Van Halen Bar

It was late summer of 2006 and I was traveling west with my friend Ted and his sister Susie to visit an old friend working at a resort in Wyoming. The whole story would be too long to repeat here, so I will emphasize on a particular aspect of it.
I will focus on what can only be called “The Van Halen Bar.”
Yes, it was in western Montana in a little tourist trap town that we visited the only open bar. It was a shady looking place, almost straight out of a Tom Waits song, except not even his twisted mind could conceive of a bar dedicated to the early years of a cheesy rock band.
We entered the establishment around 9:00 p.m. and the only illumination came from multi-colored Christmas lights wrapped around the bar’s fixtures. The owner, a greasy looking man in his 50s was conversing with the drunken locals as we entered. It was a warped Norman Rockwell painting; jolliness replaced with depression and the only chuckles came from our table in the back.
As my eyes adjusted, I noticed the walls were plastered with fading posters, pictures hanging on the wall and cheap guitars. The posters acted like a crude wallpaper for the place. The common theme, I realized after a while, was all these posters and framed photos were of David Lee Roth-era Van Halen. Then I realized the songs I was hearing was not from a juke box, but a tape player. The tapes were mostly Van Halen, with a few mix tapes and a couple of Motley Crue ones as well.
It was a weird scene. The bathrooms were labeled “Ladies” and “Roths.” Above the urinal was a door sized poster of a shirtless David Lee Roth. Album covers were tacked along the walls.
Ted and I walked up to the bar owner and chatted with him for a while. He saw we were sporting our Roger Waters “Dark Side of the Moon” tour shirts and chatted us up about his glory days in the late 70s. How he loved Black Sabbath, Kiss and especially Van Halen. “In case you didn’t notice,” he said with a smirk.
It was like the year 1984 froze forever on this man. His rocking mullet perfectly combed on top, but ready to party in the back. His mustache looked like Hulk Hogan’s, except black. He was wearing an Aerosmith 1978 world tour t-shirt and I suspect he had a Camero parked behind the building. Or at least on blocks in his front yard, forever being worked upon.
But his mood got dark when I mentioned Sammy Hagar-era Halen. He said he gave up on the band then and there. His passion for Van Halen was strong; if the band were a politician I would bet he would be a syndicated columnist. He swore that Sammy Hagar’s voice would never be heard in his bar.
For full disclosure, I have never liked Van Halen. Not a fan, can’t recall a single song of theirs I’ve enjoyed. I worked in record stores for ten years, heard almost all their albums and didn’t like any of them.
Suddenly, some woman burst through the door screaming about her husband being drunk all the time. Apparently he was a regular and she was not happy about it. The bartender tried to calm her, but her anger was strong. She vowed to call the cops on the place, but had no reason as to why. I should add that she was extremely drunk when this happened. By her smell, she seemed to sweat Bacardi. The police arrived, only to give her a ride home and a warning never to drive in that condition again.
We went back to our table and chatted with our friend who worked at the resort. After a while, the owner switched tapes and put on Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” Except, he had taped the album out of order. For those not familiar with “The Wall,” it is a concept album that tells a narrative story, so when one listens to it out of order, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.
He walked over to our table and said he played it just for us. We graciously thanked him without telling him he’s been listening to this album backwards for a long time. After all, it was a welcome change from hearing “Panama” for the zillionth time.

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