Two Dog Saloon

I did bars wrong in my twenties. Apparently you’re not supposed to treat the barman like a video game boss you defeat by stumping them with obscure cocktails or drinking all of their tequila. But it made sense for awhile. So did the idea that my bathroom was the game’s reset point-I’d take a shower and go out for the night, then next thing I know, it’s morning and I’m right back there, naked on the floor, needing a shower again.

Which explains why, now that I’m a suburban dad, I’m not much of a bar-guy anymore. That, and how I’ve checked the final box I needed to check. The best bar I’ve ever been to was in Moscow-the one in Russia. It had dancers in cages. Flaming absinthe. An S&M house band. It turned out to be a brothel.

The worst bar I’ve been to was in Prague. It had fluorescent lighting and mafia guys in track suits. It also turned out to be a brothel.

The strangest bar I’ve been thrown out of was in Thailand. Turns out, it was not a brothel.

But the scariest bar I’ve ever been to, the bar that checked the last box and freed me from having to look any further, was of all places, in…Connecticut.

When I say “scary,” I know a thing or two about “scary.” I lived in the Bronx. I’ve been hospitalized from misadventure on four continents. The first time I went to Kathmandu, the entire royal family was massacred, and the country came to the brink of spontaneous civil war around me. There were military police in the streets, stopping cars, searching for bombs and machineguns.

I was every cabbie’s wet dream, ’cause when you have a white tourist in the backseat, the military doesn’t stop your car. It’s a great way to move bombs and machineguns.

But there in Connecticut was the scariest bar I’ve ever fallen into. God knows how many different things it had been over the years. There was plywood over the windows, plywood over layers of old signs. Someone spray painted “Two Dog Saloon” on the boards covering the fire escape. There was nothing but motorcycles and broken glass on the crumbling parking lot. It was the kind of establishment that makes county inspectors spontaneously resign.

So of course I stop for a beer. I’m passing through for my brother in law’s graduation, and need to get myself more fully in the mood to sit through it. I’m driving, he’s with me, we have half an hour, and the scariest bar I’d previously been to has nothing on this place, so I pull a U-turn and coast right in.

This Viking dude at the door is eight feet tall, smoking a glass pipe that smells like burning shower curtains. I don’t know if he’s their bouncer or their mascot.

He looks at me from way back at the far end of another dimension, reaches out, and gives me a titty twister. Then he laughs. This guy who’s too tall to fit through the door, he laughs like a Girl Scout and slaps my ass so hard he launches me inside. He gets my bro, too, and now we’re in this dank, horrible place with holes in the walls and mean, scary people in chains and leather that smells like piss. It’s lit only by red neon signs and cigarette lighters. Everyone is smoking glass pipes. It’s like being in a California forest fire full of grizzly bears. There’s even a teddy bear in a leather vest with club patches on it, stabbed to the wall with a switchblade.

A guy at the bar is carving “Fuck the police” in the wood, half an inch deep. He’s been at it for days. Barman just watches him do it.

The place goes silent. Dead silent. It’s like being in a movie, except I haven’t blown Harvey Weinstein. I’m wondering what Teddy Ruxpin did to get switchblade-crucified, so I can go ahead and not do that. The barman looks at me and barks, “What!

So from the depths of my experience in places nowhere near as terrible as this, I dredge up the word “Beer!” and plan to drink absolutely whatever he hands me. No questions asked. He could charge me fifty bucks for an open can of Bud Light and I’d cherish it like a Presidential pardon.

He slams a Budweiser in front of me. Maintains unblinking eye contact, to assert his dominance. I look away so he won’t murder me yet, and see, over his shoulder, that the back of the bar is inches deep in bottle caps. So I twist the cap off and chuck it at the pile and I get to live.

All eyes shift to my brother in law.

Now the thing you need to know about my brother in law…is that he’s not a man like you and me. He’s actually a stack of eight year olds sitting on each other’s shoulders, wearing a trench coat. He knows everything about trains, science, and military history up to the bombing of Hiroshima. His glasses are bolted to his head with industrial rigging. He is, in all the best ways, a nerd, who is an hour from graduating with a Master’s degree in organic chemistry.

The barman looks at him and barks, “What!

So my brother in law leans in-way, way too far in-and says in his best James Bond, “I’ll have a Samuel Adams.”

The place explodes.

Bikers are screaming. Vests are flapping. Someone stabs another teddy bear to the wall. I throw a twenty on the bar and grab my bro with one hand, and my beer in the other, and I haul ass right back outside. Past the Viking doubled over in laughter, over the broken glass and blood stains, and peel out of that parking lot with my tail tucked firmly between the back tires of my wife’s Toyota Camry. It’s a couple silent miles before I ask him, “Just what the hell were you thinking? Ordering a Sam Adams!?

“Well I didn’t think,” he said, “that a place like that would be out of it.”