While exploring the Pacific Coast Highway, I stumbled upon a fun little town called Laguna Beach. It was approaching sunset and I wanted to be on the sand to watch the sun dip below the blurred horizon. The sunset at Laguna Beach was nothing short of spectacular.
It was after sunset I noticed the town was bursting at the seams with music and activity. Cars were parked end to end to the edge of the city limits. People strolled loudly with their clicks and clans from door to door of restaurants, that had turned after dark from fine dining, to bustling nightclubs with expensive drinks and bad music. Yet, I was here for the California experience, so I made my way to the doors of the White House restaurant.
You could almost smell the sharp, assaulting aroma of whisky clashing with beer from the street as I approached the door to the bar side of the restaurant. A large, burly man stood outside the door.
“ID please.” He said with a booming but stern voice.
Now I knew that you must be 21 years of age to drink, so I understood the screening at the door. I handed the man my Georgia drivers license which he practically called a swat team in to examine. He took his thumb and scratched at the date a bit, followed by a skeptical comparison of the ID photo to my face. I was used to this as most people do not think I look old enough to drink. He handed back my ID and I started into the bar.
“There is a $5 cover charge.”
“Ok.” I said puzzled and then continued towards the door.
This time the man stuck out his hand and said “There is a $5 cover charge.”
“OK.” I said this time, but a little louder in case he did not hear me the first time.
Again, I pushed towards the door. The man stood in my path to keep me from entering the bar. The tune from the Klondike commercial barged into my minds ear, What would you do for a Klondike Bar, as I stepped back even more puzzled. What the hell was this guys problem? I started into the bar again.
“Miss” he shouted “You must pay a $5 cover charge to enter the bar.”
“Oh!” I replied with delight “You want me to pay money to get in!”
I handed the man a five dollar bill and then turned to finally enter the bar uninhibited by the big dude. Just as I stepped away, the man took my left hand and held on to me. I began to ball up my right fist, ready to take him out. I am but five foot 2 inches tall, but I figured I could at least get him under the chin. As I started to quiver, he reached into is pocket and applied a cold, wet stamp to my hand. Apparently I had earned the stamp of approval. I stood there a moment contemplating whether or not I should try again to enter the bar. The big dude smiled and said “You can go in now.” I was relieved that our exchange had come to an end.
As I stepped into the room, I noticed a group of beach hippies with band equipment setting up to play. I don’t drink very often, but I figured that I better start before these guys began making noise. I climbed the bar stool like a toddler getting into Santa’s lap and placed my arms folded onto the bar which struck me just about chest high. The bartender scurried over with a pathetic little napkin and slid it onto the bar.
“Would you like to start a tab?” the bartender asked.
“No thanks” I replied “I will just pay cash.”
He paused a moment and then asked “What will you have?”
I was slightly confused as I was used to receiving menus in restaurants along with a little basket of bread or crackers. The bartender stood there staring at me while he jittered and glared. I suddenly felt this great deal of pressure to just order something, so I asked for a Corona. With a snap of his wrist, he pulled up a Corona from nowhere, slapped it on the bar, flung off the cap and jammed a 1/4 slice of a lime into the neck. Beer foamed out of the bottle neck, oozed down the sides and obliterated the poor little napkin. The bartender scurried away as I sat and pried the nasty lime out of my beer. The first sip tasted like crap as the bottle neck was coated with the sewage like taste of lime.
At some point after the drink order phase, a middle aged man took note of me from across the bar, so I watched him carefully. A few moments later, he decided to upgrade his stare with a half-ass grin, a nod and a three finger wave. Not knowing what to do next, I three fingered a wave back, sipped my beer and then swished it around my mouth a bit, hoping to dissuade him. Like an ape, he sat up and showed his teeth. Just as he started to get up, the bartender approached me. His timing couldn’t have been more perfect as the beach hippies were starting to moan.
“Can I get you anything else? Are you doing ok?” the bartender asked.
“No, nothing else. I am about a quarter of the way through this bottle so I should probably call it quits as I am driving tonight. Can I pay now?”
He chuckled and then answered “Sure. It’s $7.”
“Seven dollars!?” I practically had a heart attack. “I should have just gone for the Klondike bar.”
The bartender stared at me as if he had just seen Elvis. I paid him the $7 dollars which he looked kind of angry to get. He stood there a moment and waited for me to do something, but I wasn’t sure what, so I handed him the lime from my drink. As he scurried away, I noticed ape man working through the crowd to me. I jumped off the bar stool, bumping into a waitress carrying soup which she miraculously did not spill, and then quite literally sprinted out the door. As I passed the big dude at the door I said “Just keep the cover charge!”
After returning home from my trip, I learned that you are supposed to tip a bartender. I figured it was rolled up into the 5000% mark-up, but I was wrong. I will be sure that the next time I visit Laguna Beach that I tip the bartender double to make up for my mistake. One thing I did learn is that nightclub and bar language is seen but not heard.