In the garage

(Note: This is the second in a series of back-dated posts I’ve been working on for the last week, but have only now managed to add here, for reasons I’ll write about later. But it makes logistical sense to post these on the date I originally created them. Plus, later on it’ll make me look less lazy. Also, please bear with the crankiness. I promise there’s only one more Grumpy Old Man post after this one, and then I’ll go back to making jokes about hot girls).

A few months ago, a bar called Ronny’s started showing up on live show listings here, which I’m sure prompted some who live in the Logan Square neighborhood it resides in to wonder “Where the hell is Ronny’s?”

Turns out Ronny’s is a neighborhood bar around Armitage and California. According to the young woman working the door, the folks at approached the owner – the eponymous Ronny – about booking some shows into the bar’s side room, which is little more than a glorified garage, and so small, that you’d be hard pressed to fit any more than two cars in it. It’s definitely not a place that was built – or ever remodeled – for the purposes of hosting live bands.

The rectangular bar itself is probably large enough to handle the regulars who frequent the joint for cheap beer and a game of pool on weekdays, but at a show I went to last Friday, featuring The Ettes, the place was jammed up with the usual live music crowd, and a few others lured in by the multitude of press accolades the band’s received.

There’s no stage in the side room, so watching a show at Ronny’s is somewhat akin to seeing your friend’s band play in their basement, especially since the place holds less than 100 people. This, of course, encourages more heckling than usual, which meant one unnecessarily-sunglasses-adorned hipster was able to badger the opening band (a perfectly all right group of guys called The Singles) into playing “one more” by sheer force of proximity.

Ronny’s is a dive. Portions of it appear to be falling apart. There’s one bartender, and she’s both overworked and probably underpaid for the pleasure of dealing with the patrons’ demands, which is important to remember when she brings you drinks you didn’t order and confuses your change with the person next to you. The jukebox is about 90% Hispanic artists, and 10% top 40 (Gwen, Mariah, Dave Matthews), and is probably reflective of the community surrounding the place, and its music taste, though little of either was present in the bar that night.

During the show, The Ettes lead singer/guitarist/instigator – announced they were “from the road,” but later told me they’re currently based out of L.A. but keeps that piece of information quiet, since the band doesn’t identify much with the town (the drummer and bassist are from New York and the singer hails from Florida). They’re spending their pre-SXSW East Coast tour looking for a new place to call home, so roll out the red carpet Hoboken, New Jersey!

All of which got me thinking about something my friend Mark Anderson wrote in a comment about dive bars, that appeared on a local blog. The whole bit is worth reading, as is a longer piece he wrote on Chicago tap rooms, but the most apropos point is this:

“…the people who might count as regulars at a “dive” bar often frequent the place because they have no other choice if they want to participate in the same social interactions we younger and more prosperous members of the community take for granted.”

The Ettes are in a position (and a field, I’d say) where crafting an image is as important as crafting a song. They can choose how they define themselves, like choosing a different city to be “from.” Similarly, the people coming to their shows are lucky enough to have the freedom to decide how they’re going to spend their leisure hours, and privileged enough to not have to care whom they’re displacing.

While I’m sure the owner appreciates the increase in business on weekends, I felt a little like I was trespassing. Not because I felt unwelcome, mind you, as both Ronny and the bartender were quite cordial. No, it was more because I felt like I was taking up a seat from a guy who didn’t have as many choices as I do about where to spend a Friday night, and was really looking forward to a little tejano music and an MGD, but decided to stay home instead. It didn’t help that the jackass next to me kept calling Ronny by his first name, which really kind of struck me as entitlement, because he gave no indication that the proprietor ever spoke the words “Call me Ronny” to him.

I played a little Freddy Fender on the juke to even the score, but it didn’t quite do the job.

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