The guy on my right was nursing a bottle of Coors. Then he decided to switch drinks.
He ordered a shot of pickle juice.
"I like the taste," he explained.
"Me too," Bobbie the bartender said. She imbibed from the pickle jar.
Never did catch his name, so let's call him Cliff. Just like the mailman on "Cheers," he was filled with fun facts to know and tell. Or maybe it was just the lore of a barfly.
Pickle juice, Cliff explained, has many virtues. We're talking dill pickle juice, kosher if possible. The great thing isn't the taste, but the chemistry. There's something about the juice that thwarts drug and alcohol tests. (Or so Cliff said.) Pickle juice may not make you sober, my new friend explained, but he's sure it helped him pass the urinalysis test and land his new job.
If you plan to conduct your own experiment, let me know the results. All I know is that when I walked into The '90s Sports Bar in Burbank Sunday night, I wasn't expecting an advanced seminar on beating a DUI. What I was expecting was a boisterous little crowd of L. A. Kings aficionados who would help me, a fan of just about every other sport, better appreciate hockey. Or at least better understand people who do.
I'd driven past this watering hole a few times before. I vaguely remembered when it was called The Gay '90s and, like many other people, wondered just what they meant by Gay. Then it was transformed into The '90s Sports Bar, complete with the telltale satellite dish on the roof. And since it's at a blue-collar kind of intersection--Alameda Avenue and San Fernando Road--it seemed like a great place to watch hockey.
But when I entered this "sports bar," it made me think of that old quote from former Kings owner Jack Kent Cooke, bemoaning attendance in the days before Wayne Gretzky: "I finally figured out why all these Canadians moved to Southern California. They hate hockey."
There wasn't much of a crowd here, and it sure wasn't boisterous. The big playoff game between the Kings and the Toronto Maple Leafs was on the little TV at the end of the bar. At my end the big screen was showing a baseball game--and not the Dodgers or Angels, but the New York Yankees versus the Boston Red Sox. People weren't paying much attention to either game.
They were here to pass time and drink. Some were more interested in passing time, some were more interested in drinking.
Bobbie is affable, 50-ish and buxom. When she was out of earshot, Cliff told me he was hoping to take her to the movies--to "Indecent Proposal."
Cliff talked a little about his days in 'Nam--"I was a rear-echelon mother-f--"--and mentioned something about a pal he met in a rehab program.
Before leaving, Cliff left me with a final word of advice: If you ever have to take a Breathalzyer test, quickly suck fresh air into your mouth, then blow it in the tube. One time, Cliff said, he was pulled over for weaving and managed to blow a 0.03.
When Cliff left, a new friend joined me on my left. Might as well call him Norm, since he seemed to be talking about Vera.
"I told my wife this morning I was going out to get a quart of milk. Well, sometimes it takes a long time to find a quart of milk." It was now approaching 8 p.m. The Maple Leafs had beaten the Kings, 4-2. Not that anyone seemed to care.
This Norm was 60, a Korean War veteran, an inveterate joker. ("My commander asked me what I wanted to get out of the Army. I told him, 'Me.' ") He'd been coming here for years and, no, it wasn't ever a gay bar. But a lot of people around Burbank assumed as much, he said.
"This place is a dump," Norm declared, not without affection. He was a put-down artist. I'd start to talk and Norm would interrupt: "Is this going to be a long story?"
Back when this was the Gay '90s bar, Norm said, there were times that gays ventured inside. (Only he didn't say "gays.") It wasn't until the old owners passed away that the new owners turned it into The '90s Sports Bar.
Soon he was gone, presumably to pick up a quart of milk.
A younger guy took a seat to my right. He looked a little like Woody, too young to have worried much about being sent to Vietnam. This had been his dad's hangout, he told me. Used to be a piano bar right here where the big-screen TV is now. He understood this was a fairly popular spot back in the '50s and '60s.
"It's been the '90s since the '50s," he said.
The Red Sox won, 5-2. Woody and I watched the highlights on ESPN Sportscenter and agreed that the Orlando Magic, lucky enough to win the NBA draft lottery, should sign Chris Webber. What a front line: Webber and Shaquille O'Neal.
At the other end of the bar, somebody asked Bobbie to change channels on the small TV. The bartender obliged.
"How about 'Murder, She Wrote'? " she asked.
It was time to go. Nobody ever asked me what I did for a living. So I told Bobbie and asked for the owners' number. Bobbie didn't know it and suggested I chat with the manager, but it turned out he wouldn't be back to work until after my next deadline.
Instead I called the drug and alcohol treatment program at Glendale Memorial Hospital and asked them about pickle juice.
"I've heard a lot of myths, and this sounds like the current one," therapist Chantal Cohen said. She conferred with another staffer and assured me that pickle juice "won't eliminate the metabolites of alcohol."
Not that it mattered to me. After one Bud, I switched to Coke.
Scott Harris' column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Readers can write to Harris at The Times Valley Edition, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, Ca . 91311.