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Photograph by George Sakkestad

Size Doesn't Matter

So 'the longest bar in town' ain't. So what?

By Justin Berton

WALK DOWN South First Street on a bright weekday afternoon, duck into a dimly lit bar that calls itself "The Longest Bar in Town" and ask the bartender, Cha Cha, if indeed she has proof that this is "the longest bar in town."

Cha Cha shrugs. Billiard balls crack in the background. "You'll have to come back at 3pm. Ask for Karen--but come 15 minutes early. She's on bar time."

Return at the suggested hour, sheepishly nod to Cha Cha, sit in the middle of the bar, alone, order a Corona with lemon and a shot of Cuervo. Take a good look down the bar. Notice the cluster of barflies at one end. The bar is long, sure, but it doesn't look like it holds any records for length. L.A. Law plays silently on the television directly above. Remember Corbin Bernsen?

A woman walks in, takes the stool to the right, snuggles herself close. She's wearing a large black T-shirt, jean shorts and Teva sandals. She's carrying a purse. Her hair is permed. Her bangs curl like a tidal wave above her forehead. Her mascara is smeared.

Remember Blair Underwood? He was so young on L.A. Law. The woman has a problem. Her Budweiser is already empty. Her boyfriend is at work, she says. She has no money. She could use a drink before he gets off work.

Remember Benny? The retarded file clerk? He was funny.

James Brown's "Night Train" comes on the jukebox. "Miami, Florida, heh. Atlanta, Georgia, uh hum."

Cha Cha says, "Oh, here's Karen."

"This place was a restaurant in the front and a bar in the back since the '50s," says Karen, the cheerful manager. Karen took up bartending at The Place in 1984. She became manager in 1987. The restaurant was gone by then, but a small piano was left in its place. No one played the piano, Karen recalls. "Unless someone got drunk." The woman nods her head in agreement.

But is this really the longest bar in town?

"I don't know," Karen says. "After they took out the piano, they opened the whole place up. And now it goes from there"--she points to the door frame of sunshine at South First Street, cars whizzing by--"to there" and points to the other door frame of sunshine, at South Second Street. "The bar is a block long."

Hmmm.

The woman gets up, moves down a few stools. She sits next to two young guys in baseball caps and puffy sports jackets. They're not very kind to her. They blow her off and walk out. She stays at her stool. Karen walks behind the bar. Cha Cha goes home.

On the wall behind the longest bar in town: One lacquered toilet seat that functions as a clock (roman numerals, no less). Two oil paintings of topless women. One sticker that reads, "If assholes could fly, this place would be an airport."

"I measured the bar once," Karen offers. "I can't remember what the measurement was, though. I think the Keys around the corner might be longer."

Thought: Be a good journalist. Measure every bar in San Jose. Find out which one truly is, without a doubt, the longest bar in town. Hold a contest? Charge entrance fees? Give the money to charity?

Thought: Pssh. Corona.

An older black man walks up to the bar, asks for another Budweiser and four more quarters for the pool table. The woman moves in. Her boyfriend is fighting with her, she says. He's at work. She needs a drink.

"A Budweiser for the lady," the older man says.

"That's very kind of you," the woman says.

"Oh, well," the older man chuckles, "I don't know how kind I really am."

"Hey," Karen says, thumping her hand on the bar three times, "don't be asking for drinks."

"I'm not--he offered."

"Ehh," Karen grumbles as she walks down the bar, toward Second Street.

Older man to woman: "Wanna go?"

Woman: "OK."

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From the March 22-28, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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