink and tell bar stories as much as anyone I knew down there. She wasn't too tough on the eyes either. I stopped into the bar before the final big night on the town to fill my stomach and empty my wallet. She wished me a good time but made me promise to come back before the end of the night when her shift ended. That way we could have one last drink before hopping the flight home.
I hit the bars with my friends like alcohol was being banned the next day. The bars led to the strip clubs which led me to the only downside of the weekend. Everyone was lined up getting their final lap teases and trying to forget they only had a few hours left in paradise. And I lost track of time. Far too late I realized that I was past the time my new favorite bartender was scheduled to be cut from the business side of the bar.
It's tough to convince a dancer in a strip club that you need to cut short the lap dance because you are late to be somewhere else. Proving my comfort and confidence in a good time at Cowboy Bill's, I intentionally left a bar full of girls looking to satisfy my carnal desires if the price was right. I left the strip club to go back to a country bar to drink with someone I barely knew. I had somehow because immune to the horrid music in response to the feeling that I was sitting in my home bar.
Unfortunately the story does not have a happy ending. I had spent way too much time at the strip club and the bar was too far away. The owner told me I missed her by mere minutes but would I like a drink to put out the flames. Beer after beer I took turns telling and listening to stories from the past. I was trying to drink away the disappointment and realization that mere hours from then I would be winging my way home.
Not long before the sun was to rise, that knock came at the door. My friends were staring in at me in the wee hours of the morning sitting comfortably with a beer in my hand in a country bar. I could almost pretend for a moment that I didn't mind the music at all. I had accomplished my mission though, I found my comfort zone in the most unlikely of places with the most unlikely people.
AlCantHang is a seasoned Socologist from Phoenixville, PA.