Summer in San Diego, when the asphalt boils. The sun is a white-yellow disc made for pain, the sky’s like bathwater, flat and whisper-blue. Trolleys punch through the streets like bullets, bright red where they’ve already gone through a body. Perspiration dampens the edges of your hairline, and the golden horns on your helmet are heavier than you remember. A muscle in your neck salsa-dances under your skin as you strain to keep the helmet upright.
Across from the glass-and-steel greenhouse of the Convention Center, you see a sign that offers some kind of solace, at least to what remains of your overstimulated, pan-sizzled mind. The sign reads “Gaslamp District,” and some part deep inside of you screams like a hawk in full dive, its eyes full of scurrying prey.
You are Loki, of Asgard. You are not Eric(or Erica) of Whittier. You have a wicked thirst, for the frosty brew or the knife-edged cocktail, and you will be sated. But do you place Odin’s stolen spear, Gungnir, on the ground and spin it, trusting to fickle fate to choose your bar? No. No you don’t. You allow wisdom, and experience, to guide you.
Follow me, parched and costumed demi-god. I can guide you from Comic Con’s exhausting arms and into a punchbowl full of rum.
The Marble Room
Over-stimulated, your eyes still boggling and sparking from the myriad treasures within the convention center, you realize a transition may be in order. A sudden gear-stripping shift from infinite exhibition floor of goodies to “nice quiet drunk” may be a dangerous, ill-advised move. And so, you stomp majestically over to our first stop on your way to meet inebriation – the Marble Room.
Let not the fancy name stay your hand as it reacheth for the wallet – this is a geek bar. Imagine an arcade from the late ’80s / early ’90s, complete with “House of the Dead,” “Street Fighter,” “Mortal Kombat,” and “Area 51,” alongside pool tables, an air hockey table, and an enormous game of Jenga as tall as a man with bone-crushing forearm-sized wood bricks instead of the pinky-thin blocks that are normally used. There is even, wonder of wonders, a beer pong table dead center. Did I also imaginate that there is a bar that serves drinks? Banish from your thoughts the tacky Dave-and-Busters vibe you may be conjuring. The Marble Room is small, lit by video screens, and streaming with beer. There, Loki-Eric(a), you may rest the heavy head that wears the crown, doff your cape, and quench that silver tongue in golden lager.
Also there’s a bunch of vintage 1880’s era pornagraphy framed on the bathroom walls. SO IT IS WRITTEN.
Geek Bar Equivalent: Chatsubo, from the cyberpunk novel “Neuromancer.” Where do console cowboys hopped up on stims go to unplug? Somewhere they don’t have to – socialization without ever dousing the cool burning light of the video screen, plus a tall sweating glass of the brew to ease the nerves burned half to kindling.
The Tipsy Crow
Standing on the corner like a classy escort who’s just stepped out of a white limousine, the Tipsy Crow draws your eye first. The black bird sigil above the door reminds you of the Allfather’s ravens, Hugin and Munin. You like the idea of drinking and seducing mortals beneath Odin’s disapproving eye.
Inside, you find a two-story bar, narrow, decorated with polished wood. Elegant, almost – you can tell, because they serve absinthe with sugar cube and ice water drip-tap. Then, a friendly barwench points you to the televisions mounted above the bar. They display the current drink index, a kind of stock market for the alcoholically-inclined. The prices of the drinks rise or fall (bulls and bears, oh my) depending on how many are being ordered – supply and demand. If everyone is drinking Moscow Mules (which are frightfully delicious at the Tipsy Crow) then the price skyrockets, and you’d be smart to switch to a less popular cocktail.
You’re dressed as Loki. It’s not surprise this chaos appeals to you.
Geek Bar Equivalent: Barret’s Coffee House, from Raymond Feist’s fantasy novel “Rise of a Merchant Prince.” Roo, the criminal-turned-hero-turned-capitalist, would definitely approve of the twisting markets and the dull caophany of a crowd of men and women shouting dollar amounts.
The Shout House
Slinking from the Tipsy Crow, you discover that night has enfolded its jet-black wings around the Earf, and the gaslamp district is filled with all manner of shiny delights. Look, a train of girls whose skirts are so brief that with a proper squint, a short man may be able to catch an eyeful. There, a dog in a power wheels blasting Hip Hop. In between, lots of people dressed like The Joker. But be not distracted! For there is a song in your future.
Inside the Shout House, you will see a pair of pianos within, flanked by ten-foot paintings of Jerry Lee Lewis and Ray Charles. Behind the pianos, a sometimes-used drumset, and to the right a lonely bass guitar. As you slump in your chair and begin to quaff your first of many reasonably priced beers, you will realize that the pianos are playing music, sat astride by friendly but racous men. These men take requests, and in between playing songs they sling jibes at the audience, each other, and the songs they’re playing. You can tip them to play a song or even tip them to stop if you hate another patron’s choice. At one point, you may hear “Bohemian Rhapsody” rendered in the traditional style, or in swing or dubstep stylings. You will have a damn good time, laughing and singing along, suffused with the warm glow only alcohol and good song can provide. You’ve done your ancestors proud.
Geek Bar Equivalent: Karitas, from Joss Whedon’s “Angel.” There isn’t straight karaoke, but you’ll plenty of singing, and be handily charmed by the dashing characters behind the pianos. The vibe is half-bar, half-live show, and will put you right at ease to have your soul, and your destiny, read.
July fast approaches. Be ready. Be thirsty. Be quenched.