The floors are ever-sticky in well-worn patches of Celtic green and the back room welcomes with cold cinder block walls painted in a dank, prison-like mauve. Few public comforts can be found quite like those overstuft couches of split leather, crumbling microfiber, and stained chenille; untold organisms tickle you as you sink into concave cushions, kicking your feet up, knocking over a stale glass of melted rum and cigarette ash, changing the channel on one of several TVs for playoff baseball no one else cares to watch. This is a bar for games: shuffleboard tables sloping and worn and gritty with sand; pulpy dartboards; 20th century pinball; life-sized, war-torn, Jenga blocks scarred in scrawl and soaked in Fireball.
Up front, a pool table sheds felt under the constant patrol of stern-and-furrowed leather jackets drinking whisky sodas and smoking Newports with a foot out the front door, shouting at their short friend. A digital jukebox spits out Kid Rock or 50 Cent and there’s a dog with a skin disease and his leash is wrapped around a barstool and its owner could be anyone. The bartender is good if you are but has no problem kicking the shit out of you.
A pair of spangled bleach-blondes hand out free samples of energy drinks to an ogling old man who sports a Mardi Gras polo even though it’s only October. A crockpot of tinned chili waits by the door alongside a bag of buns, a bottle of crusty Cajun Pete’s hot sauce, the worst of brands, and a tub of boiled, spongey hot dogs, free to all and ready to soak up a regrettable shot of Gordon’s Dry.
Tonight, there’s ping pong out back. Its net drapes uselessly on the uneven table like underwear in the trash, torn and forgotten and smelling something wretched. A pair of wobbling women port four soggy paddles from the bar, challenging us two to a duel. But first: the greying brunette enlists my friend to score a round up front, conspicuously ignoring the window at the bar’s back which services the back room; now alone, the redhead smiles out of the corner of her mouth, eyes narrowed and cynical.
Nearly balancing a leaky vodka-cran and a lit Capri with one hand floating dangerously in the air, she tries to start a rally but misses the table; in the moment it takes to retrieve the ball, she’s flipped off all her clothes and the back room fills with her weird perfume. I stutter, unable to get the words out, and she laughs hoarse, skunking me on two consecutive serves, reaching absolute and unassailable competitive advantage. “Thisses our secret,” she slurs, and pulls on her clothes just as our friends return with drinks. I’m full of whisky and $1.75 PBRs, myself, and unsure if I really saw what I just saw. My friend refuses to believe me; I can’t focus; the girls beat us badly, and they would have either way.
Taking a bottle of Bud Light to go, I hit a pothole on my bike ride home and soak my clothes through with cheap beer. It’s cold as hell and the streets of Mid City are dark and dead and it’s all one can hope for on a Monday night.
Mick’s Irish Pub. 4801 Bienville Street. New Orleans.