Gettin’ Ripped at La Belle

[original publication date: July 26, 2000]

Author's note: There was a brief period following the publication of this article in which a strange thing happened whenever I went to La Belle. I think I made three consecutive trips there in which old, skanky women flashed me their breasts. And then it never happened again. But oh, what a week that was.

Gettin’ Ripped at La Belle

“So let’s sink another drink
’cause it’ll give me time to think.”
—Billy Idol


After spending two hours drinking monkey wrenches while listening to Pua Fua and watching cartoons, I got the urge to be, in a cartoon. I got the urge to go to La Belle.

Located on the classiest stretch of Superior’s distinguished Tower Avenue, La Belle is a cheesy dive specializing in cheap drinks for undiscriminating tastes. Like anyone else whose clothing wasn’t purchased using Marlboro Miles, I had never been to La Belle. But it had to happen sooner or later.

Before I could even get myself a drink, I met the quintessential group of La Belle patrons. Three or four middleweights stood huddled around a SEGA Out Run video game, attempting to drive a video car around a video racetrack. After some extensive bragging, they decided the one with the highest score would drive home.

Taking the advice of a sign above the bar, I ordered a South Park Iced Tea for three bucks. It was all right for a piddling little rum drink named after a TV show about kids who swear, but it wasn’t quite what I wanted. When I saw a skinny guy with a tattooed scalp put a fiver on the bar, order an Old Milwaukee and receive $4.50 in change, I knew what I’d be drinking for the rest of the night.

Signs all over the bar bragged about how cheap the drinks were. Bottles of Bud cost only a dollar. Pint cans of Pabst were $1.75. Busch on tap were fifty-five cents a glass or $3 a pitcher. Faced with these prices, I contemplated just moving into La Belle, surviving exclusively on Old Mil and pickled eggs, which were only three for a buck. But then I noticed another sign stating, “No pets at all -- so don’t even ask.” I figured I’d better not press the matter.

In the back of the bar was an empty dance floor, where the walls were painted black and decorated with white dots of spray paint meant to simulate stars. A DJ played hard rock from the eighties. When “Dancing With Myself” by Billy Idol came on, a guy who looked like hockey player Brett Hull took the dance floor with a couple of full figured ladies in Keds. A longhaired guy looked on, singing, “Playing with myself, oh oh, playing with myself. If I had the chance, I’d pull down my pants and I’d be playing with myself.” The DJ followed it up with another Billy Idol song, “Flesh for Fantasy,” which prompted Brett Hull to sensuously zip his windbreaker up and down, giving the ladies brief peeks at his bare chest.

Every bar in town is loaded with Mike’s Hard Lemonade propaganda, but this place easily takes the championship. The thing is, Mike’s Hard Lemonade is one of those wine-cooler-type drinks made for sissies and young’ns who have yet to acquire a taste for beer. The thought of anyone at La Belle ordering such a stupid drink is ridiculous.

Returning to the bar for yet another Old Spill, I noticed a woman seated on a corner bar stool clenching her drink in her fist and yelling the same thing over and over to a guy in a “Show Me The Money” T-shirt. I couldn’t quite make out what she was saying, but I think it was “Rackin gragga pluck tong gragga prack.”

Everyone goes to Superior for one reason: to get finished. It doesn’t take long to get finished at La Belle. For once in my life, I actually left a bar before last call. I wasn’t very surprised to trip over a drunken man on the sidewalk just outside the door. The SEGA Out Run boys were there taunting him, paying a flower girl to give him roses while the drunk guy’s buddy attempted to salvage whatever dignity he could find. Faced with this pathetic scenario, I looked inside my heart and did what I thought was best. After taking the drunk guy’s picture, I stole their cab and headed home.

Gettin’ Ripped in Toronto

[original publication date: July 12, 2000]

Author's note: .

Gettin’ Ripped in Toronto

“Nobody helps you with your cup
No one could ever fill it up.”
—The Sadies


Prelude: Detroit Metro
It was 11:15am and I was sitting in one of the many cafes at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, waiting for my connecting flight to Toronto. Everybody else drank coffee and ate pastries. My flight had been delayed two hours. I needed whiskey.

The Price is Right was on the TV above the espresso machine. Bob Barker put his arm around a gaunt middle-aged woman while they watched a cardboard mountain climber ascend a cardboard mountain, singing:

Laaa dee doody
Laaa dee doody
Laaa dee doody dooooo...

I ordered a whiskey sour, which put the place into a frenzy. It seemed the morning staff didn’t know how to make drinks. Finally, they trotted this half-dead dishwasher out of the back and pointed her in my direction. I repeated my order and she looked at the booze rack for a long time. Then, she pulled a bottle of Jack Daniels out from a nest of whiskey bottles and said, “We only have Jack Daniels.” I said that would be fine. She poured about half a tumbler full and then began to look confused. “Umm...uhhh...the only thing we have to mix it with is Fruitopia,” she said.

Laaa dee doody dooooo
Laaa dee doody dooooo...

So I sat and drank JD and Fruitopia and watched Bob Barker giving away dinette sets to sunburned retirees. Eventually, they announced my flight and that was when I realized I had never been charged for my drinks. Faced with this dilemma, I did what any red-blooded American would do. I left the country.

