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  • Writer's pictureEric Elkins

Ode: Shots at Don’s Club Tavern

The place has a different feel these days —a little too clean, too well-lit, too douchey on a Saturday night. The neon sign outside hasn’t changed and the dark, stained ceiling still seems too low. The bathrooms are generally cleaner.

And the drinks are still cheap.

Your shoes don’t stick to the floor anymore, and the uric wafts in some corners are long gone. You’ll no longer find grizzled regulars sitting at the bar with a beer and shot in front of them, bitching to the bartender about some arcane slight from a dozen years ago. No bearded biker dudes standing around the pool table, wallet chains hanging from belt loops, the scent and squeaks of old leather as they line up a shot. And the place feels bigger than it used to.

You know who the real OGs are because they still call the place Don’s Mixed Drinks.

And yet, sidle up with buddies old and new, watch the bartender sling liquor between shot glasses then push them forward with a slosh and a splash, grab yours, dripping and sticky down the side, and clink it all around before guzzling it in a single gulp — and just for a flash, you’re back in that shitty old bar, starting or ending the night with trouble on the horizon.

It doesn’t matter what’s in there… cheap tequila, Jamo, Fernet Branca — okay, Fernet always hits different — but really, whether it’s bourbon, agave, or straight vodka that burns all the way down — it’s the cheersing, that wild look in your friends’ eyes, the guzzle, and the rapid clank of the glasses as they hit the bar top afterward that matter more than whatever you probably shouldn’t have just put in your body.

And you always know, right? That instant you’ve had one shot too many. The one that goes down hard and churns your belly. The decision you’re going to pay for sooner or later. Or very soon and then, yeah, also later.

But in the caesura of that hazy crystalized moment between the high ringing tone of the glasses crashing together and the “too late now” sting of the liquor hitting the back of your tongue, all thought of consequences is banished from your being.

You’re frozen in time; not the person you were way back when Don’s was a true dive bar, not the person you are now among this crowd of pretty kids, not even the person you were a few minutes ago when you walked through the door, grimacing at the packed bar. You’re not even you, in the individualized sense. You’re part of the pack — all engaged in the same ritual, all drinking the same dreadful thing together, all feeling the same potent concoction of joy and pain as the harsh spirit lights up your esophagus before it goes about making the rest of your night a little bit better or a whole lot worse.

And for just that briefest of intervals, you’re all at home at Don’s.

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