We found it quite by accident. It was April of 2000 and for reasons I cannot disclose (although I suppose my Four Seas friends will guess), I was wandering in the dark and cold and bitter winds of Twin City.
Mentor Poet and Brooklyn Friend were with me, and we were lost. Completely lost. We'd been to a couple of bars already, and the last one had been a strange warehouse place filled with teenagers wearing black, and music so loud that my head was throbbing. I had a bad cold, the start of a migraine, and no coat. We started back in the general direction of our hotel, or where we thought our hotel might be, but nothing looked familiar, and the cold wind just kept slapping against my neck. Brooklyn Friend said that we would go into the next bar we saw, no matter what it looked like, just so we could get warm and use the bathrooms.
We turned the corner, saw a door, and walked in.
It was like stepping into a television set. The people in this place had silky hair and fancy clothes, and the kind of sheen that goes with privilege. White cloths covered the small tables, and the vases held red roses, real roses, and all of this was set against a background of varnished wood. Feeling completely out of place, with our shivering red fingers and wind-tangled hair, we moved quickly through the room, desperate to get to the warm bathrooms in the back.
As soon as we entered the back room, I realized that those customers out in front, all seated near the main window, were just window dressing, perhaps hired to make the place look classy, and that the heart of the place was in the back.
A polished wood bar ran the length of the back room, with seats all along the edge and several cosy niches. Three friends were clustered over by a fireplace, talking and laughing. Waiters, tired of serving the rich people out front, were gathered by the kitchen door, joking around. One couple had found a romantic spot, over in the corner, half-hidden from view. Above us were high ceilings and a loft that held a pool table. The loft looked like a section taken off an old sailing vessel. Even the bathrooms were cool, filled with old photographs.
It didn't take me long to find the best spot. Halfway between the wooden bar and the swinging kitchen door, right along the path the waiters had to take, was an open doorway to a small separate room. The room, painted deep red, held a couch and two chairs, and an old lamp with a yellowed shade. Some young couple were in there, taking advantage of the dim light. Right then and there I decided that our goal should be to get to this bar early on Saturday and claim the red room for the evening.
Mentor Poet and Brooklyn Friend agreed. So we returned early the next evening, with Wisconsin Woman, and went straight to the red room.
We sat all night in that glowing red room, talking, drinking, eating potatoes and cheese and weird appetizers that Brooklyn Friend kept ordering. We confided in each other. We talked about relationships, about work, about sex, about marriage, about family and childhood. We moved from topic to topic, a serious although not linear conversation, and yet it did not seem serious. Mentor Poet kept joking around, and our laughter filled the room again and again. I was sprawled on the couch, and sometimes I just had to put my head down into the pillows because I was laughing so hard.
Mentor Poet has a contagious laugh, and the waiters could not resist stopping at the doorway to talk to us. One young waiter kept telling us that he wanted to be a stand-up comic, but when asked to tell a joke, he completely blanked out. Was it cruel for us to laugh? He kept returning at intervals for the rest of the night with lame jokes.
It was just the right combination – the glow from the lamp and the deep red walls holding us close – the intimacy of a small space, yet the view of the bar and the constant hustle of waiters going by. We could hear the clink of glasses from the bar, the murmur of conversations, and the faint knocking of pool balls. The route to the bathrooms went just past the door so the room was perfect for people watching. A woman in a black dress, very elegant, appeared out of nowhere and burst out, "Oh, you have the red room. You're so lucky. I love the red room." Her envy put the finishing touch on the evening.