Are you an attorney?"
Like "What's your home address?" or "When's the last time you watched porn with a stranger?" this sort of bold question can deep-six a bar conversation before it ever starts. Still, there are some bars where a little charm tempered by grain spirits and a mature crowd will get you through the night.
Downing Street Pub (2549 Kirby) is one of those bars. It makes you pity those folks who spend their nights in crowded clubs, hiding from conversation or screaming over excessive bass. What Downing Street's clientele buttoned-down professionals, with the occasional old-timer or oddball lacks in diversity, it makes up for with general curiosity.
Downing Street Pub
"No," I reply. "But I often require the assistance of attorneys."
"So you're a criminal?" she chuckles.
"Not right now, but it's barely ten o'clock."
Time to shift the discussion. "What made you ask that? Do I look like an attorney?"
"Well," she says, nodding at my hands, "the half-smoked cigar and Scotch were my first hint. Lawyers seem to have a thing for excess."
"Rest assured, they don't have a corner on the market."
"But you've got the big hair and the sideburns," she continues. "So you obviously aren't a trial lawyer. But you could've been some sort of renegade probate guy."
"What is it that you do?" I interject.
"I'm an attorney," she says, smiling. "I heard that a lot of lawyers come here, so I thought I'd network. What do you do, exactly?"
"Whatever circumstances require," I mumble.
"I work in a bar, and I write."
"That's interesting," she says, not really meaning it.
"It's pretty damn glamorous," I say, meaning it a little bit and smirking at the implications.
The conversation fizzles, and I divert my attention to the far corner, where sparkly-eyed chanteuse Tianna Hall and the band are coating the room with the sort of no-nonsense vocal jazz that makes me want to hunt down and thank the flirty lesbian who bought me my first Rosemary Clooney disc. (Amy Winehouse is fine, but grow some nerve and buy Jazz Singer, or prepare for a lonely and regretful demise.)
It's the right music for the bar, making the Led Zeppelin that plays between sets seem all the more obtuse. It's a long road between Cole Porter and "Immigrant Song," paved with the blood of lots of people who knew better, or should have. It probably has something to do with Harry Nilsson, but that's, as attorneys say, speculation.
The attorney orders a cider from the barman, Dave, who has been at Downing Street for a little more than half of its 11-year existence.
Dave brings her cider: Strongbow, served in a can. The attorney recoils.
"A can?" she asks. "Wow, I don't remember the last time I had a tall boy."
Dave looks nonplussed. I look annoyed. Dave pours me another drink.
"Where are all the lawyers?" the woman asks Dave. He shrugs.
"I heard this was a lawyer hangout, and I wanted to do some networking. There aren't any lawyers here."
"What do you do?" asks Dave.
"I'm a lawyer."
"Well, there you go then!" Dave smiles and takes off to help other customers.
"You know that's not what I meant," she calls after him.
I abandon my post for the restroom, where I find myself second in line. The guy ahead of me appears to be taking his time.
"Oh!" he says, zipping up and spying me leaning against the wall by the sink, trying in vain to light the remnants of my cigar. "Sorry about that. I thought I was alone in here. I gave it the extra five shakes, just to be sure."
"Be careful," I say, hoping vagueness will deflect the always-awkward Bathroom Conversation. "It's only Tuesday, after all."
"Right," he laughs in agreement, then goes to wash his hands.
"That lady," he continues, much to my chagrin, "she seems to enjoy your company. She's a talker."
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"No kidding," I say.
"Yeah, and it's a social setting," he keeps going, "so why not? That's why these places are in business, right? We all get drinks and talk and hope for the best."
He finishes drying his hands, and I hear the door open and swing shut.
If you want to find that sort of wisdom in a restroom, you usually have to read the walls. At Downing Street, you only need ears.