Chillax At the New “Rail Lounge”: A Short Essay

Myself and two other bartenders had lunch at Sneaky Pete’s.  The owner, Pete Hafiz was there busy with far too many people wanting time with him both on the phone and face-to-face.  Once we finished our meal, we started on telling war-stories of bartending at the Brass Rail.  After a bit, we decided to leave and poke our noses into the back-door of the old Brass Rail.  Perhaps we might get lucky and the construction crews would let us take a look-see.

You may already know.  But in case you don’t: The Brass Rail closed last January 09, for failing to pay their rent to the owner of the building: Peter Hafiz.  Pete, owner of Sneaky Petes, Dream Girls, De Ja Vu and the Gay 90’s is a multi-million dollar mogul in the adult entertainment industry.  While the business license for the Brass Rail was owned by Johnny Vu Vu (Florida), the building that housed the bar was owned by Peter Hafiz.  Since the bar closed, the courts awarded the business license to Hafiz, and I was the last bartender to be on-duty when the bar closed on 1/27/09.

Before leaving Sneaky Petes; The three of us agreed that we should be courteous and say “Hi” to Pete.  It ws just “lunch” f or chrissakes!  We paid and headed to the back of Sneaky Petes, passing by when it all fell into place.

He (Pete) was talking with someone, and then spotted us.  With a broad grin on his face he jumped up and greeted us with a warm handshake.  Within minutes, his phone rang, so we stood quietly amongst ourselves while he did business.  Off the phone, he stood up and turned to the man he was talking to and finished up with him by pointing to the three of us saying: “And I want to talk to these three…Look at em!  They’re my new crew for my new bar and they’re here to get their jobs back!”

Pete pulled out a magazine and flipped a page and pointed to a picture on it saying: “There!  That’s what the new Rail Lounge is gonna look like.”  Each of us peered closely at the picture and this is what it looked like:

Lots of black and dark chocolate colors.  The lighting is a faint vanilla color illuminating the room full of conversation pits.  Long black leather sofas running along the walls with tables and adjoining chairs dotting throughout the room.  The bar was low, chrome with beautiful single yellow-lit lamps dangling from the ceiling like stars.

The bar looked like an aluminum space-craft floating in a vacuum of pale-yellow solar-systems.  I missed my trichorder.

It looked like the insides of a Snickers bar:  Warm, dark and the smell of chocolate.  The only thing missing was a giant-sized fire-pit in the middle of the room and it would have gone from “Fabulous” to “Looking Damn Fabulous”.

Pete said; “You wanna tour?!”  We nodded like school children and followed him into the back door of the bar and this is what we saw:

There’s no carpet right now.  It’s all hard sub-flooring.  The women’s restroom is gutted, the door accessing the restroom next to the backdoor exit was an archway of cement block.  That doorway will be gone.  Access to either sex restrooms will be from the hallway that you used to get to the mens room at the end.  Both restrooms have been completely gutted all the way to the exterior walls.  I got to the doorway of the mens room and decided I had enough once I realized the room smelled like ass.

The room on the left as you go down the hallway was almost completely re-finished.  It had been completely gutted and there’s fresh smelling spackling and sheetrocked walls.  It looks like he’ll make into an office space, or perhaps dry goods storage.

The skeletal frame of the bar itself has been installed.  The ribs with holes cut through them where tubing has been pulled through where soft drink syrups, juices, tonic water will flow through.  The floor behind the bar has been completely refinished with a common red-tile has been laid.

Here are the realities about the bar…  Pete wants to open by June 19th.  But there are a number of problems with that.

  • He doesn’t have the liquor license for the Rail Lounge from the city.  The city council meets regularly, except on the third Wednesday of the month.  If all other order of business is complete  – they address the issuance of liquor licenses.  Since he doesn’t have his liquor license, he’s hoping that the city will give him an extension to the license applied to Sneaky Petes so he can be open in time for Pride.
  • He doesn’t have a firm commitment with his contractors that they’ll be finished by the 19th.  Remember; he has both the Happy Hour bar at the Gay 90’s and the Rail Lounge he wants to open at the same time.

Pete pointed to the wood wainscoating along the walls and said; “You see all of this wood?  I have to get rid of all of it.  It’s beautiful wood too!  The wood panels and even the wooden “ledge” that runs all along the entire lenght of the bar is a really classy look!  But, it’s been so beaten up over the the years that its become unsightly and unrepairable.  So, I’m pulling all of it out and I’m replacing it with granite.  Granite is cheaper than a woodworker and a cabinet maker to reconstruct all of this wood – I’ll use the granite instead.

