Local Wire

Oh, Kay

There's nothing quite like dive-bar karaoke at 7 on a Thursday night. Especially in a No. 1 dive like Kay's Lounge.

When my guest pig, Zep, and I open the door to this place, it is immediately palpable that the new NO SMOKING legislation is a huge mistake for the folks at Kay's and other dive bars around Phoenix. NO SMOKING may take a bite out of sales. NO SMOKING may be harder on the A/C during the summer from the doors opening to smoking lots.

But NO SMOKING has a larger, unseen, angel-of-death effect — its biggest setback is that now you can smell the rank body odor and patron squalor fighting to get out the door. It takes my burnt nostril hairs and screaming olfactory bulb 15 minutes to adjust to a mixture of, perhaps, dead animal, beef-stew vomit, and a cross between feces and hot-dog water.

The karaoke MC, who looks like a stoned Dennis Hopper in a tie-dye and long, braided ponytail, magically reads my mind and announces, "It just doesn't smell the same here at Kay's without the smoke."

I secretly wish some sort of uprising would ignite, along with hundreds of cigs, to mask this fetid air. In strip bars, it's the lighting that makes the place bearable: Every breast looks fine-toned, and older girls look young. In dive bars, smoking made things okay: Sure, you smell like hell when you get home, but a smoky T-shirt is joyous compared to a packed house on a hot night at Kay's.

After adjusting to the smells, I take in the place. Kay's is a dirty little joint with two TVs, two pool tables, a dart board, a gorgeous, old Skill Crane game full of stuffed animals, and, incongruously, a high-tech jukebox. The bar is filled with about 40 humanoid forms, all very drunk — how long have these things been drinking? Have they ever stopped? Each of the dozen tables is packed tight with drunken workers and what seems like homeless people all trying to belt out songs.

As Zep points out, "I'm not sure anyone in here can sing, let alone read the lyrics on the . . ." In midsentence, Zep stops and points: "Hey isn't that a motorized wheelchair?" He's right, someone must have ridden the thing to the bar. Which creature does it belong to? Is it a woman's? (Let a pig have his fantasy.) It is a thing of pure beauty. There are also several bicycles in the corner, and I half-expect to see a shopping cart or two.

I am stunned that after writing just a handful of reviews, I have finally found the most perfect dive bar, by far. There are year-round Christmas lights all over the place, and the beer fridge behind the bar is an actual white kitchen refrigerator — no stainless-steel fancy stuff here.

Sherry, the motherly type who slings the drinks, is super-friendly. Friendly maybe, but my screwdriver is too orange and my "whiskey 7" too clear (Kay's may be a place where you stick to beer and shots).

As for food, Sherry assures us that she has everything that can be cooked in a microwave: burgers, corn dogs, pretzels with cheese goo, chicken pot pies — fuck, yeah! I'm in heaven, especially when I spot the jar of hot pickled sausages that Sherry proudly announces are "fresh." Zep and I order one up and split it. I muscle down a bite and feel like I'm eating ground human fingers. I think I bite into a fingernail and pull it from my teeth for Zep to confirm. I'm starting to not feel so hot. Then, Zep starts telling me about how his pregnant wife is on bed rest and how cool it is to feel Junior rolling around, wave-like, in her stomach . . .

I start to sweat and ask him to can it. Between fetus-rolling and hot pickled sausages, I head for the men's room and discover where the beef-stew smell is coming from: The stand-up john is loaded with vomit — and it was a good effort, from what I can tell. I take care of business, but I don't touch anything. Not even my penis.

I return to Zep, who is being ogled by a woman with no teeth at the end of the bar. I'm serious: no teeth. BTW, who goes around with no teeth? (I thought this would be a turn-on, but in reality, well . . . It's not.) Zep doesn't notice because he's staring into the honest-to-goodness velvet moonscape black-light wallpaper in the corner karaoke booth. I can see why he's mesmerized but I shake him loose, leave a $7 tip, and get the fuck out. But on the way, poor Zep is molested by the old woman with no teeth — she grabs a handful of his ass and slurs, "Come back any time." I smile at her and squeeze out into fresh, clean air and I know in my heart I'll be back . . . How much to buy this place? Do you think that was Kay, the woman without teeth? I sure hope it was.

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C.M. Redding
Contact: C.M. Redding