Ripped at the Keyboard Lounge in 2002

[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 the Sultan of Sot stumbled into the Keyboard Lounge in Proctor and wrote the article below for the Sept. 18, 2002 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper.]

So I walk into the Keyboard Lounge and, although there’s a fistfight going on in the middle of the floor, I’m distracted. The violence, the hollering, even the gang of people on the karaoke stage providing the obligatory a cappella version of “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” can’t compete with … uh … well … you should sit down for this.

I don’t normally have hallucinations when I’m drinking, so I will gladly swear upon a kitchen cupboard full of barley, hops and yeast that everyone in this joint is wearing nightgowns and underwear. The female bartender is wearing pasties. The male bartender is wearing a bulletproof vest and silk boxers. There’s a guy who looks like Sonny Bono and he’s wearing assless jeans. There’s a woman wearing a black fishnet number that’s getting everyone bothered. Everywhere I look is flesh and panties and frilly stuff. A sign on the wall finally explains. It’s “Naughty Nightie Night!” Well, that’s just typical for the Keyboard Lounge. Ask for an explanation, get an exclamation.

The scuffle lasts about 10 seconds before a horde of guys in their skivvies join together to put a stop to it. The rules at the Keyboard Lounge are simple. 1) No fighting. 2) No arm wrestling. Mooning, however, seems to be not only tolerated, but appreciated. Every time I look at the dudes at the far end of the bar, they’re pulling down their snugs for another Kodak moment. As if seeing their bare asses repeatedly tonight isn’t going to be enough, photographic evidence is being compiled for the back wall, which already contains snapshots from last year’s Naughty Nightie Night.

I come to the Keyboard from time to time with the knowledge that more fun is had there on any given night than at all of the other bars in Proctor combined. And tonight, I expected the usual Keyboard crowd: rowdy drunks kissing and groping each other, or at least exchanging sexual innuendo, mixed in with a few quiet drunks rolling their eyes and sometimes glaring in contempt at all the fun going on. But I had no idea that I would be stumbling into Naughty Nightie Night. Good thing I wore my cleanest underwear.

You know, when you spend all of your free time in bars, it’s easy to think you’ve heard it all. But it doesn’t take me long — roughly two big mugs of Old Style — to learn all kinds of stuff I never knew. For example, April, the pasty-wearing young bartender, is a reformed Jehovah’s Witness. This makes me appreciate all the more that she consistently drinks on the job and is delighted to reach across the bar and twist someone’s nipple whether the person deserves it or not.

The guy with the tattooed face who is dancing with the oscillating fan is named Jerry. Readers of this column might remember Jerry from the article on the Kom-on-Inn. He was the guy who gave me “the Eye of the Tiger … like I was Clubber Lang.”

And then there’s “Big Al.” You can usually find him sitting with his face buried in his arms, passing out stiffer than Dick Nixon. “Don’t call Big Al a cab,” the regulars will tell you. “He lives next door.” Tonight, however, Big Al is on his feet and checking out all the skin.

Normally, it doesn’t matter how ugly, perverted or mentally deficient you are, you will be accepted at the Keyboard with open arms. You probably won’t be universally accepted, but someone will accept you. At least, someone always accepts me there, and I’m very ugly, perverted and mentally deficient. But there are a few here tonight who are way too perverted, even for this place. They’ve got wide eyes, rubber necks and very, very serious expressions. Oh, and one of them has a cowboy hat. They’re here to gawk and to gather mental images that they will … well … “use later.” A little observation teaches me that guys like this are easily embarrassed. Most importantly, when they’re embarrassed, they leave immediately.

As you may know, the Keyboard at the Keyboard Lounge was replaced years ago by karaoke. And tonight, karaoke is king. Everyone is stepping up and showing their contempt for the hits. As the evening wears on, two guys seem to be singing more than anyone else. One is dressed in a normal shirt and shorts, but when he sings he takes off the shorts to get into the spirit. The other guy is wearing an “It’s not easy being a princess” T-shirt and fuzzy pink slippers with hearts on them.

By the way, whoever compiled the karaoke book at the Keyboard needs to be taken out into the woods and shot for glue. All the song titles are listed alphabetically, but there’s no cross-referencing by artist. I want to sing Tony Bennett all night, and I’m sick of flipping bank and forth looking for titles.

I think I’m ordering my fourth mug of Old Style when April loses her pasties. She disappears into the back room long enough for me to exchange about five sentences with the guy next to me. When I look up, April has my beer ready and is wearing homemade pasties fashioned out of Scotch tape and bottle caps. It’s like she’s fricken MacGyver.

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