Local Wire

Royale Treatment

So, I'm on a mission to find a place to host an official Booze Pig happy hour near downtown, and because most of the go-to Phoenix dives are disappearing (Newman's, Big Al's, News Room, Chez Nous) the pickins are slim. Then, I remember this square block building on the northwest corner of Oak and 16th streets with no sign except a large, stylized red neon "Cocktails" scrawled and beckoning above a lone red door. I dial up my friend Carla to go see if it's Booze Pig-worthy.

Thirty minutes pass and Carla rings me and says, "It's called The Royale and it's perfect. Within the first 10 seconds of peeking my head in the door, I was whistled at and saw a claw machine." Oink.

So, I send up the Booze Pig flare. This whole shindig is being thrown because the New Times editorial staff wants to do a meet-and-greet with their newest writer/drunkard. Since writing this column has been enabling me to kill myself, slowly, for free these past couple of months, I'm excited to get low with some of the sickos that hired me. For the record, this may be the first time any business has called for a happy hour at the Royale.

Now the waiting is over, the day has come, and it's only fitting that I show up wearing a shirt that has a clown on the front puking up a rainbow into a toilet. I even showered. As I arrive, I see my friend Amy at the front of the place talking on her cell phone. I can't tell if this is one of those "conversations" designed to avoid talking to the locals, puffing away nearby, or, more likely, if it's her husband reminding her to pick up some eggs. Amy's face is flushed from the heat, but she is obviously excited to tell me something. It's hot as hell out here, but I wait a few and Amy finally clicks off her phone and grabs my arm . . ." You just missed it! An old guy with this horrible toupee just stumbled out and said, 'Aw man, it's still light out' and stumbled south to God knows where." Shit, let's get in there before we miss anything else, so I open the door and push her in ahead of me. Just in case.

Turns out Amy and I are second and third to arrive — the alluring and stubborn Lilia is hunched over a Ms. Pac-Man game, no doubt employing a tactic similar to Amy's to avoid interaction with the locals. What is it with women . . .? Oh, yeah, the waking up naked on a bear rug thing.

At any rate, I'm secretly hoping to get fired tonight but the HEG (head editor guy) assures me that I won't get axed for being outrageous but will get fired for bad writing . . . And if the drinking keeps up at this pace, I may be fired sooner rather than later. So I order a round and leave a stack of bills on the bar to kick things into gear. In a few minutes, eight more guest pigs arrive, and the drink orders come in a flurry and I hope Miss Lill, the 70-year-old-plus matriarch of this sodden hobbit hole, can keep up. My money is on Lill; she's been slinging drinks here for the past three decades!

Stoli vodka martini with a twist, Citron and soda — Lill gives me a frustrated look as she scans the bottle ranks. NO Citron, NO Stoli, NO vermouth, NO olives . . . We exchange glances in silent agreement regarding the high-maintenance orders. I come back with a vodka-rocks-lemon-twist and a round of Absolute Kurrant (Currrap) drinks. At least they're strong. After the first round, people switch to vodka sodas, vodka rocks, and for this pig, bourbon-and-7. Most of the drinks are $2.50. I throw another $20 on the stack and toss down a random $5 for Lill, who understands that this visit will be worth the hassle. She adores this place, and it's contagious.

The New Times crowd takes over two tables and presto: A bottle of hand-sanitizing lotion appears and gets passed around (more in jest than for actual bacteria fighting). I'm not amused, but then again, they probably should be rubbing that stuff on after shaking my hand. I decide to hang alone at the bar and avoid work chat — although the crowd tone seems welcome and familiar in this depressing place . . . Gotta love reporters. Always pissed about something.

At the lone bar I lean over to Benjamin, hunched next to me, and tell him I'd love to do nothing more than sit here and watch Lill work . . . all day long. I'd tell her all the lies I've been telling myself, just letting them spill out onto the bar as she casually wiped them away with long strokes of her towel. Hog heaven. He about elbows me and says, "Are you serious? Sexually? Isn't she a little old?" I let out a chuckle and consider it for a second . . . I am a man, but goddamn, I'm a booze pig, not the other kind of swine (this is probably debatable). At any rate, I just love talking to Lill, and I ask her if she is off soon, assuming she has the day shift. She says, "Honey, I've been working here from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. for so long I wouldn't know what the hell to do with myself if I wasn't here in the evenings. I love it." And I love her.

There are other things to love about this place as well. Behind the bar, you have smokes and snacks, including warm, salty nuts, fresh pickles, and an empty spot coincidentally the same size as a crock pot. The bulbs above the bar are housed in shot glasses — nice, subtle touch. The Royale is long and narrow and has four video games. Lilia assures me that the shoot-'em-up Area 51 game is tops among these relics. They have a crane claw stuffed-animal game, a jukebox, darts, and a pool table. The space between the long bar on one wall and the video games on the other is filled with several round, tall tables with bar stools around them. The tables have a cushion all the way around and this really lets you lean in and relax over your drinks, especially since all the mixed drinks come with bendy straws. If you don't appreciate a bendy straw, then fuck you: You're a loser.

Simply put, between the shot-glass lighting, Miss Lill, and the bendy straws, this place is worth the visit. Not to mention the fact that for $7 you can get a six-pack of beer for the ride home — I mean, for when you get home. The one thing that disturbs me, though, is that of the few pints of liquor you can take home, the bar offers vodka, bourbon, tequila . . . and Raspberry Pucker. Who the hell buys Raspberry Pucker to take home? You better have red-stained sheets from trying to lick it off some old lady you met at the bar. Otherwise, you drank it and, well, you're fucked either way.

Fast-forward a few hours and a few dozen drinks and the New Times crowd is long gone except for the late arriving art guy, and he is kind enough to sit and drink with me a while longer. Hell, he's from Detroit and this isn't his first big barbecue, that's for sure. We sit and the inherent depressant quality of the booze soaks in and we talk about the one that got away until we are interrupted. We both stop and look and there, by the pool table, is a large, drunk, dancing black man in a fanny pack — he is seriously going to town in some running-man-type move with a huge smile that cuts through all the booze and dank bullshit. I smile and, for the first time in my life, I don't want to choke the living shit out of some young stupid bitch for saying, "Dance like no one is watching," because . . . well . . . it's beautiful, and as far as I'm concerned, you should "dance like a drunk black man with a fanny pack" and still choke that bitch if you can get hold of her before her skydiving trip.

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