Thursday, July 15, 2010

Good Old Scary Times Down at Mel's Cocktails

Anyone who has lived in Santa Barbara long enough, has some sort of memory of Mel's Lounge, which was shut down in 2008.  My friends and I used to love frequenting the little-bar-that-could and often talked about how in the face of the looming creation of the Paseo Nuevo Mall of boringness, Mel's stood it's ground refusing to sell and the mall was forced to literally build around the tiny bar.  It always struck us as odd that beautiful, unique Santa Barbara chose to level places like my beloved Piccadilly Square for a mall comprised mostly of multinational chainstores that can be found in almost any city across the US.

Of course there are some local restaurants and an occasional locally owned store here and there, but those seem to only have the staying power of a year or two tops, before ultimately shutting down to make way for another business foolish/bold enough to believe that they can afford the exorbitant leases inflicted upon them.  Mel's, however, lasted longer than anyone would have ever expected it to and many were sad to see it go.  I, myself, had many fun times there, whether I was with one friend or a group, or if I was starting the evening or ending it, but there were a few times that things became a little too weird even for my tastes...and I am not referring to the time that my friends and I, after a wild night, slept over at my house, set the alarm for 6:30 AM and went down to Mel's for their 7:00 AM to 9:00 AM happy hour.  (God, I still get the shivers with that very, very cold.)

Here be good drinks and crazy people
One night, a group of about five of us were down at Mel's for a pre-drink before the Zelo's 80's night, and were generally hanging out, chatting and having a good time, when I began to notice that the man sitting near us a little further down the bar was having some sort of issue with us.  He was in his fifties and had a weathered look about him, with a deep tan and heavily lined face that aged him more than he should appear and he was muttering to himself.  I wasn't sure at first, since my hearing is not the best as a result of too many loud concerts, but I was picking up a common theme from his mutterings, primarily the word "queer."  I turned around to look at the man, who refused to look at me, only to sit smiling widely and staring at the liquor selection across the bar and slightly nodding his head as if he understood something the rest of us did not.

Sure enough, the second I turned back to continue chatting with my friends at our little table, I heard the man a bit more clearly muttering, "Heh...heh...heh.  Goddamn queers.  Yeah.  Heh...heh...heh."  My friends noticed my face twisting up in confusion and I told them what the guy was saying and that he was acting very weird.  The man then stood up, still refusing to look at any of us, shook his head very slowly like he was in on some sort of ridiculous joke and sauntered up to the bar to take one of the empty barstools.  One of my more devious friends convinced me to get up from the rest of the group, and join the weirdo at the bar with the condition that if the man said anything else bad about us or gays that we would offer to buy him a drink and see what he would do.  This was apparently enough for the guy and with an annoyed look, he got up and left the bar.

On a separate occasion, I was again with a group of friends and sitting at one of the little tables.  The bar was nearly empty, when an older man, again in his fifties, came out of the tiny billiard room to stand immediately behind us.  This crazy person was dressed all in camouflage clothes, was wearing a trucker's hat and had a duffle bag that stood about three feet tall.  He stared individually at each of us for a second or two longer than is comfortable before he said, "You all should fear me."
Collectively, we blanched.  Here we were minding our own business and some wacko is telling us that we should fear him, which at this point we were.  For all we knew, his bag was loaded with guns or a machete or something equally terrifying and we were all about to die.

Thankfully, the bartender, an older woman with glasses and a very diminutive stature, came out from behind the bar next to the man that was about a foot and a half taller than she was and said, "Alright.  I have had enough of your shit.  I have told you countless times to knock it off and you DID NOT LISTEN.  DID YOU?  Now get out."  The odd thing was that as scared as we were of Mr. You-Should-Fear-Me, he was doubly scared of the bartender and with a string of apologies--to the bartender, not to us--he beat a hasty retreat out the door, duffle bag and all.

I honestly stopped going to Mel's as a result of more and more incidents like the ones I mentioned occurring on a more frequent basis.  Even though I stopped going there, I still wish that it was around, and it was definitely better than the flip-flop store that opened up and took its place, that is for sure.  Oh well, I will always remember the fun times at Mel's Lounge.

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