As I glance at my watch, I realize its time to leave. I stand up from the stool slightly unbalanced, drop a tip on the bar, and loop the collar of my coat with my index finger. I lift it off the chair back and make one final plea to my friends as I begin to struggle into the armholes.
“Are you sure you don’t wanna come with?” I say as I bounce the coat into position and give it the ceremonious two-handed, low-collar tug guaranteeing its taught positioning around the back of my neck.
“Sorry, man. It’s Thursday night. We’re going for margaritas,” one friend says.
“Plus, we don’t even know who the guy is. We don’t really wanna spend fifteen dollars on a random show,” another chimes in while clutching a sixteen-dollar cocktail in his left hand.
I choose not to pursue the argument further and I leave. I’ve been to many shows solo and tonight’s seems to be the type for just such an occasion.
The venue is only a few blocks away so I choose to walk. It’s a cold night, but the liquor filling my glasses during the hours prior has warmed my soul. I arrive at the location – an underground whisky and cigar bar – and as I begin to cautiously descend the staircase, I feel the sudden cold of concrete beneath my wooden soles. The feeling breathes a gust of life into my lungs and as the chill reaches my thoughts and allows me to escape my alcohol-induced indolence, I become clear-minded. Nearly sober. Good timing, too. I want to experience this part of the night first-person and avoid witnessing it through the hazy recollections of a hungover memory mirror in the morning.
One drink won’t hurt.
“Parker’s Heritage, double, neat.”
My card gets declined.
“I’ll take a Beam.”
Whiskey in hand, I turn my back to the mahogany-stained bar under the dim lighting of energy-inefficient, orange-tint lamps. Bulbs of an identical tint break the darkness of the setting at various points of interest. Tables, bookshelves, booths, and bar tops are all illuminated. Everything else is almost black. Sympathizing with the color palette, the leather upholstery of the armchairs and couches is dyed a deep oxblood red.
Thirty feet from the bar, a jazz quintet has just about finished setting up on a small corner stage. Only the drummer continues to make final adjustments to his high-hat while the others chat and joke. They’re too familiar with this setting to be excited about it, but they seem happy to be there. The atmosphere has the haunting quietness of a speakeasy that is still unaware of alcohol’s legality. In accordance, the conversations being held at each booth don’t seem to venture into the darkness, away from the circles of light provided by the lamps suspended above. People are certainly drunk, but they know how to handle it and harness it gracefully. Hopefully I do, too. This is no dive bar.
I grab a two-person high top for myself, hoping its stature provides a full view of the stage. Of course it will. The place is busy, but live performances here are not necessarily rowdy. As I look around, the crowd seems appropriate. People are dressed well. High-end high-top sneakers, heels, monk straps, and boots cause the old floorboards to knock and creak with each step. Chair backs are littered with sport coats and jackets; tabletops are littered with scarves, stocking caps, and gloves.
The entirety of the bar’s inhabitants can be divided into two groups: those who came for the show and dressed the part after researching the venue and the artist, and regulars whose nightly attire has dictated the aesthetic of others. I am a simple guest in this Gatsby-era watering hole.
“How exactly did I get here?” I mutter the kind of utterance to myself that one mutters when alone and somewhat drunk in a crowded place.
This was not my first drink of the night or even my first bar for that matter, though this was always the resting destination in mind. In order to regain clarity and test my sobriety before the show begins, I retrace my sips.
Caraffe of Momokawa organic at the sushi place next door…
Two glasses of Spanish white at my favorite Latin restaurant…
Well G&T at the dive near my house…
A Mickey’s in my living room to kick off the night…
Fuck off. It’s all I had in my fridge.
I stand up and grab my coat from the back of my chair, pulling a cheap cigar and an expensive lighter from the breast pocket. I return to my seat and focus on lighting it evenly. I don’t and it canoes. My novice in undertakings of such class is evident. A few of the older regulars laugh amongst themselves at my incompetence.
As I take the first few puffs from the botched cigar, my attention is drawn to the stage. The bassist starts to strum a familiar line while the keyboardist joins in with the harmony. Soon, all five members are playing together and the audience erupts in a quiet roar of cheers and whistles as the song choice is recognized. Still Barking. As I exhale Daye Jack strolls onto the stage, sans introduction. He is sporting a look familiar to his fans and fitting of the venue and its regulars. Dress shoes, loose, charcoal slacks cut high above the ankle, a white, short-sleeved button-up, loose black tie, suspenders, a conductor chapeau, and his signature teashades. Fly as usual.
“I’m living in a cage, with a leash and chains on. Ain’t that some shit?” he begins.
I rise near my table and begin to nod and sway with the rest of the audience. The attention of the older regulars who were entirely unaware of live music at the bar tonight are even drawn to the stage. Daye Jack’s slow and groovy melodious hooks in combination with the fine jazz band have perhaps reminded them of music from their generation. The stylings of jazz, the blues, Motown, funk, and early hip-hop are all evident in Daye Jack’s unique sound. Everyone seems comfortable, curious, and collected.
The night is in your hands now, Daye Jack. Do it justice.