Monday, December 15, 2008

I Never Wanted to See You This Way

I went to see an old friend on Friday night. I haven’t seen this friend in a few years. But back when I was a music journalist, I spent almost every night with this friend. This friend’s name was Gypsy Tea Room. In the early to mid aughts, I did everything at Gypsy Tea Room from drinking to shouting to taking a shower upstairs. And obviously, I saw shows there. We were tight. I remember how proud she was when she won Best Venue in the Dallas Observer a few years in a row. I even remember she won “Cleanest Bathrooms at a Venue” one year. The joke there being that the bathroom at Trees had actually been mentioned in Spin Magazine as being one of the five filthiest venue bathrooms in the country. But not Gypsy. In fact, in her heyday, she had an attendant in the women’s bathroom that would sell you everything from gum to hairspray to cigarettes.

But then we drifted apart. I stopped being a music writer and stopped going to national shows as much. She had a nasty incident with skinheads assaulting and paralyzing a concertgoer at an Old 97’s show she hosted. She also had the misfortune of being located in Deep Ellum which saw crime, bad dance clubs, underage drinkers and light rail construction shoo people away in droves. Then one day I heard that my old friend Gypsy Tea Room was closing. I can’t say I was surprised. Clearly if I had abandoned her, there were others who had also abandoned her. I didn’t go back to see her on her final night because it would have seemed really superficial. After all that time of not coming by, I didn’t think it seemed right to show up just to see her off.

I heard from some friends that someone was trying to bring her back and that someone was the same owners behind The Door. The Door was a Christian-run emo club which I only entered twice. Once was to see a local band comprised of some friends. I ordered a can of Diet Coke and hustled out of there after their set was done. The second time was as a favor to a label friend who wanted me to come out and review a band called Midtown. She persuaded me to do this by taking myself and Midtown to Angry Dog and plying us with a lot of food and alcohol. I remember telling Midtown that they should cram their drinking in at Angry Dog, as The Door was a Christian club which did not serve alcohol. One of the guys from the band said something about their stage setup probably not going over very well. It was only after we all drunkenly stumbled back to The Door and the band took the stage that I fully realized what he was talking about. They toured with a huge light up sign that only read “MIDTOWN SAVES”. It went over better than expected. But I digress.

So owners of The Door did indeed take over my friend Gypsy Tea Room when their own establishment had a date with a wrecking ball. Somewhat confusingly, the name they gave to my old friend’s new incarnation was The Prophet Bar. Which was already a Dallas bar long ago. But this time, The Prophet Bar was going to serve as an all-ages music venue where kids could visit my old friend and see shows just like I used to do. Only I started hearing horror stories from some friends who went back to visit our old friend. The first story I heard was of a poorly trained bar staff, a pitifully stocked bar, expensive drinks, mixers in cans and a cash only policy. I understood that the people who took over my old friend were not big on drinking in general so that kind of made sense.

An old label friend of mine occasionally talks me into going to a national show with her. This past Friday, she persuaded me to go see the Eagles of Death Metal with her. I like the Eagles of Death Metal. I do not, unlike Axl Rose, think of them as the Pigeons of Shit Metal. My label friend told me she was on the list and I could have her plus one. The show was at The Prophet Bar. Much like me, this label friend spent hundreds of nights at Gypsy Tea Room and we talked about how nice it would be to go back and see her. We heard some things had changed but we were sure we’d still recognize her.

We were wrong. While the actual venue had only changed slightly (mind you, not for the better), what we saw upon visiting our old friend’s formerly pristine restrooms, of which she was so proud, was this:

The thin white object you see to the right of the caution sign is a discarded tampon applicator. There was no attendant, there was no gum to be purchased, there was no soap, there were no towels and there was most certainly no toilet paper. Luckily, we picked up on that before any of us “broke the seal”. As three of us girls plotted obtaining some bar napkins, I spotted an unattended stack of paper towels. These were rationed out carefully though one did go to a desperate girl who realized too late what a terrible situation she had gotten herself into. We all mourned what had become of our sweet old friend. One girl commented how, in the years that we spent attending shows at Gypsy, we never would have dared any sort of vandalism more serious than a small shout-out in Sharpie on a stall wall. Mainly, we never would have thought to promote our favorite band using this method:

