By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
He stands back from the doorway so a man in a wheelchair, holding his tank of oxygen in his lap, can pass. Because he can't get up to the bar itself, Jim Hill, who's on break, orders the guy what he wants, a pack of Marlboro Lights.
"The majority of my clientele are permanent," says Bill. "Every one of them here lives in one of these hotels, a couple of them live on the Westside, they always stop in here, you know, they feel comfortable. When they're ready to go, we call a cab, and they go home. Night-crowd people who work all week come and relax a little bit, like the kids, they work all day, they do their thing, they come in here, blow a little steam. They're not rowdy. We won't let a rowdy crowd in. We ask them to leave. They don't leave, we pick up the phone and have an escort get them out of here."
Bill rents two rooms upstairs, for him and his girlfriend, $500 total. He can afford it; most people at King Eddy's have a hard time paying for one room. "They're living on Social Security, or SSI, so they just have to budget themselves to make ends meet.
"If you come down to the street . . . you're a gutsy little gal, try this: Get yourself $800 and the clothes on your back, and live on the street for one month. Live in this hotel for one month. Now, out of that $800, you gotta pay your rent, buy your groceries; you want a TV, you have to buy that; you want a microwave, you have to buy that. Let's see how far you last on $800, without touching your bank account, without calling your sister up and saying, 'Help.' And you want to come and have a drink, because you need some kind of social life. Try it. I dare you."
Blondie's on the far side of the bar today, not looking too swell. It's the end of the month, money's tight, Social Security and General Relief checks don't come until the beginning of the month.
"Majority of them are single people, a few of them are married couples, trying to get back on their feet again," says Bill. "They stay here for two, three months, before they get their finances built up, their job organized, then they move where it's comfortable for them . . . But once they're stuck down here, unless they're really motivated to do something to get out of here, they're going to be stuck. A lot of people acceptit, they accept their environment, but they're not down here because of choice, they're down here because of economics."
This is the main reason Bill keeps prices low. "I have a meat-loaf sandwich up there, $3," he says, pointing to the grill menu. "They go a block and a half, meat-loaf sandwich, $7.75. At Cole's, $7.75. So they come in here for something reasonable to eat, we make them a good sandwich, we don't gouge them. That's all I can say about it, really. We try to look out for our people . . . It's a workingman's bar and retired people's bar, and it's a nice bar. Regular man's bar. We have sports on TV, we have seven TVs, we can get almost every game going. We can't get the [Lewis-Tua] fight, we're not gonna pay. It costs you $50 at home, but it's $300 for a bar, then you have to charge, and these people can't afford it. 'Hey, you wanna watch the fight, it's gonna cost you 10 bucks.' I'm not gonna do it. I'm not gonna do it. I don't need tricks, it works the way it is, I don't need no tricks to get my clients . . . We run a clean bar, clean food, we don't allow too many bad influences coming in the bar. I won't even let them come in here and panhandle a cigarette."
Bill throws his own out into the street. He's been working and living downtown, on and off, going on 27 years.
"I remember, back in the old days, this place was booming, okay. The labor pool was sending out 400, 500 guys. If you couldn't get a job down here, there was something wrong with you. Long as you go in there with clean hands, you get a job, and this bar was packed every day, strictly working-class. Now, they bought up all this toy district and everything else . . . you can see the difference, you can see the difference. I seen lawyers go belly-up, okay, I seen them on the street, turned into complete alcoholics until one of their in-laws came down and grabbed 'em by the scruff of the neck and took 'em home and cleaned 'em up. But everybody has to start someplace, and this is the lowest rent you can get, period. Let's face it, this is the lowest-rent district."
FRIDAY, 8 P.M.
AN OLD WOMAN WHO'S BEEN SITTING by herself at a countertop table comes slowly around the bar, leaning heavily on her cane. Her fist looks frail as it hovers over the bar. She opens her hand: A crumpled one and two quarters fall out.