By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
"Hey, have you young folks ever been to Burbank?" asks a jumpy gentleman in a jogging outfit. "I was driving over there the other day, and this officer stops me. I ask him, 'What's wrong? Did I run a red light? Am I speeding?' He says, 'No. You're going the wrong way down a one-way street!'" Burbank cackles. Bill is standing behind the bar with his arms crossed, his forbearance wearing thin. Burbank knows it, but what the hell.
"Hey, did you kids . . ."
"Move along," says Bill, waving Burbank back whence he came, on the other side of the bar, with the daytime regulars.
"How you doing, kid?" Bill asks Liz.
"Good, good, exhausted," she says.
"Listen, I'll be happy to hang some paintings by the kids from the loft," says Bill, tapping a beer. "Tell 'em to put a price on them and I'll hang them up. But not too pornographic."
"Cool," says Liz. "We've been installing fiber optics into these mini stadiums, Fenway Park, Daytona. Fiber optics sounds so cool, but it's like fishing line."
"The stadiums are made by the Danbury Mint," says Joe. "Which is like the bastard Franklin Mint."
Burbank comes back with an expectant smile, holding a deck of cards.
"No cards on the bar," Bill tells him.
"I'm not going to open them up, okay? I'm just going to tell them how it's done," says Burbank, wheedling his way in and pushing Liz off her stool. "This trick is called 'Immaculate Conception.' You take a card, then I tell you what it is, then you take another card, and I . . ."
"No cards at the bar, I already told you that," says Bill.
"But I'm just telling them."
"Move. Go," says Bill. Burbank goes.
Liz orders a $3 plate of eggs, hash browns and sausage covered in white gravy, a plate big enough for a trucker, and eats it at the bar.
"You got the munchies, kid?" Bill asks.
"I haven't had dinner."
"That's not dinner, that's breakfast."
"I haven't had breakfast yet, either."
Johnny Cash comes on, singing "Folsom Prison Blues." "When I was at the girls' home, in San Diego, I used to have to make this every Sunday," says Liz, who's from Altadena by way of a few places her parents shipped her off to.
A pretty woman named Suze, who used to bartend at King Eddy's and now lives upstairs, comes in wearing a blue satin baseball jacket and waving an article about the bar that appeared in the Downtown News. She shows it to Liz, who's quoted as saying, "It's a place to be."
"Did I say that?" asks Liz, laughing and grimacing at the same time.
Suze makes the assembled read the piece, headlined "No Martinis Here," in which the writer calls King Eddy's "a watering hole for war veterans, alcoholics and druggies . . . this won't make the pages of Esquire," and, after a few drinks, heads fearfully for her car, thinking, "It's a long drive home to Beverly Hills. In more ways than one."
"Can you believe it?" asks Suze.
"We're not Beverly Hills," says Bill. "You want to spend $16 for a round of drinks, go to Beverly Hills, you don't belong around here."
Everyone here likes King Eddy's the way it is, likes downtown the way it is; they don't like the rumors and realities of change. The topic of developer Tom Gilmore, who's been gutting old bank buildings and turning them into lofts, quickly becomes rancorous.
"My rent's going to go from like $340 a month to $18 million," says Liz. "I guess we're spoiled, the prices are so cheap. My view is probably pretty twisted, I like my life and I don't want it to change. I've been here eight years and, especially in the last two years, I've loved it, I don't want it to change. Perfect."
It's 11:30, closing time. Liz and Joe tip Bill extravagantly, tucking money into the neck of his T-shirt. He pantomimes a cancan dancer, lifting his apron and batting his eyes; at 62, he still manages to look like the Marine he was.
Get ready to leave.
"Anytime you're here and you're by yourself, just say something, and I'll walk you to your car," says Jim Hill.
It's very dark along Los Angeles; streetlights are out or never installed. The brightest light comes from the new Rosslyn Hotel sign, formerly made of bulbs, newly rendered in primary neon, the candy-colored light blasting down Fifth Street, pooling over the sleepers and wanderers, and on the Gilmore Associates leasing office at the corner of Fourth and Main.
SATURDAY, 12:30 P.M.
"LOOK AT THIS," SAYS BILL, TAKING A cigarette break in front of King Eddy's and nodding at the thousands of Saturday shoppers. "Is this scary? No."
He's still rankled about the article. "Just because we're on the edge of Skid Row doesn't mean we're a Skid Row bar. This used to be a workingman's bar. Only have one labor pool left in this neighborhood, Crest, over on Fifth, great bunch of guys. They come in, cash their checks, have a few drinks. We used to have 19 [labor pools] down here. We used to have Broadway before it folded up years ago. We used to have 19 bars between here and Central. Now, there are four bars in the downtown area. You got Cole's, Craby Joe's, Charlie O's and this place."
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