While I’m sure Dear & The Headlights are an amazing musical group, I would prefer to learn of them through some sort of Recommended If You Like program or or perhaps through a friend who thinks that I would like Dear & The Headlights. It is unnecessary for you to vandalize and graffiti a toilet seat for the sake of spreading the word about your favorite band. Because it’s, at best, inconvenient and rude and at worst, filthy and vile and a surefire way to make sure I will never, in fact, “listen to Dear & The Headlights”. So it’s counterproductive as well. I do appreciate that you chose to spread that message on a toilet that had also inexplicably been knocked loose from the wall and was tilted at an angle. Thanks for not defacing the one toilet out of 6 that appeared to have both water and the ability to flush, I guess.

We headed back out to the hallway between the small and large side of my old friend to meet up with our male friends who had also decided to use the bathroom. As we waited for them to exit their restroom (which did have an advantage to ours by having a large bottle of hand soap sitting open on the countertop), I mentioned that the condition of our old friend brought to mind Back to the Future Part II when Marty McFly buys a sports almanac in the future but is verbally reprimanded by Doc and forced to throw said almanac in the trash. Only Future Old Biff overhears the conversation, picks up the almanac, carjacks the Delorean, heads back to 1955 to give the almanac to Past Young Biff which results in Marty McFly returning to a Hill Valley 1985 which resembles Compton if Compton was the setting for Mad Max. The Gypsy Tea Room bathroom looked like Rich Biff 1985 Hill Valley minus the trash can fires.

But then the boys came out of the bathroom ashen-faced. One of them reported that conditions were worse in the boys bathroom. We said that was impossible. It was then that he revealed that there was a substance on one toilet in the boys bathroom which, while no one was willing to positively identify it, appeared to be the remnants of a male having some personal time with himself. We did not believe it. Who would come to my old friend to, well, you know? I refused to believe that someone would turn my dear old friend into some sort of bukakke nightmare. But our male friend took my Blackberry into the restroom and came back (sorry) with photographic evidence that, while again not totally conclusive, was mighty persuasive.

I needed a drink so I went to the bar at which I had spent many nights in my early 20’s witnessing musical groups perform for people who were more into them than I was because they were up against the stage and not standing at the bar like I was. I saw that the rumor of canned mixers is fact. I cannot really begin to explain the pricing policy on drinks because it varied depending on which bartender (of the two) you patronized. And sometimes the same bartender would have some sort of unadvertised drinks sale while twenty minutes later, perhaps due to the economic crisis, the same drink from the same bartender would skyrocket in price. Unfortunately for me, this was the case with what turned out to be my last drink. I ended up having to make up for my cash shortfall by using meter change. Luckily, it was the end of the show and I didn’t really feel like hanging around the bloated, raped and disfigured corpse of my old friend Gypsy Tea Room much longer. Also, if I had wanted another drink, it would have been mighty hard considering that this mass of chewed, tangled and exposed wires was what we found sticking out from behind the ATM. Or former ATM, I suppose.

I wish I had never seen you again, my old friend. Sorry that kids are bad. I will remember you the way you used to be and not the syphillis-ridden Fresh Kills that you have become.


adub said...

we have an autographed poster and cd from Midtown hanging in the office :(

Anonymous said...

I have been thinking about opening up a bar in Dallas that would constantly play current as well as past Mavs and Cowboys games around the clock with Grieg quietly playing in the background and which would only serve top shelf liquor at very cheap prices. Anyone interested?

tommysauras rex said...

While never as much of a Gypsy Tea Room fan as everyone else, this is really sad.

Anonymous said...

I was never as happy as I was the one time I went in and had a nice meal of two corndogs, washed down with a few reasonably priced mixed drinks, while at a GTR show. Corndogs at a show! Brilliant!!!

I'm *really* upset right now at the state of those bathrooms. When Gaz and I were driving through on our visit, I pointed to the old GTR and even said 'best toilets in town'.