Romeo Tango

Last weekend, I had just finished up two projects, and traca de broon and I were biking around town getting hot, sweaty, sunburned, tired, and thirsty, and we thought we 'd try to go somewhere we'd never been before. Decided on The Vine, south of Burlington off Gilbert. For some reason, we'd just never gone in there in our four years in the IC.

Walked into the cool of a dark sports bar and were immediately hailed by Possum (trademark grin) and T-Bone (flushed with wedded bliss), in a booth by the door with Possum's parents. Mama Possum smiled and Papa Possum stood and shook my hand and kept standing the whole time because he is a gentleman. He was put at ease when his daughter informed him I am a fellow Hoosier. "Tipton? Yep, I know it." I fell in love with Papa Possum, who, when Possum calls him, says, "Come home."

We stopped bothering them and sat at the bar in the middle of the bar and ordered two Guinness. I counted nine TVs, most of them showing baseball, and then overheard a conversation between two summer scalawags seated next to us at the bar.

"Did you see the latest issue of Playboy?"
"Did you read any of the articles?"
"Did you read that article about smuggling pot from British Columbia?"
"See, they helicopter it across the border to Washington..."

The Guinness was good, not as cold as normal, but very refreshing. When we were done, we decided to continue our journey of discovery.

"What about that bar..."
"Yeah, that one..."
"...that you see when you take the recycling."
"Yeah, okay..."

We biked down Linn to Benton and locked up the bikes by the side entrance of Romeo Tango, or RT's, home of "The Iowa City Volleyball Club." Into this repurposed, ramshackle, haphazardly constructed, huge old house, with every room seemingly added by a different builder, we filed out of the heat and into air conditioning and approached the bar. Didn't see anything in the way of good beer on tap.

"We have Boulevard Wheat around the side there," said the barmaid, "on a different tap." I said yes. T. ordered a G&T. She brought our drinks, but my pint glass was filled only about 2/3 the way up. "The keg is finished. I'll knock a dollar off." No offer to change the keg -- she just took the money and walked away.

We looked around. Your usual kind of place. A woman at the bar confidently ordered a "tah-quill-ah." We wandered up a ramp toward a back room, a grimy and dusty 1950s time capsule, with broken chairs and crooked, faded posters, and one of those long "puck bowling" tables, I forget what the game is called, powdered with silica sand for sliding the pucks. T. had never played, so I fished out two quarters, loaded them into the slots, and pushed in the sh-kagung-gung mechanism. The quarters simply fell to the floor and rolled away. I bent down and noticed the entire back of the coin-eating contraption was gone.

"What's out there?" She was looking at a dirty plastic door, opaque with scratches and smears, that seemed to lead out to a beer garden. We heard voices through it and shoved it open -- and entered a bright blue-painted, canvas-roofed Fort Lauderdale cantina bar, alive with loud, sloppy youngsters.

"Where the other half drinks," I observed.

Several young men had pushed together some tables and were playing a converted carnival game, the one where you have to throw a ping-pong ball at a triangle of plastic cups, except these cups were filled with an inch of beer, and when you made it, you had to drink the beer. If, as often happened, the ball ricocheted and bounced crazily around the filthy floor, it was simply fetched, rubbed on a shirt, and thrown again into a beer that would be drunk. Empty plastic pitchers littered every corner.

Then we noticed, toward the rear of the cantina, a kind of deck, and a volleyball sailing by. Investigation revealed a full-sized sand pit, with a six-on-six game in full swing under the merciless sun.

"How fun does that look?" The whole scene was surreal, as if we'd tripped into a wormhole and been spit out somewhere Not Iowa. I looked around for the MTV truck.

Back under the tarp there was a long, low bar lined with metal deck chairs, two of which we planted ourselves in, and a different bartender told us there were leagues, and you had to sign up in late spring. "Although, if no one is playing, you can just go out there and play."

A kid walked up with a t-shirt that featured a close-up of a man sensuously licking a bowling ball. Ping-pong balls clattered by randomly. We enjoyed our refreshments while gawking at the happy, chattering denizens of this out-of-place place. Another guy came up to the bar in a Bulldog t-shirt, and he and T. made conversation about the joys and pleasures of Amsterdam. "Hey, I lived there, too," my mind cried as I was ignored by the flirty would-be boy-toy. Like, whatever. Not soon enough, he walked away. "What?" T. all innocent.

