[Editor's Note: We all know local music and dive bars go hand-in-hand. So in the interest of merging the two together on Heard Mentality, we bring you our weekly nightlife column Dive, Dive, My Darling. Read as our bold web editor, Taylor "Hellcat" Hamby, stumbles into the dive bar scene every week to find crazy stories, meet random weirdos and guzzle good booze.]
Huntington Beach's greatest cabbie is always good for a history lesson. Ace from Fat Taxi has been driving home drunks like me in this city for 30 years, so he has seen bars come and go--and knows the good dirt on them, too. One night about a year ago, I told Ace to drop me off at Bar Hookup off Beach Boulevard. It was recommended by Drak, the scratchy-voiced owner of Vinyl Solution record store down the road.
"Oh, that place isn't Bar Hookup anymore," Ace said. "It's now called Shanghai'd Room." Ace then recalled the pedigree of this location: It used to be a shady massage parlor that got raided by the cops years ago. You don't get these choice background tidbits from a Yellow Cab ride, that's for sure.
The roadside sign for the place doesn't say, "Shanghai'd Room," instead announcing, "COOL BAR." Sure, it may be cocky advertising, but it certainly isn't false. The space is pretty tiny and lit by a dark, red hue. The décor features Chinese lanterns hanging from the ceiling, vintage opium posters and a couple of bottles with dead snakes stored inside--creepy cool.
The televisions don't play sports, but rather foreign films with ludicrous fake subtitles and the whimsical alien cult-classic cartoon film Le Planete Sauvage. The bar only serves beer and wine, making do with its limited license by hosting an ever-changing selection of import and craft beers and clever cocktails made from rice-based liquors. Among the tasty concoctions is the cilantro-and-chile margarita--both spicy and savory.
One night at the Shanghai'd, I was sitting with a group of friends when a skinny guy with a thick beard and curly mop announced to the crowd there was going to be a standup comedy night. My friends and I looked at one another and quietly groaned, as amateur comedy nights can be particularly painful.
Comedians go up to the mic in the center of the room and do their thing for a few minutes each. After the third or so act, I remember thinking, "Wait a minute . . . these people are actually funny. Where are the awkward pauses and generous half-chuckles from the audience I've seen at every other amateur comedy night at a dive bar? The crowd is genuinely laughing!"
Here are some samples from a recent Comedy Den night: "I recently had to sell blood for overdraft fees," said a dude wearing a dark hoodie, a forest-green bandana tied around his head. "I'm not sure if I believe in the 'invisible hand of the market,' but I'm getting fisted by it." He continued, "I stopped studying philosophy because that's the study of becoming the world's smartest homeless person."
"I've been doing a lot of crying lately," said a slick-haired guy in a leather jacket, explaining that his girlfriend recently left him. "I wanna give a shout-out to sluts for making this transition easier." Later, he asks, "Anyone here into rap music?" and after a few hoots from the crowd in response, "No minorities in here, huh?" And the aforementioned curly topped host, Evan Cassidy, mused about his car during one of his trips to the mic: "The Prius is an unshaven-pussy magnet."
In such close quarters, the Comedy Den is a haven for hecklers--and Shanghai'd Room is the place where smartasses run wild and say whatever they want (even I'm guilty of it here). There was the girl who yelled out about how she was gay, and then not really, and then, "Okay, just kidding, I really am gay." After she yelled out during a few guys' sets, she left, only to be replaced by a new wiseguy named Jeff who was wearing an Angels cap. He was happy to lend a hand to a comedian who hadn't gotten a recent laugh. He was only helping, he said!
After one too many wisecracks, he was invited up to the mic to see how funny he really was. "I've got three minutes, and everyone here hates me," he began. He rambled on for a while about how his fingers smelled like pussy. He ended his impromptu set with, "What did the fish say when he swam into the wall? Damn." Leave the funny stuff to the amateurs, Jeff.
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FAVORITE PIECE OF FLAIR: A little old TV with perma-static sitting behind one corner booth has the words "Make Out Booth" written across the screen.
BEST LINE OF THE NIGHT: "If a pussy falls on the ground for more than five seconds . . . I'll still eat it."
Shanghai'd Room, 16391 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 514-9809; www.facebook.com/shanghaidroom.