Music After sunset

Sonny nights

The culture of a place manifests itself in many ways: stylistic displays, chosen icons, and the various conditions of circumstance. I typically choose the places where I like to drink with these things in mind because, like most things I do for pleasure and enlightenment, I like to gain something more from my drinking experiences than just a sloppy conversation or headache. A new perspective, maybe. A new friend. Exposure to some unique expression of creativity.

Sonny's Ice House, where you can find a loud jukebox and cold micheladas. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)

I was hungry for something of this nature when I first wandered into Sonny's Ice House. I'd seen this little place several times and had often wondered what I'd find on the other side of the door. But I'd never entered due to a fear of the potential awkwardness from entering such a small place if the bartender or patrons were either unfriendly or so specific that it would be obvious I was out of place.

In this case, as in many times before, my curiosity won and I decided to check it out. Besides, it's usually the places that random people warn you about (or have never heard of) that end up being the most stimulating and diverse. So I was relieved when I entered Sonny's to find a young, friendly, female bartender known at the place as V. V. and her mother Anna. Both mother and daughter were laid-back and welcoming as they chatted familiarly with the couple at the bar. I ordered a Corona and sank into the wooden barstool.

The inside was dark and cozy, with lava lamps and mood lighting. The main room had two large tables and a small performer's area. The back room had two pool tables where a mumbling, drunk old biker played pool with a couple of short dudes. What impressed me most about the place, though, was the rich sound emanating from the jukebox.

Most bars never seem to have their music turned up loudly enough. I usually have to put my money in the jukebox and then sit at that one dirty table in the dark corner of the room because it's underneath the speaker. But Sonny's is small enough, reminiscent of a summer den where everyone gathers to party, so the music can be loud and still enable you to hold a conversation. One of the short guys periodically entered the den to put in his quarters and select a couple of Nirvana and Queen songs while I asked V about the pseudo stage. She handed me a Sonny's flier and I was happy to see that they advertised micheladas. I ordered one and V made it up spicy and cold in a large fish-bowl glass with ice. I hadn't had one since my last visit to Mexico, and it pleased my pallet. The flier also advertised live music on Wednesday and Saturday nights, and noted that the Wednesday night performer was co-owner Raquel.

The next time I went to Sonny's expecting to hear live music, but Raquel had booked a show elsewhere. I was disappointed, but had become sucked into the culture of Sonny's, and the comfort of sipping my michelada through a straw while listening to some lady tell V about her bitch stepmother giving her attitude.

Sonny's Ice House
1515 N. St. Mary's

After a long 50-cent night at the horse races the next weekend, I rounded up a large group of beer drinkers and staggered into Sonny's around 11pm. I was happy to find an attractively casual Raquel sitting barefoot on a stool, strumming a blue acoustic guitar and singing an Edie Brickell song. She looked perfectly at ease, head swinging rhythmically side-to-side, her dark hair and gold hoop earrings bouncing along. My entourage and I immediately spread out and overtook the place, some grabbing pool tables in the back, others crowding around the table facing Raquel. This table is where I stayed most of the night, watching Raquel switch between the guitar and keys, singing a mix of popular songs by female singer-songwriters such as Suzanne Vega and Alanis Morissette. Her psychedelically slow version of 4 Non Blondes' "What's Up?" was the highlight for me, coinciding with my observance of all my giddy friends flitting about the place.

As Sonny's was shutting down at 2 a.m., I found myself pondering the accessible vibe of the bar. While Raquel took down her equipment, Anna described her vision to me for Sonny's: a place where all types of people can hang out and drink together. She has done the whole biker-bar thing and is ready to just work in a more relaxed atmosphere, surrounded by cool and easy-going people, like her daughter.

As I sit here writing about Sonny's, my mouth begins to water for a michelada. I think I'll go see what those gals are up to.

By Brooke Palmer