Features & Columns

Silicon Alleys: Columnist Recalls Many a Happy Hour Spent at Cactus Club

DRINK IT IN: Through this humble facade passed bums, poets and Metro employees to partake in the daily happy hour.

Last week, the anti-man-about-town rocksplained the history of San Jose's legendary Cactus Club, our only possible equivalent of CBGB in New York. This week, we drill down even deeper into one particular component of that glorious place that emerged near its final years: the infamous Cactus Club Happy Hour from 5 to 9pm every single day until the place closed.

Were it not for that happy hour, I would not have wound up working for Metro in the first place. I have Cactus to thank for it all.

Unlike jock bars that offered a happy hour from, say, 3 to 5pm or 4 to 6pm, the gig at Cactus was four hours long, catering to homeless punks, counterculture twenty-somethings and indigent old drunks from the art scene years earlier, plus a neato melange of lounge lizards, washed up strippers, transients, short-order crooks, bums, poets and Metro employees. In the latter case, I already wasn't living in the most healthy manner, but at least I had a few sporadic freelance writing gigs, both highbrow and lowbrow assignments. Eventually, the right person at Cactus' happy hour, Lisa Thomas, greased the skids for me to apply at Metro. It would never have happened otherwise.

At Cactus, Lorin Ferguson, who sadly passed away not too long ago, was one of the bartenders who supported me throughout many evenings of stale Bud drafts and Jager shots. All of which led to me spinning atrocious easy listening records every single Wednesday. It would be stretching it to say I was a "DJ" since all we did is place one beat-up turntable on top of the bar, but every freaking week I had to accost Eagle Buckett, the Cactus "technician," who is also no longer with us, for a pair of female-to-female RCA jacks just so we could pipe the turntable through the "house system," meaning, the stereo behind the bar. Yet it cranked. So until the place closed for good I spun easy listening, exotica, bad TV themes, space-age bachelor pad tunes and all sorts of nonsense, just so I could get free drinks from 5 to 9pm every Wednesday. Rockin' Rob Dapello, brother of Rancid's Lars Frederiksen, regularly came in to request the Smokey and the Bandit theme, which I always played. Sadly, Rob passed away in 2001, right at the height of that era.

During one particular Wednesday happy hour, when Mojo Nixon was loading in to perform later that night, he heard me spinning a ridiculous bluegrass version of "Dominique" by the Singing Nun. "You're a disturbed man," he said to me, shaking his head. I'm not making that up. In fact, I bragged for years that Mojo Nixon had called me a disturbed man.

The stories are endless. One day a Cactus security guard decided to headbutt the plate-glass window at Earl Scheib's Auto Body next door while citing passages from the Satanic Bible under his breath. The window shattered, and minutes later I saw small shards of glass protruding from his chest while the paramedics struggled to lift his heavy frame into the ambulance, all while he screamed, "Hail Satan!"

Such incidents were everyday occurrences. In my case, I was so messed up that I even rewrote an old text by occultist Aleister Crowley, a piece called The Green Goddess in which he waxes poetic from a New Orleans absinthe bar. I rewrote the whole thing, applying it to Cactus instead. So allow me now to finish this column with a passage from that text:

For here the stage was set for no common bards, no less than real maidens Alanis Morissette and Gwen Stefani, who soon rose to arena status. Here too played the late Kurt Cobain, Country Dick Montana, Johnny Thunders, Dee Dee Ramone and Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone—all five of whom lived and died, giving their names to the perils of their trade. Here, authentic, and, as I imagine indignant, their ghosts do indeed stalk grimly.

And during the Cactus Club's daily happy hour as I exchange aphorisms with the bartender concerning the vanity of things, I perceive the secret of the heart of God himself; this, that everything, even the vilest urine-soaked place, is so unutterably lovely that it is worthy of the devotion of a God for all eternity.