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Clowns to the left, jokers to the right

There comes a time when one has consumed enough of that raspberry stout brewed somewhere along the northwest passage and a new kind of thirst develops. When this happens, many people will find solace at a local dive bar, where cold, cheap, flavorless American beer comes standard with a funky jukebox, torn barstool seats, a lone tattered pool table, and the invariably out-of-service restroom.

As far as dive bars go, The New Mug Club surpassed all my hopes and expectations. As we walked into the bar, my retinas enlarged involuntarily to accommodate the abyss. The owner scurried into the dark recess, absent a shirt, and returned fresh with an apology, a smile, and a plausible though elaborate story about his bartender calling in sick. The Mug Club's beer list is fairly simple: Budweiser, Bud Light, and Miller Light. We ordered two Bud Lights from our new friend and adjusted our nostrils to decades of cigarette odor.

The New Mug Club

109 Playmoor
6pm-2am Mon-Sun

The Mug became The New Mug Club about 15 years ago, a change in name only, like those perpetually going-out-of-business banners at Oriental rug stores. There are no velvet-rope lines of big-shiny-hair people waiting to get in the door, nor any Phillipe Stark furniture, nor Air soundtrack. The New Mug is not smug about its cavernous interior decorated with Manu Ginobili clippings, a shortage of chairs, and several decades of dust (If only that dust could tell stories!). We had heard a story about Mickey, a bartender of moxie and charm, who suffered a heart attack and died behind the bar a few years ago. The owner confirmed the tale in an elegaic voice, pointing to the small bouquet of silk flowers attached to the wall, a relic for her memory.

On our second visit, a Tejano-blaring juke box competed with a roaring pool-game argument - I wondered if bottles or sharp objects would suddenly take flight. You just cannot buy this kind of ambiance anywhere for eight beers under $10. The antics amounted to stand-up comedy, one liners delivered with Soprano-esque gusto: "Oh yeah? Well, you're so slick that when you swim you don't get wet." Stealers Wheel put it best: "Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right. Here I am, stuck in the middle with you."

Several beers later, the ebb and flow of the crowd picked up with a deluge of workers still clad in uniforms with name patches. No air kisses among the gents, only lively, pointed banter, boisterous gestures, and wisecracks way more smutty than Laura Bush's "desperate" laugh line. Someone brought a bag of tacos and all seemed right in the world for these guys.

By Melissa Sutherland-Amado


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