When I worked at Bite Café twenty-two years ago the Empty Bottle was like a second living room. I had drinks there after every brunch shift I worked and wandered in any night I was interested in the band that was on. I remember staying for only ten minutes of a White Stripes set. Why was that guy trying to sing like Robert Plant? I didn’t get it. They were one of the biggest touring bands in America within a year. Nobody would ever hire me as a talent scout.
But I saw so many shows I loved there. Even before the Bite gig I’d go to the Bottle regularly. It was just down the street. I even wanted to work there for a time before I met the owner and knew it would never happen. Still, the place has been a mainstay of my life for twenty-five years. If you look through the sketches in Music to My Eyes a healthy chunk of them were done at the Bottle.
Last week I went there two nights in a row. Tuesday my friend Adam was the opener and put me on the list. I hung out with him at the merch table, then watched him do his talking songs to a half-listening crowd. The show was sold out but they weren’t here to see Adam. I’d tried listening to the headliner’s record a few times but it didn’t take. So I left before they came on.
Wednesday I stayed most of the night. I liked all three bands. Each mixed rock, jazz, cumbia, electronica, and lots of styles I don’t have names for.
It’s been years since I’ve known any of the bartenders or doorstaff but I’ve known the soundman over twenty years. I painted his portrait for some album art long ago. He kept waving hello every time he passed me on his circuit between the stage and the sound booth.
I’ve made my peace with being the old guy at the show. When I come to the Bottle the median age is usually decades less than my own but I don’t care. I’m only here for the music.
I turn fifty-two in a couple days and I’ll be marking it back at the Bottle.
—Listen to my talk with Max Samarov, then tune in Wednesday for another with Azita.
—I wrote about a busker’s memoir, recommended some books related to my new one, and made an annotated playlist for the same.