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As the owner of Long Beach's Alex's Bar, Alex Hernandez has a pretty set routine: wake up, check emails from bands around the world, try to squeeze in some gym time, then walk or bike to work at 2 p.m. Given the nature of the bar business, though, each day at the office holds a new surprise.
Just when you think you've seen it all, he says, customers are there to prove you wrong. He sees patrons at their booze-fueled best and their drunken worst. "Mopping up puke doesn't even make me gag anymore," Hernandez says. "I've been doing it for 13 years now—I could practically be a nurse by now." Embarrassed customers, fear not—Hernandez won't dish on the specifics of your antics (to the press, anyway).
People flock to Alex's Bar for a variety of reasons: to catch a show featuring nationally touring and local bands, grab a stiff drink, or catch a glimpse of the filming location of True Blood's Fangtasia. The velvet paintings, red-curtained stage, and black-and-white photo booth have all become iconic since the punk-rock bar opened.
Since December, however, the campy décor has been fading from the walls steadily; it's the bar's first renovation, and the customers have noticed. "They're scared we're going to screw it up and take the dank out of the dive," Hernandez says.
New patent-leather barstools, the removal of a dilapidated ceiling cabinet, and the shift in focus to craft beer and cocktails are all cause for alarm from the regulars, but Hernandez assures them, "We're just giving the bar a little face-lift, not a boob job and Botox and all that other nasty stuff."
He understands people don't like change, but frankly, a good portion of the bar was falling apart thanks to the wild nights that transpire at a punk-rock joint. "The bar was never completed when we started," he explains. "A lot of the stuff was made with the cheapest material I could find just to get the doors open."
When the place opened, he was 27 years old, and now he's 40 and married with two sons. His tastes have changed, and Hernandez is just reflecting that with the revamp. The quality of shows booked will remain, and the quality of drinks will increase. His goal for 2013 is to get rid of the soda gun completely. And skeptics may find comfort in his investing in a brand-new sound system.
When it comes to running the business, it's a family affair. Hernandez's mom and cousin do the bookkeeping. His wife, Paige, began as a regular and eventually won his heart after many slow Sunday games of pool after her shift at the Cheesecake Factory. She now runs the social media, handles ticketing, makes fliers for bands "who don't have their shit together enough to make their own," and even tends bar a few days a week. "She's the brains behind the man," Hernandez says.
On his one day off a week, Hernandez enjoys hanging with his sons, Diego and Grayson, usually at Disneyland. He says it's too early to wonder if they will one day join the family business. "I wouldn't pressure them to join the glamorous life of a bartender," he jokes.
Six days a week, Hernandez's self-described glamourous life ends at 3 a.m., after closing and cleaning the bar, then walking or biking to his Long Beach home, watching about an hour of Cartoon Network, and dozing off until the crack of noon to do it all again.