[Editor’s note: For this week’s essay we’ve once again pulled out a relic from the archive of Slim Goodbuzz, who served as Duluth’s “booze connoisseur” from 1999 to 2009. Twenty years ago he visited the Kom-on-Inn in West Duluth and published this report for the April 5, 2000 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper.]
Granted, it does not take much to amaze me, but when I entered the Kom-on-Inn my spine just about shot out of the top of my head. I had always been under the impression that the Kom-on-Inn was a boring bar that was empty most of the time. But nothing could be further from the truth. It was … I don’t even know where to begin, so let me just walk you through the place.
First of all, it is important to know that everyone—every last person in the bar—was smoking a cigarette. I am not exaggerating when I say it was difficult to see across the room. At the very back of the bar, where I came in, a bunch of Tommy Boys talked on cellular telephones and shot pool with heavily hair-sprayed and lip-linered girls drinking bottles of Mountain Dew. Apparently they were stationed there to give newcomers like me the wrong impression of the place, for just past them, everything became drastically different.
The long, narrow expanse of the room was packed with characters straight out of Blue Velvet. A woman who was probably good looking at one point in her life struggled to perform the task of standing up. A guy with a shaved head and a tattoo covering half of his face stood giving me what Rocky Balboa called the “Eye of the Tiger.” When Guns ‘n’ Roses came of the jukebox, an old man with two black eyes turned his hat cockeyed on his head and danced a jig. Everybody was drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon.
All of this occurred in what could be the most physically beautiful bar in the Twin Ports. The walls were covered with dark, subdued paintings of historic West Duluth buildings. The booths were upholstered in leather, and custom-tucked into the corners. And in spite of all the weird drunkenness, the place was actually clean. There were no puddles of beer or squashed cigarette butts on the floor, no tables with empty bottles piled high. Aside from the ankle-deep lake of pull-tabs on the floor and the fact that there was more cigarette smoke than oxygen in the air, the bar was impressively well kept. It was freakish.
I elbowed my way to the bar and waited for a beer next to a couple of middle-aged imbibers who were crying and hugging each other. Apparitions of other boozers materialized out of the cigarette smoke and crowded around next to me, nearly forcing me to defend my place physically. I felt as though I hade been transported to a special version of the Old West. After receiving a prodigious mug of Old Milwaukee for $2.50, I headed for an empty booth to sip and watch the scene.
Every few minutes or so, one besotted dude or another would approach me and explain that the five feet between my booth and the nearest table was particularly difficult to navigate at this point in time. “I’m really sorry,” he’d say. “I’m bumpin’ into your table, and you’re tryin’ to …” Then he’d gesture to me and to the table, trying to figure out exactly what I was trying to do, before giving up and staggering away. This happened over and over again.
Suddenly, there was a loud crash as a woman grabbed a man by the shirt, threw him into the wall and started kissing him violently. Then the third Guns ‘n’ Roses song of the evening started skipping, and I realized that the jukebox was an old model that played records.
Now, I spend a lot of time in bars, but my God, after a while, I needed to get out. I just could not tolerate the billowing clouds of cigarette smoke one more second. Besides, tattoo guy was looking at me like Clubber Lang again. It seemed like he needed to eat something to kill his buzz and he was considering my face as a good source of protein.
“The thing to keep in mind about these big beer mugs,” I told myself, “is that you can throw them.” Then, all at once, my mood brightened considerably. Remembering that Rock-in Rudy was playing the VFW, I downed the last inch of my Old Swill and strode out the door and down Ramsey Street.
Last summer, I reviewed a Rock-in Rudy show at the VFW and had an absolute blast. It was impressive to see a barroom full of people having so much fun, and I looked forward to returning.
When I arrived, I hesitated outside, mentally preparing myself to enter as “Old Time Rock and Roll” filtered through the door. “It’s not going to be like it was last time,” I told myself. “That was a birthday party; tonight’s just a regular night.” I took a deep breath, stepped inside, and was nearly mowed down by a conga line.
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