Hank Chinaski’s old hangouts

The Cheat texted me yesterday. “Drinks?” he asked.

“?” was my clever response. I am wonderfully communicative.

“Drink!” Clearly The Cheat meant business. Why not? I ask for the where’s/when’s, “Anytime anywhere what’s good for you?” We agree on nineish, down town. I show up at around then and right there and we’re out the door.

“Where’re we going?”, I ask, and The Cheat tells me that we’re going to a place called “Crabby Joe’s,” the exterior of which was featured in the semi-autobiographical Bukowski flick Barfly. Far out. I’m a Bukowski fan, I sort of remember seeing the front of the bar in the movie, and it’s been one hundred million years since I’ve been to a new place. Good times. Good times indeed.

“Yeah,” The Cheat says. “I’ve always been afraid to go to this place before.” Apparently it isn’t in the best part of town. On the walk over there we pass by a methadone clinic, two houses of ill-repute and any number of guys standing on the sidewalk asking “are you guys doing all right?” (which is apparently secret code for “do you guys want to buy drugs?”) Good times?

We get there and there’s a pretty good sized and pretty drunk looking crowd out front. Inside, however, it’s tame as could be — maybe seven or eight people at a bar that could hold thirty, everybody minding their own business, doing their own thing. Sit down, order the drinks. Johnny Walker neat for The Cheat. I get Bourbon rocks, well. It had to be well. This was Hank’s bar, so it would have been wrong to order Bookers or whatever. Plus, they didn’t have Bookers. I think Beam would have been a stretch.

The first thing to really strike me about this bar was that Johnny Walker neat + Bourbon rocks came out to $6. In most places in Pasadena that’ll get you a glass of ice water — a small glass of ice water, without lemon. All of the bottles had their shot prices in sharpie scrawled across the front. $3 for well. $4 for top shelf.

Crabby Joe’s seems to do most of its trade in beer to go — brown bag and everything. The matronly bartender would shout people down if they asked twice for their drinks. She heard them the first time, damnit. No need to repeat themselves. A sign above the bar read “Forget the dog. Beware of Owner.”

Easily the most striking thing about Crabby Joe’s was the jukebox. It’s the best I’ve ever heard in a bar, and it was playing on random. Ja’net DuBois. Marvin Gaye. The Doors. It’s hard to go in to a bar today and hear anything other than the same old same old U2 and Bob Marley (always “Legend”) and Skynard. U2 and Marley and Skynard have their place, but it’s rarely at the hands of Fratty and his friends who insist on driving the beat. Crabby Joe’s made the music happen without any fuss.

When we left, one of the beer-to-go patrons outside asked if we were leaving because we were scared. Scared leaves after one round. You leave after two when you have other places to be.

After Crabby Joe’s we hit Hank’s, another of down town LA’s finest. They also played Marvin Gaye, but the same two drinks went for $12. That said, nobody wondered after two rounds if we were leaving on account of fear. I guess the extra $6 goes to not getting hassled.

On the way back we stopped at a food cart and I got a bacon dog. Bill Maher was on and then it was back home.

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