The Chateau Lafayette
The Chateau Lafayette was divided into two halves. There was the tavern side and there was the escorts side. The tavern side had the best juke box in the city and was characterized by unpredictable drunks—hippies, bikers, drug venders and drug users. Fights were more likely to happen there. The escort side had the shuffleboard table( later the pool table) and was characterized by predictable drunks—solitary men, gamblers, bookies and shuffleboard enthusiasts. Arguments about sports were more likely to happen there. We used to drink in the escort side. It was like choosing a religion, once the decision was made, it was made for ever, you could not cross over.
Being a regular at the Laff felt an awful lot like living in a Tom Waits song, but it felt even more like actually being Tom Waits. The cast of characters defied invention and each night tended to bring with it some surreal treasure, some story that you knew you’d be repeating in twenty years.
There was Rollie– the unreliable shop-lifter– who would set up the “Rollie-Mart”near the shuffleboard table. It was a very poor man’s version of a flea market and you could place orders with him, say a book on baseball, and two weeks later he’d show up not with a book, but an actual baseball. For his efforts you were obliged to give him a couple of dollars.
There was kung-fu Dan who was so named because if you woke him up, he
would arise swinging, shouting “get away from my stuff!” There was Tom St.Jean who had to spend a weekend in prison for a DUI offense, and returned to the fold championing prison as a kind of vacation, like Florida, replete with good food and cable. And there were Monday nights’ when Jen worked– when she stood on the chair and reached up to change the station on the television set she’d inevitably expose a ribbon of flesh at the base of her back and the room would just go silent.
People ordered large beers there, or if they didn’t, they ordered many small ones. One Canada Day the smallest unit of alcohol the waiter’s would permit you to buy was a six-pack. Tiny, little tables full of huge, empty beer bottles—an ocean of empties. If you knew the waiter, you could get “traveller’s, or maybe drink after hours.
There are two stories that sum up the Laff for me. One night a scratchy looking man came in dragging a garbage bag full of something on the floor. He went from customer to customer trying to sell them the contents, which turned out to be meat he’d stolen from some butcher. He’d proffer a bleeding and dripping rump roast from table to table, the saran wrap unpeeling as he tried to convince you it was worth five dollars. The waiter had enough and tossed him out. To express his displeasure with the waiter, he threw the roast at the window, it hit with a resounding thump leaving a trail of grease and juice trailing down the window. All the patrons rushed to the window to see what had happened—all of them still clutching their beer. You did not go anywhere without your beer.
On a cold winter’s night the doors smashed open. A man covered in blood fell to the floor while his friend tried to, I don’t know, staunch the bleeding, I guess. The two were so positioned that the door remained open, and the cold air from outside was whistling in. This lasted for perhaps a minute, at which point the bar collectively put on their jackets and continued drinking while the man bled on the floor.
We won’t see the likes of the Laff again.