While we were there, construction workers were coming and going throughout the place, cleaning, sweeping moping  – and the dust was just everywhere.

I said to Pete: “You said you were going to hang a 60″ plasma screen on the wall the last time we talked!  Where’s that going to be?”

Pete pointed: “Between the stage and the exit door!  You see that big purple square on the wall?  That’s where it’ll be.  And people will sit around six tables with black leathered barrel chairs and they’ll get to watch whatever they want.  I’ll have these conversation groupings everywhere and each grouping will have a monitor to look at and watch whatever they want while they visit with their friends.

Aside from the stage, the only other thing in the room was the bar itself.  It’s shaped like the letter “C”  – but in a thin modern Euro-style curve.

Pete pointed at the front wall facing Hennipen Avenue and said: “On the sidewalk, I’m going to put up a really high privacy fence and make it completely enclosed all the way around.  So, when you come into the bar in the main door, there’ll be my fence on your right-hand side.  Once inside, you can turn to your right and all of those big glass windows willl be gone.  What I’m going to do is sliding glass doors that will collapse into a snigle pane.”  Sweeping his arms out; “So the bar will be completely open to the sidewalk outdoors and the privacy fence will keep everything else out.   The whole bar in the summer will be open to the outdoors for coming and going.”

I recalled memories of quiet bars when I lived in Guam and Japan where they were  completely open to the outdoors. Warm tropical rains would cool the hot and humid breezes that plagued you all day, or the room was flooded with the sound of night crickets and the surf.   I wondered if Pete thought much about plant-life.  “An coconut  or palm tree would be fitting..” I mused.  “But I’d be happy if he’d let me have an orchid.”

“Everybody has access to a full menu” Pet continued.  “And the food will be prepped in the kitchens by my chefs at Sneaky Petes.  We’ll have runners going back and forth with food and supplies between both places.”

I said; “It may be premature, Pete.  But have you thought about the second and the third floors?”

He grinned and said: “We’ve thought a lot about the second and the third floors, but right now, we’re only thinking about the first!”

We talked about his beer menu, wine menus.  He caught up with our lives.  Pointing to me he said; “…And you – this was your only job, wasn’t it?” Nodding, I said; “Yeah – there were a couple of us who had this gig as our only source of income.”  He grimmaced and said; “Well, I’m sorry about that.  We’re probably going to start calling all of you sometime next week to come down and meet with Tony and talk with us.  And let’s hope we can be open by Gay Pride.”

We thanked him for his time, trotted over to the Gay 90’s and had a beer.  We took bets whether or not we’ll be working on Gay Pride.  I’m the skeptic… It ain’t gonna happen until the following weekend (before the Fourth of July) at the earliest.  With the City Council’s wacky schedule – it might not be until the first week until August.

Yesterday, a friend of mine called me and heard that we had face-time with Pete.  I mentioned Lush and Glaxius opening soon.   He laughed and said; “Glaxius won’t open for a long time…and I’m guessing it will never open.”

He said: “The owner at Glaxius was using his boyfriend’s money and his boyfriend’s mother’s money to build that bar and the “mother-in-law” just shut her purse.  He doesn’t have any money and his boyfriend’s all tapped out!”

That makes Lush to open sometime later this summer.

I’m going to repeate a common thread throughout this entire conversation about the old Brass Rail and the new “Rail Lounge”:  People who think the Rail Lounge is a night club are wrong.  The Brass Rail, since 1974 has been a neighborhood gay bar far more than it being a gay nightclub.  There’s a huge difference!  In spite of late night entertainment of strippers, piano players and karaoka contests, the Brass Rail was a neighborhood haunt first.

Pete is painting a direct contrast to his super-nightclub with the Gay 90’s.  Continuing with that history between the two establishments that has spanned well over thirty-five years, Pete is setting up the Rail Lounge as a complimentary polar opposite to the Gay 90’s.

Pepper; Meet Salt!  Honey; Meet Jalapeño.

The Rail Lounge going to be a place where you can chillax with that new boyfriend you just met at the Gay 90’s in the Men Only room in the back.  …Quieter, far more intimate…  And while you’re surrounded by the warmth of dark chocolate colors on the walls and vanilla-yellow lighting – The Rail Lounge will be perfect place for that first romantic kiss with the smell of leather between yourselves those warm tropical breezes —  Minus the giant sized firepit in the center of the room.

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