By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Many Drinkery regulars live, like Rodriguez, in the surrounding neighborhood. They might come home to a broken window and a beer bottle on the living-room floor. Drunks walk down the street smashing windows on rows of cars. Regular crooks are a problem as well; bartenders who park on side streets have been mugged on their way to work. Police reports for the Washington Avenue/Memorial Park area (which includes more than just the strip and its immediate surroundings) for a recent 30-day stretch were at nine robberies, four aggravated assaults, 26 burglaries, 103 thefts and 16 auto thefts.
On a weekend night, the sign outside the Drinkery's door might say something like "No Ed Hardy, please," in reference to the trendy graphic T-shirts that can sell for over $100 and have become a staple for the "be seen" crowd that fills most area nightspots.
"We are the only bar on the street that makes fun of them," Rodriguez says.
When Reign Lounge opened right next door, in fact, Rodriguez was forced to replace his bouncers with more expensive off-duty (and uniformed) cops, because cops are more effective at stopping fights. People regularly threw down in the street as both venues emptied at closing time.
When a beer representative who handles her company's accounts on Washington (and wished to remain anonymous) goes out on the town, she avoids the strip because of its "$30,000 millionaires," whom she blames for speeding around with their windows down, blaring music, driving drunk and, instead of using the valet, parking their expensive cars in yards and on the street. She calls them the "Look at Me" crowd.
An industry maxim, she says, holds that, "If you drink liquor it says, 'Look at me.' If you drink beer it says, 'Talk to me.'"
Beer sales have been disproportionately low during Washington's recent boom. Too many people are drinking liquor.
Trevor Fields does not give off a "look at me" vibe, and instead comes across as a pretty nice guy. A 24-year-old petroleum engineer, he says he likes "those kinds of bars" on Washington and goes often to enjoy the music. On Tuesday night, January 19, he parked his Infiniti across the street from the sports bar Sawyer Park, right on Washington Avenue, beneath a sign that said, "No Parking: 7 a.m. to 9 a.m."
He returned a few hours later to find it missing and eventually tracked it down in a lot near I-10. He paid the $190 to retrieve it, then spent Friday at municipal court. After paying $3 for parking and waiting in line for about 30 minutes, he had the ticket dismissed but needed to set a tow hearing to try to get his $190 back. This costs $20, payable only by money order. Fields went to the post office to get one, paid another $3 to park and got back in line.
At night he returned to Washington, parking once again on the side of the road. He drank too much to drive, so his brother brought him home.
That same Friday night, I returned to Center Street to watch the chaos with Israel and Julie. Israel and I leaned on the bed of my truck and drank beer. Drunks stumbled past in the middle of the street. Sports cars, wreckers and cops sped by.
"See, they just drive around. They don't do shit," Moreno said as a cruiser blew past. "Or, if anything, they come at the wrong time."
A BMW was parked in front of my truck. In front of the BMW was an open grate with a big orange cone, which residents put there because people were constantly driving into the grate and getting stuck. A little after closing time three men returned to the car, arguing loudly about who should drive. As one fumbled over the passenger door, another caught sight of the cone. He sauntered over, grabbed it, crouched and heaved it backward over the fence. On his way back he caught sight of Julie and Israel.
"Sorry," he said.
The car jerked violently from the curb, and right at a woman teetering in her high heels as she crossed the street. The woman pointed at the driver and screamed:
"Your lights are off."
The next morning Fields returned to Washington to find the Infiniti missing again. This time it was not listed as towed, so he reported it stolen. He spent almost a week driving a rental while he waited for his insurance company to cut him a check. Then he received word from his bank that the car was at an impound lot.
Impounds have 48 hours to send word to the relevant bank and owner when they receive a car. Police officers, meanwhile, must immediately report each tow they authorize — and in this case the cop, the same one who ordered the first tow, did not. Fields owed $300, thanks to daily storage fees at the lot. And once again the ticket had been issued for a time when it was legal to park on the street.
"I am pretty fucking sick of Washington," Fields says. He laughs when I ask if he plans on going back. "I don't know. We'll see."