Who says you have to wait until the sun goes down to have a good time?
After surviving another holiday visit with the family in Michigan, where a new rule was set each time the temperature dropped another five degrees (don't knock the nativity set over when you're fencing on the Wii, don't eat the Cool-Whip straight from the bowl, don't interrupt your mom's boyfriend when he's reading about gout), I was itchin' to go to a place that broke laws, or at least found a way to get around them, when I returned home. My good friend, Ronda, ex-co-proprietor of the recently departed Ruby Room and Day Drinker play-date knew of just the place - The Maverick Saloon.
We first heard about The Maverick two weeks ago from Dave the Painter at the Royale Lounge. Rumor was, you could light up inside the bar, just like they used to do back in the smoky olden days.
"I don't know how they get away with it," Dave told us, "some sort of patio thing, I think."
When we arrive at the Maverick at 8 a.m., the stated opening time for swigging and smoking, our peepers don't spot a patio, just a plain, beige building with western-style lettering and wood doors...locked wood doors. We stand at the front entrance, confused.
A guy totters toward us from the sidewalk. His head's hanging low and he's clutching a Sonic bag like it contains a swarm of bees. "She ain't herrrre yyyyet," he tells us in a voice that sounds like a tomcat purring underwater.
We walk around the building, still no patio to be found. We pass the time reading the stenciled names on the parking space markers: Queen Bee, Steal Me, Cheap Cars Only.
Time check: 8:10.
A white pickup barrels into the parking lot and nearly crashes through the side entrance. Sunglasses, a long-sleeve waffle shirt and a baby-blue bandanna escort a Bret Michaels/Brooke Hogan mash-up to the door. He/she tries it with two hands, then gets back into the truck and sits, and waits.
Time check: 8:25
A second pickup pulls in and heads to the back, dispensing a tall, mustached man and a redheaded woman. They walk to the side entrance and she pulls out a set of keys. The parking lot party moves in behind them like zombies at a mall.
Inside, the space is large, but cozy. It's the kind of look every guy wants for his basement if he could just tear down the laundry room wall and give that damn Playskool dream house to the neighbor kids. A four-sided bar is positioned dead center, surrounded by dark paneling, pool tables, darts, couches, a jukebox, and the ubiquitous flickering Budweiser sign. The weird part: Thin, wooden slats run the length of either side of the room, letting in air, the sound of the body shop next door and the tiniest bit of light. Uncle's basement now feels more like Uncle's safe house.
We take our seats and order our usual a.m. alcohol - Bailey's and coffee. Grace, our redheaded door opener and bartender, informs us they'll be ready as soon as the coffee's done. She then picks up three remotes and starts pushing buttons.
Eight -- count them -- eight TV's snap to life, and within seconds we're staring at screens filled with dog food and ProActiv commercials, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Psycho (the remake,) and a SyFy movie special. As quick as the boob tubes bloom, the breakfast bunch is lighting up and kicking back with brews. They seem to be enjoying the SyFy special, something about Aladdin and a genie whose ears smoke.
Ronda breaks me away from my boob tube benediction, "I feel like we're doing something wrong," she whispers, lighting a cigarette and pointing to the black ashtray sitting on the bar in front of us. She's right. It does feel a little strange. We need some answers -- in between cigarettes, of course.
Grace returns with the drinks. She hasn't set them on the bar when we start hitting her up with questions. Why can you smoke in here? How'd you get away with it? What's the deal with the patio? We lean down and talk low, like we're asking a stranger for a tampon. Grace gives us the skinny:
Almost two years ago, Alfonso Larriva, owner of the Maverick, called bullshit on the smoking ban and tried to get around it by punching some holes in the wall of the bar and calling it a patio. That idea kept the smoke circulating, but also gave ne'er-do-wells the go-ahead to climb on in and trash the place. After additional tries at his version of a patio, a huge battle with the city, a boatload of fines, and continuous complaints from competing bars, Alfonso decided to play nice and work with building inspectors until his smoking ban escape clause was realized.
That realization took 18 months of the Maverick being closed for renovations. A time Grace and the Maverick's patrons remember all too well.
"And here's the kicker," Grace tell us, "Alfonso Larriva doesn't even smoke. He just didn't like the law."
Now that the bar is up to puff, the city has left Maverick's, and Alfonso, alone for now. Grace tells us that although the A/C units have difficulty keeping "the patio" cool in the summer, most of the year, it feels pretty good inside.
After Grace's story, we're starting to feel more like we're part of something bigger - a group that doesn't give up, who pays its dues with malt liquor and Marlboro's. A group who's as opposed to being told where to smoke as they are to having their hair cut by anyone other than their sister. A group that says with cigarette in hand, "These are my bangs, my Cancun T-shirt, and my Buy American baseball hat, and if you don't like it, eat shit."
We walk around the bar to share a smoke with our new brothers and sisters and stop next to a large man playing the claw machine.
"They used to have girly cards in here. The old ones, where they got pubic hair," he informs us.
"Tiny," as we immediately referred to him, sported a ponytail and wore a white T-shirt depicting two swords and a skull with the word "Pirate" above them. Tiny smoked with one hand and "clawed" with the other. He was good. As he retrieved a large doll he'd just won, he tells us he sells any claw winnings on Craigslist for $10. He reaches over the top of the machine and pulls down a container.
"They leave the boxes up here for us," he explains stuffing the doll inside. "They sell better that way."
Back at our smoking and swilling stools, we order up another round and watch what appears to be Estelle Getty in an aqua blue tracksuit being led from the front door to a table. We smile politely at bewildered eyes springing forth from tan, leathery skin. She appears anxious until she's finally sat down in front of Tabatha's Salon Takeover. That seemed to do the trick.
"You two wanna hear a joke?" A mustached man asks as he rolls a cigarette on the bar. He's wearing a hat with an American flag design on it and a white, fraternity sweatshirt with stains on one shoulder.
"Name's Ed," he says as he walks over and stands between us. "Not Edward or Eddie, just Ed. Now, the first two jokes I'm gonna tell are of the physical nature, the others you just have to listen to."
We're intrigued. Who wouldn't be?
"Were you in a fraternity?" I ask pointing to Ed's white sweatshirt.
He's clearly irritated I've disrupted his joke intro, "Hell, no. I just needed a sweatshirt, so I walked into a thrift store and got this one. Now, you wanna hear these jokes or not?"
Ed begins his routine. The first joke involves our hands, the second, five pennies. The punch lines to both have something to do with liking or being good at sex. The rest of the jokes deal with Frenchmen, loose women, and doctors. If it wasn't for the large mustache, thin-build and lack of sweat, we could have have been watching Don Rickles. Somewhere near the end of Ed's bit, Ronda pipes in with a joke of her own and, despite the warning that it was dirty, Ed and I were not prepared for "The Aristocrats!" this early in the day. We stare at her, stunned, mouths open. Time has stopped. Ed goes back to his stool.
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Almost instantly, the three of us light up, sip our beer, and pretend to watch Bram Stoker's Dracula.
"Now, what was the last part of that joke again?" Ed asks.
We burst out laughing and think about ordering lunch.
Maverick Saloon 9605 North 19th Ave. 602-943-5680