At the end of our drinks, we sighed and grinned around and vowed to come back, though we felt a bit like Mom and Dad on the set of Girls Gone Wild. Amazing that in a town where you think you've turned over every rock, there is something like this place to consider. Are there more IC secrets? Rest assured, we will find out. If you know of some, dish, dish.


chad said...

I was always a fan of the oft overlooked College St. Billiards in the ped mall. $3 Long Islands on the weekends, immaculate, rentable pool tables and a minimum of annoying people. And I miss the Hilltop. It's a tough walk there, but the way home is all downhill baby.

Vampiro said...

Oh, The Vine. I made one stop into that grungy little place, and all I remember is potato skins that were like hollowed-out ancient ceremonial bowls full of orange grease and bacon. Oh, and warm bottles of beer.

My wife has my favorite off-the-beaten path story. There was a little squat brick building in her sales territory, bleak, tiny covered windows, worn out gravel lot for parking. Could have been a denture lab for all you could tell. There was a neon Open sign in the window, but no signage anywhere. I guess it's not until you enter Touch of Mink that you find out what it's called.

She was looking to sell some advertising for the PC, and she went in expecting a legit massage place. It had that funny cheap lotion smell, and on the counter was a worn out laminatated card listing services, such as Shower ($30) and Shower with Massage ($120). God bless her, the missus actually plunged into her schtick with the dead-eyed, multi-pierced woman behind the counter. One or two visits later, she actually got them to advertise in a special section of the paper entitled Health. Damn she's good.

Antoine said...

Has anyone ever gone down to the Kitty Hawk, on Gilbert Place? If I recall correctly, you can get a falafel there. Pool tables, sketchy clientele. And last time I was there, they were raffling off a car...I think it was a late 80s/early nineties chevy cavalier. Or maybe a buick. One of those ubiquitous midwestern mid-size american sedans. In any case, it was old, and didn't look too hot.

The Vine is the perfect place to run into someone and their parents.

At the Hilltop, a guy at the bar asked me if I wanted to fight. That place either has a mellow baord-games-welcome vibe, or an "Accused" vibe to it. Anyway, I asked him if it wasn't a little early for fighting. His reply: "Early in the night or early in the week."

I went with week.

possum said...

The KittyHawk closed. They auctioned everything off last Saturday.

My dad, while a little crazy and gruff and mean, has thus far charmed every male friend I have. He has also fixed their cars and lectured on the trucking deregulation of 1986.

The Vine is the place to go when things already feel weird. When you gotta talk and drink, but not get drunk. T-Bone likes to get grilled cheese and red wine.

What about Shakespeare's, over by the Hy-Vee on Muscatine? That place is awesome.

I liked Mum's, but Mum's is closed, too.

Why are all my interesting places bars? I never used to drink. Then I moved to Iowa.

SER said...

Speaking of the K.Hawk, B. and I drove past it the other day and saw the auction sign up and we wondered: do they auction off the regulars? Brando, please explore this concept as a sketch on CJSD.

Brando said...

Grendel, great post. I love your travel pieces.

I have to second chad's recommendation of College St. Billiards. It's a really great place to play pool and surprisingly "Real World" free. TLB and I played there with Robert and Michelle before.

I remember going to the Kitty Hawk once, many moons ago, but for the life of me, can't remember who I met there. I think TLB may have been in Michigan at the time. I do remember my brother was with me and we played pool and drink really cheap beer.

I am not sure why people stopped going to Martinis -- I always liked going there because you could get a $2 pint of Anchor Steam and sit outside. Too many undergrads?

The Hilltop, BTW, makes a mean grilled cheese.

Okay, I have a sketch to write...er, I mean work to do.

molfe said...

I always liked Mike's Tap, a small, somewhat shady place tucked by the old train depot. I think it's on Wright St., between Clinton and S. Dubuque--just around the corner from The Hut.

Rumor is they used to drop drink prices for the duration of passing trains.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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