I had so many memories of drinking in the afternoons with transvestites and guys doing lines in the bathrooms at the cool, old haunt that used to occupy the corner of Seventh Avenue and Indian School Road. I wasn't sure I wanted to tarnish any of those "good times."
But, like all growing towns and lost loves, things change. Joints are torn down and hearts get broken. Then new ones go up. Such is the case with Chez Nous, whose doors finally closed to make room for an upscale English supermarket. I commend the owner for not giving up, not giving in, and giving it a second go in a new location. She picked an equally shady part of town on Ninth Avenue and Grand, where yet another great dive called Fat Cats lost its ninth life.
So, Chez Nous comes in and replaces the old downtrodden dive and transforms it into the twin sister of the old place on Seventh Avenue. And when I stroll into the place at 9 on a Thursday eve, the tiny place is half-full of pretty thirtysomethings, the Soul Brothers Band's warming up for a set, and I get smacked with déjà vu!
Chez Nous, 915 Grand Avenue
Pig Points: Darkness, no windows, cash only, great patio/smoking area; kool bands, wallpaper and booths like those at the old haunt; broken water feature; big parking lot (either to get a blowjob or for ease of getting out without accidentally hitting another car); photo booth, so you remember where you were last night. Pig Shit: Zero martini-making knowledge (either change the sign or the bartender); no condom machine, no soul not yet. 602-266-7372, web link Hours: Daily, noon to 2 a.m.Think Booze Pig blows? Want to tip him? Write to e-mail link
It's exactly the same as the old place, except it's the other side of the mirror; instead of the bar's being on the right-hand side, it's on the left. At first glance, the only addition is an old-style photo booth where you can get four photos in three minutes for $2 (obviously playing to the hipster retro crowd).
I continue down the hall toward the bar, where I find a wall plastered with old New Times Best of Phoenix awards and Rolling Stone covers and just about everything ever published on the place to remind patrons that yes, this is the same old place — just in a different location. It strikes me as odd; I wish they could let the place stand on its own. I mean, I really hate pretentious crap, especially in a joint that's supposed to be the antithesis of pretension. But I chuckle when I notice across from the "wall of fame" is the same old faux stone fountain that never worked at the old place. And I'm glad to discover that it's still broken. I guess some things just don't change, and some hearts will never mend.
The thing that strikes me most as I saunter up to the bar is the darkness. The old place was certainly dark (and I'm not just talking about the clientele), but Chez Nous now is as black as night. I imagine that this place has to be a gem at midday in the middle of the summer; you could get lost for hours/days. But now I can hardly make out the folks at the tables, and the two brightest signs in the place are the new beer sign over the bar and the exit sign. I should probably take that as an omen and get the hell out now, maybe save my memories before they become tarnished.
Too late. Tarnish away. Maybe I'm stubborn, too detailed-oriented, or just an asshole, but some things get the better of me, such as the bar. It's nice, from what I can see of it in the pitch dark. I have to sit in front of the moving beer sign because it's the only spot in this black hole that has enough light to see the napkin on which I'm jotting notes. Although I guess this is a perfect place to meet a blind date, because you might as well be blind. Seriously, if I were to meet a girl in here and then try to find her in the parking lot later for that promised blowjob (let a pig have his fantasy), I probably wouldn't be able to recognize her (this could be a plus), for fuck's sake. It's lighter outside than it is in the bar.
So, I'm at the bar and it's some sort of shiny faux wood-laminate shit and it dawns on me that it's right out of an IKEA catalog. I'm drinking at fucking IKEA. The one thing they did get right, though, is the very wide, comfy cushion at the bar; it's ideal for leaning in and sucking down a good drink.
Speaking of, I finally get around to my third Jack-and-ginger, which is strong but small. I like short cocktail glasses, and these are short, but they're also narrow. WTF! If there's a place where girth counts (besides the cock), it's the cocktail glass. Needless to say, I'm bummed at the lack of girth and the fact that it's $5 (no dive prices here). I am pleased to discover that it's real ginger ale squirting out of the gun — a plus in my book.
My partner for the evening, an accomplished writer, shows up, and because she's been published in the New York Times, I decide to step it up and order a martini. If there is one reason I went to the old Chez Nous, it was for a strong, affordable, perfectly made martini; there's even a martini glass on the big sign outside! So I'm giddy with anticipation while my friend chews my ear about how amazing the place is, how identical it is, right down to the fuzzy cream-and-black wallpaper, which, by the way, mimics the clientele in this hip joint. It's apparent that Chez Nous has carried the same reputation for mixed-race couples and great music.
I zone out on the banter, and the music becomes a fading background noise as I take my first sip of my long-awaited martini. It'd better be good — it's $7 in the new joint! The inaugural sip hits my lips, and the first thing that comes to my mind is cold, rancid olive juice with loads of vermouth. I grimace, and almost spit it out. (Perhaps, the bourbon has messed with my taste buds.) I give it another big gulp and choke it down. What the hell is this? My friend asks me what's wrong, and I reply, "This is the worst martini I've ever had!"
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She can't believe it, but when it comes to booze, she knows I'm always right. I rarely ever turn back a drink, but in this case, I call over the barkeep and tell her something is seriously wrong. She takes it from me and shyly retorts, "I'll give it another try."
I stop her with a quick, "No. Just bourbon, please." In the words of the great master Yoda, "Try not. Do or do not. There is no try."
I come to find out that the barkeep, as she spins it, is the main gal on their busiest nights, Thursday to Sunday, and that she attained her great knowledge of mixing drinks at her last gig . . . at Famous Sam's. Both our jaws drop, and I figure the barkeep is pulling my leg. The idea of having a Famous Sam's bartender who can't make a martini at the legacy of one of Phoenix's oldest, most famous dives is the equivalent of going to the Super Bowl with a high school quarterback.
We sit in the dark (pun intended) for a while longer, listening to a great band with lots of soul, and I silently wonder if this place will find its soul again. I sure hope so, because the place is fucking cool and, frankly, I still remember the great blowjob she used to give me. I'm still in love — in love with the way she rocked my world.