Sunday, February 17, 2019

Elbo Room Nights. No Days.

When Walt James and I were opening the Village Inn in 1966 we spent many an evening at the Elbo Room, a legendary and still operating dive bar right across from the beach at the corner of Route One and La Olas in Fort Lauderdale. I knew the joint well since I’d closed it every night of Spring Break 1964. That’s the escapade where I hitchhiked from NYC to South Florida in three rides all of whom wanted me to drive. Are we seeing a pattern here? The second drive was a South Carolina cracker who passed me the moonshine within two minutes and the third was John Hatfield, a real Appalachian Hatfields and McCoys Hatsfield, who drove me from Ocala to Lauderdale. The chilling memory I have of that leg of the trip was passing a chain gang of black prisoners, the operative word is "chain",  along the roadside in Central Florida. John and I hung together for the duration of Spring Break. It was beach all day. Drink till closing time and sleep in the bed of his ‘54 Jimmy. Then I hitched back to Arizona as if it was nothing. I like to think I was getting it out of my system.

Yeah. I've used it before. John Hatfield and Mr. Flip Flops in a camera store in 1964. Note the Kodak boxes in the background.

Walt had some mouth on him and that mouth often got him into trouble and on one notable night me. One dark o'clock he got into it with some hulk across the bar at the Elbo Room. They took it outside and the next thing I knew they were trading punches right in the middle of the intersection of Main and Main. Trading punches may be a stretch. The big guy was punching and Walt was catching every blow with his substantial jaw. The best he could do was to paw at the air unable to reach the bigger man. Without thinking I pulled the dude from Walt and wound up on my back on Route One watching his fists meet my face.

After a few direct hits I heard the welcome sound of sirens getting closer. I told my assailant. “The cops. We better get the hell out of here.” He got off me and we all ran to our cars.

The next night I was back at the Elbo Room and so was my sparing partner. I nodded in his direction. He nodded back. That was it.

According to Walt his mouth talked him into the clink several months later. During another blurry episode at a different bar the police were called to escort him out of the building. He laced into them with a “Do you know who I am? I’m a business owner. I pay your salaries. You can’t do this to me.” He told me they took him to jail, put him a private cell and drove him head first into the concrete wall. When he came to he was in the drunk tank with a bump like a baseball on his forehead and dried blood caked in his hair. His wife Mandy bailed him out at dawn. It wouldn't be the last time.


Daryl Black said...

These just keep getting better and better, and wilder and woolier, Steve. Every Monday a treat from your past wanderings. Looking forward to the next. Oh, and flip flops, but still the pressed shirt and jeans even in 1964.

Daryl Black said...

Have you been back to the Elbo Room since? The photographs are amazing - everyone in bathing suits, convertibles, the works. Something special there.