Toronto Streets
I took to the streets immediately in Toronto, swept away by the pulsing life of the crowds. Four days before my arrival, there had been a riot just outside my hotel. Now everything was peaceful, yet chaotic. It seemed as though everyone was speaking Chinese and trying to sell me something. A guy was charging people a dollar to play his drums. Little kids stood on street corners hustling piles of pastel underwear. One family had an entire storefront of strange and rare food, including a bin of fowl the size of mice and some kind of orange rubbery beast strung up on a rack. The only food I could even recognize was a pig’s head. I wandered aimlessly for hours until eventually a guy in dreadlocks handed me a ticket and said “Come to the Living Room tonight. Get in free.”

The Living Room
I think it was around 10:05pm that I showed up at the Living Room, which was terrible nightclub etiquette. Toronto nightclubs don’t even open until ten and they aren’t expecting anyone to arrive until at least eleven. Cover charges take this into account and are priced on a sliding scale, depending on the time. The later it is, the more you pay to get in. The friendly people at the Living Room didn’t mind my intrusion and were very kind to me. But still, the cash registers were not operational upon my arrival, so I had to wait for a drink.

Waiting turned out to be a pretty pleasant experience. The place was decorated, well, like a living room. Couches and armchairs were arranged around glass coffee tables. Thick velvet curtains covered the windows. There were three separate bars, a dance floor and candles everywhere. A DJ was spinning hip-hop just for me.

After eleven, things picked up considerably. People showed up in droves. Two exquisitely drunk guys fell down on a couch and one of them decided to woo some ladies by challenging them to a pillow fight. This was such a stupid idea that things nearly turned into a brawl, which would have been pretty entertaining to watch, considering that the women were dressed to the nines and the men had a combined weight of about 250 pounds.

Ted’s Wrecking Yard
If I lived in Toronto, I’d hang out regularly at Ted’s Wrecking Yard, a trashy upstairs dive in Little Italy. The walls, ceiling and tables are painted black with gray tire tracks on them. The only light comes from white Christmas lights. The beer is cheap and the entertainment is outstanding.

I went to Ted’s to see the Sadies, a punk-country band comprised of four greasy-haired beanpoles who call Toronto their home. Joining them on stage was the lead singer’s dad on autoharp and a quiet guy on slide guitar who kept saying he needed to leave after the next song.

The crowd was freaking eclectic. Moping around near the stage were two scary-looking vampire girls in red leather pants and glittery lipstick who kept popping pills. Older couples sat at tables while dudes in flannel shirts and cowboy hats leaned against the wall. One guy was wearing a bike helmet. Everybody was ripped.

After about seven beers, I felt the urge to dance like a lunatic. In the Twin Ports, if someone breaks the ice and begins dancing like a lunatic, other people will quickly join in. Everybody wants to dance like a lunatic. Knowing this, I slammed the last two inches of my brew and bravely rushed to the front of the room.

The response was not as good as I anticipated. In spite of the wildly insane music the Sadies were cranking out, I was joined only by two women who tentatively rocked back and forth, a bald guy who walked around in circles playing air guitar and a teenage couple who engaged in some kind of tango/mosh that involved a lot of hair twirling and falling on the floor.

The Sadies took this as a cue to turn their music one notch further, putting even more “edge” into their performance. Air guitar guy then stood on a chair and started ranting to the crowd, “What is wrong with you people?” Then one of the Sadies said, “We are gonna riot. We are gonna riot and we are not gonna stop until every item in this bar is destroyed. Then we are gonna take it to the streets.” At this, about twelve more people took the dance floor.

The Plastique
My final night in Toronto took me to the Plastique, which I was a bit nervous about. My sources told me that the Plastique is an “exclusive” club, the kind of place that will turn you around if you are not cool enough. Could I, an ordinary beer-swiller from out in the sticks, fit in at such a place? No problem.

Inside, the Plastique is decorated with white vinyl chairs and about four bars with glowing neon surfaces. Drinks are pricey, but still within a reasonable range. The bartenders are the hottest looking booze-schleppers I have ever seen in my life.

I went to the upstairs level and leaned over a railing to watch the crowd below. There were about 250 people in the place, all of them well-dressed and good looking. A DJ was spinning nonstop house music and about 25 or 30 people were on the dance floor, all of them female. Eventually, one timid boy of about 20 stepped out among them and was instantly mobbed by three women who pressed themselves against him on all sides, grinding away. At this, a lot more men became willing to dance.

Things got hotter and sweatier and were still going strong with no end in sight when I left the place at 2:45am. Outside it was pouring, and I walked through the rain to the subway station, letting the bar-stink wash off of me. The station was filled with people who, like me, were exhausted, wet and drunk. I had had a great time, but I was feeling a bit homesick. Noticing the acoustics of the tiled subway station, I did my best Al Sparhawk imitation, singing “I know you want to ride that train…” No one cared.

The train came barreling down the track with a roar and a gust of vile wind. To me it looked like a big stainless steel dragon, its eyes glowing as it emerged from its tunnel snarling and scattering rats everywhere. When it stopped, it opened its mouth and I stepped inside.