Rejoice, Red Line drinking buddies: You can stumble to the Frolic Room from… (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)
Frappy, funky Hollywood, where locals like us seldom go unless the in-laws are in from Buffalo and want to bop around town in hopes of spotting one of the Gabors, or maybe even that pistol Kelly Ripa. Visitors from B-list cities always seem to prefer the B-list celebs.
After 22 years in L.A., the only celebrities I've ever spotted were Ed McMahon and Wesley Snipes — Snipes at a downtown ATM (took forever), McMahon at the Polo Lounge (years ago).
Some people are star-struck, others (me) are star-averse. I did once have lunch with the great Mel Brooks, but only because I long suspected he was my real father.
As it turns out, he is.
And the radiant Angie Dickinson frequently emails. When I worry that moving to L.A. has been a total bust and that I'll never find work, I think about butterscotched Angie Dickinson sitting in her bedroom emailing me. "I think Mel Brooks might be your real father," she writes.
Anyway, that's where we are tonight, Hollyweird. H-Town. Every time I come here, noir seems to bubble up like last week's Budweiser, and I begin to channel Raymond Chandler. Bad Chandler to be sure, though the distinction can be as slender as a starlet's first wrinkle.
In this case, my buddies and I pop up out of a giant hole in the ground, the Red Line station. See what I mean? How much more noir can you get than a subway tunnel?
Tonight, we're doing a pub crawl along the Red Line. L.A. public transit goes several places, none of which you'd ever want to visit — except for this bejeweled stretch near the Pantages, Hollywood's pulsing carotid artery.
Hmmmm, I can hear my buddies think. Pretty swank.
At that very instant, one of us stepped in a puddle of gum.
Now, the nice thing about a subway pub crawl is — well, there are lots of nice things. You don't have to navigate around some overbuilt tour bus, trying to put dents into your dents. In L.A., new cars should come already dented, like pre-washed jeans. Then you wouldn't worry.
No, with the Red Line, it's just you and the pavement. No designated driver. Only designated dopes.
That'd be me, of course. The Alpha Dope. Believe it or not, these guys are following my lead. As L.A. residents, they didn't even know we had public transit.
So, like ducklings, they followed me onto the Gold Line, our first leg of the tip, and then to Traxx (at Union Station) for a warm-up drink. I don't drink often, never had a taste for the stuff. But Traxx seems like a good spot to learn.
Before you know it, we've connected to the Red Line, with our $5 all-day passes. The L.A. subway is essentially free, relying on the honor system. We pay anyway. I think later of the poor attendant checking the usually barren machines and finding actual money. Probably shakes his head and laughs.
Once on the boulevard, we head to Dillon's, a respectable if too clean Irish pub.
"It's his bachelor party," I joke.
"Oh? Congrats!" the waitress chirps.
"And over here's the maid of honor," I say, pointing to my buddy Bob.
The young waitress moves along just in case we're not joking. In an hour, she'll be on the phone back to Cedar Rapids. "Mom, I think I'm coming home."
From there, we hit the seedy/cozy/splendid Frolic Room, then move down the boulevard to Blue Palms, where the elk sausage is exceeded only by the pheasant sausage, which is exceeded by the wild boar (no puns intended).
"Hope this new marriage works out for you," I tell my buddy Bittner.
"Don't they all?" he asks.
As with many creative endeavors, time begins to disappear. Someone suggests Musso and Frank, which seems a cool idea. We're at that point in our drinking — remember college? — where everything seems like a cool idea. Scientology. Mint juleps. Motorcycle trips across Mongolia.
At Musso and Frank, the bar is going full bore (no pun intended, part II), so we grab a booth. Some Col. Klink type comes over to scold us. The nerve, sitting at a table without permission, Klink says. Or maybe he's miffed because I'm drinking my martini with a big fat straw. Oh, well.
It's nearing midnight now, so we head to the Highland stop and back to Union Station.
Things go very well here, four lightheaded hobos hopping the first Gold Line car we see, which as luck would have it, is heading to East L.A., not our intended target, but a nice place just the same.
We'll be home eventually, Angie. I'm almost sure.