Local Wire

Escape, Natch

It'll take three days after I walk through the back door to The Great Escape for my own back door to finally get back to normal (from the ravages of drinking — thus the "great escape"). At any rate, I'm pleased as a pig in shit to review this little bar that has a reputation for being one of the best dives Phoenix has to offer. But let me tell you: At a glance, the place looks like a dive, but it takes only a minute to figure out that this is no dive bar.

The Great Escape is a great "neighborhood" bar. It's clean, for fuck's sake. In fact, while in the john, I'm even misted by some auto-driven, time-calculated, 21st-century, strawberry air-freshener thing — it's all I can do not to rip it off the wall. Granted, this is close to a dive, but it lacks that X factor, that palpable feeling of desperation and a hint of adventure (hint of urine smell). The Great Escape is an escape because you feel safe here, you feel like a regular, but you feel edgy only because it's tacky, cheap, and off the beaten path.

Besides these glaring faults, this friendly place is genuinely, well . . . nice. It's small, with maybe seven nondescript tables, four TVs, and two dart boards all smashed into a space the size of a typical family room, with one window. It's a quaint joint to sit in and feel happy and have a drink, but goddamn if that doesn't make me miserable!

Thank God for my three guest pigs. I'm with music aficionado Craig, a guy who goes by "Boozer" (seriously), and Ashley the chef. Luckily, The Great Escape has a jukebox, some serious booze, and a popcorn maker — so we all have a job to do.

All I have to do is sit back, open my gullet (and my wallet) and orchestrate the next three, flurry-filled hours of drinking and laughing and going to piss. Boozer notices the ample selection of seven different brands of ambrosia behind the bar and orders a pack of P-funks and a Dewar's rocks for only $10. The pure efficiency of watching Boozer work raises the hairs on the back of your neck, the way the brown liquid slides down his throat is almost pornographic — the ease, the grace — I'm thrilled he's along for the ride. Boozer rallies and pounds four Dewar's in a mind-blowing hour, convincing us along the way that he feels like he's in Milwaukee in the 1970s (most likely a flashback).

We all ride Boozer's wave right into the bartender, who has to break out her little red book to figure out how to concoct four Harvey Wallbangers. Mine tastes like an elaborate screwdriver, but by this point, everything tastes like a screwdriver and I almost lick the old lady next to me. She gives me a look, but she may just be trying to figure out the Wheel of Fortune puzzle. I look at the screen and could swear it says GET OUT! I take a deep breath and re-compose myself, but am immediately perturbed by a framed photo of a bunch of preschool kids holding up lettered signs that spell out "Thank you Carole and Andy!" When I approach the bartender about this sacrilege, she responds with, "Yeah, we raise some money for some kids." That's fine and dandy, but keep this shit on your desk at home and out of my bar! Andy needs to be kicked in the nuts, if he has any — it's obvious that Carole runs this place.

I start to sweat and almost bolt but I hang tough when guest pig Ashley arrives with a bowl of Indiana's best. She says the popcorn (free) is a little dry, but knowing Ashley, she's probably thinking of making gorgeous popcorn risotto cakes and topping it with a truffle sauce. My mouth silently drops more popcorn to my feet and Craig starts going off on the jukebox, which he proclaims is classic country punctuated by some pop disco contemporary crap probably mimicking the crowd in this place — old ladies in the day, hipsters at night. The screwdriver is burning its way down to my gullet as I laugh at Craig, who is proclaiming that he won't come back to this place because it has two Billy Joel albums and no punk rock. Well, I hate to say it, but I love Billy Joel. So to me, that's a plus, and so is the fact that the two 74-year-old women sitting to my left are putting down as many drinks as I am . . . There is hope for longevity (I sure hope not).