This Charming Bar

Photo by Tenaya HillsWell. It had at least sounded like a good idea at the time. A date with my mom to the opening night of The Nutcracker? And she'd pop for dinner at Romano's Macaroni Grill beforehand? A piping-hot dish of creamy pasta, gratis, when the only thing I'd successfully cooked for myself since moving out had been Wild Oats' just-add-boiling-water corn chowder?

I love me some dancing Russkies!

Two weeks later, I was attempting to snooze discreetly through the first act of the American Ballet Theatre's production—you know, pulling the ol' I'm-just-going-to-rest-my-head-on-my-hand move—and to dodge my mother's brimstoned glances (which, when translated, exclaimed, "You're burning the candle at both ends! People who don't sleep become ill, Ellen! ILL!" and, when abbreviated, meant, "For heaven's sake, move back home already!") when I remembered that I'd made plans for later that evening to take Clubbed! reader—and DJ—Darren up on his invitation to experience Definitely Maybe, Memphis Costa Mesa's weekly Wednesday night indie-rock/'70s, '80s and '90s Britpop offering.

Regaining lucidity just as the curtains went down for intermission, I made peace with my mother by promising to go to bed early that night and then politely ooohed and awwwed at the gracefulness of the Pixie Stix in a tutu—I'm sorry, the Sugar Plum Fairy—for another hour before bidding the madre adieu and cruising over to Memphis.

After slightly panicking upon beholding the Lab's new, blocked-off, not-for-Memphis-customers-anyway, can-you-believe-we're-finally-paving-this? parking lot, I arrived, sans Clubbed! entourage, and grabbed a pint of water at the bar. Soon after, with melodic, unidentifiable but vaguely early '90s British music playing in the background, Pat—Avalon's bartender and personal stalker, given how much I run into him—saddled up alongside me and spun an enchanting yarn about the bar's upcoming prom-themed show. (Stay tuned for more information in coming weeks.)

I love me some unidentifiable but vaguely early '90s British music!

After extending an invitation to drop by Avalon for a martini, Pat returned to his too-cute girl friend (or his too-cute girlfriend, perhaps? Seventh-grade social definitions rule) just as my photog, Tenaya, and our friend Ivan showed up. Ivan insisted—"No, Ellen. Really. Water? Come on. Dude!"—upon buying a round of Stella Artois, and so I let him, momentarily shelving my bias against the official featherweight beer of the passport-stamped hipster literati.

As we relocated to a table, I silently cheered the DJ's selection of The Smiths' "This Charming Man," widely acknowledged as the perennial second track on any respectable pre-going-out mix. Eavesdropping on the table behind me, I overheard an Urban Outfitted boyfriend upset over how he'd caught his girlfriend smoking. "I, like, smoke, you know," he informed his sympathetic friend, "but it's, like, different when she does it, you know? Like, she just doesn't do that." And much to my surprise, instead of turning around and informing the lad that his much-taller-and-not-a-bit-out-of-his-league babe has every right in the world to do that, and shouldn't he praise—I don't know—The Strokes, or something? that he has a girlfriend, I relished the fact that I'd actually been able to eavesdrop in the first place.

Yes, Memphis—the same place that turns into a sweaty, whiskey-soaked quagmire of trucker hats and knitted scarves on the weekends—had in fact on this night remained a delightfully room-temperature haven for those trucker hats and knitted scarves who enjoy slowly sipping their beers and the occasional song by T. Rex (you simply can't go wrong with "Jeepster." Ever.), Big Star, Elvis Costello and the Pretenders. Sure, there were a few loud, post-happy-hour shouts, and at some point the kids at my table began sticking lit matches in their mouths, but it merely punctuated the decidedly relaxed atmosphere and its college-radio soundtrack.

And while I never made it to bed early that night, I did leave Memphis smiling and impressed, smelling faintly of secondhand smoke and imported beer, with a hankering for more songs by Alex Chilton and a return visit in the new year. But I'll pass on the dancing Russkies then, thanks.

DJs TSC1, AM 180 and rotating special guests create the best mixtapes you'll never make during Definitely Maybe, every Wednesday night at Memphis in Costa Mesa. Should you feel like checking it out on the upcoming holiday eves, call ahead—a closed bar can be a real buzz kill.

Drunk driving is also a buzzkill. Arrange for a designated driver and then invite me out!


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