paul’s bar.

So one Friday night, Rich called.

“I’m taking you guys out tonight,” he said.

“Okay,” I replied.  “Where are we going?”

“I’m not telling.”

Hmm.  A surprise.  I couldn’t imagine where a guy like Rich would be taking us – some wacky new restaurant, maybe?  An avant-garde theater?  Maybe some new band was playing somewhere?  

Rich’s idea of “taking us out” did not involve him getting behind the wheel of a car.  At the time, he drove a clunker of an old station wagon that was filled with trash and cassette tapes, which covered every square inch of surface inside the vehicle.  In a lot of ways, his car was similar to his apartment, only without the water leaking into a trash can in the kitchen. 

So we picked him up.

As he was guiding me (“Up here, make a left,” or “Straight through this intersection”), I realized we were heading toward Paterson.  Paterson was not the place where we would typically hang out – it was (still is) kind of a depressed old New Jersey mini-city, not quite as run down and scary as Newark or Camden were in those days, but still not the most pleasant place.  Aside from Hoboken and possibly New Brunswick, Jersey didn’t really have any cities that would qualify as “hip”; even the cool clubs that weren’t in Hoboken were in places like Asbury Park, Trenton, Newark – destination points where you’d park your car, go inside, and leave when you were done.

Eventually he told me to park the car.  I looked around; there was nothing in sight that looked cool.

“What the hell are we doing?” I asked.

“Just get out and let’s go,” he said.

The three of us walked a block or two, and encountered what looked like a small bar.  The sign out front said “Paul’s Bar.”  The words “and bowling” were so small on the sign that I didn’t even notice them.  We walked inside.  Inside, it also looked like a small bar – right down to the locals sitting around the bar, drinking beer.  So we sat down with them, and ordered a beer.

“So, umm, is this it?” I asked.

“Yup,” he said.

We sat and talked for a few minutes.  I was still trying to square in my head that Rich needed to keep this place a surprise; I looked around for a stage, or musical instruments, in hopes that maybe there would be a band playing or something – some reason why we were there.  I found none.

So we talked a bit more, drained the first beer, and then Rich got up and disappeared into what I thought was the men’s room.  Sandy and I sort of looked at each other, and ordered another round.  Rich came back, and got the bartender’s attention.

“Could you turn on the bowling alley?” he asked. The bartender nodded and walked away.

I thought I was listening to someone speaking in code, like a secret agent: The fat man is carrying an umbrella, I imagined the bartender saying.

Sonic Youth came on the jukebox.  That was kinda cool – some old, locals bar in Paterson had Sonic Youth on the jukebox.

“Okay, you’re all set,” the bartender had returned.

“Let’s go,” Rich said.

He led us to the back of the bar and opened a door.  We were in a dark room.  He flipped on a light switch.

It was a bowling alley.  Not a big one, mind you – just four lanes, side-by-side.  There were a few racks of bowling balls on either side, and otherwise, the room was completely empty.  There was nobody else bowling.

Rich walked over to some speakers that were mounted on the wall, and turned the volume knob.  Suddenly the room was filled with Sonic Youth – the jukebox was piped into a speaker system in the bowling alley.

For the rest of the night, we bowled – alone, in this tiny bowling alley – and listened to the mainstream alt-rock that we stuffed the jukebox with.  Sonic Youth, Pixies, Posies, Replacements, Ramones, Clash – stuff like that.  It wasn’t Maxwell’s jukebox, but it was way better than the Jimmy Buffett and Lynyrd Skynyrd that you’d see on the jukeboxes of most small bars.

We bowled all night.  We talked.  We drank cheap American beer.  

By the time we left, we had realized: there could be no cooler place than Paul’s Bar.  I think a whole night of drinking beer and bowling, all alone in this tiny bowling alley, cost the three of us something like $50.  They asked us how many games we bowled – we were there for hours – and Rich said “Two.”

On the way home, Rich said “They’re having a music festival there called ‘Bowlapalooza.’ We’re playing.”

By then, Rich had joined a band called Surprise!, which was a real, actual band, with a guitarist, drummer, and singer.  The guitarist was a guy named Steve – a friend of Rich’s that we knew to be a pretty cool guy.  Rich never let us actually hear the band.  At this point I think he didn’t want Sandy and me judging his band the way we judged all the demo tapes we received; we’d sit in our living room and critique stuff, make all sorts of snarky comments about the songs, and be snotty and jaded.  Rich wanted no part of that, so whenever we asked him to let us hear the band, he’d say “Oh, yeah, I’ll have to record a rehearsal or something,” and that would be the last we’d hear of it.

For now, though, we were content with calling Paul’s Bar our “local” bar (even though it was miles away), and any time we wanted to get away from indie rock and its posers and snobs, that’s where we’d go.  We probably went there a half dozen times in the summer of 1993, and only once were there other people in the bowling alley.  

I’m not a big bowler or anything, but I’ve got to say – there’s something pretty cool about having a bowling alley all to yourself.

~ by Al on February 13, 2009.

One Response to “paul’s bar.”

  1. […] drove him to and from work every day, and we drank and bowled at Paul’s Bar, listening to Sonic Youth on the jukebox.  We drank two-dollar pitchers at Mario’s and black […]

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