Walt’s Lounge was located roughly half-way between Jenny’s house and my house on Summit. My wife and I lived on Clinton Street, in a duplex that had a somewhat long history for various Columbus musicians and underground personalities. We lived on the east side of the duplex, taking over an apartment that Jim Weber lived in ever-so-briefly and Jerry Dannemiller and his wife-to-be lived on the other side. Before Jerry moved in Gretchen Zimmer who was one of the angel bartenders at Staches lived there with Jovan Karcic and before them lived Ron House and his fore-giving wife Trina. The house was like hundreds that flecked the campus area of Columbus. The floor-plan consisted of a front room, leading into a living room with stairs leading upstairs and in the back a fairly large kitchen. The upstairs consisted of three bed rooms of varying sizes and a bathroom with a claw bathtub. We were fortunate and had a washer and dryer in the leaky basement. Jerry stole a winter coat from the dead man who once lived on our side, and he always liked to say he wore a dead-mans coat. Indeed. We paid $365.00 in rent.
The neighborhood was mixed, at the time the north campus area mostly consisted of graduate students and twenty and thirty something campus hanger-ons who came to Columbus for college and stayed for the cheap rent and effiecient lifestyle. The house to the west of us (which is now condemned) housed an Appalachian family that somehow only consisted of men. There were two brothers, the eldest was a man who sat on the side steps with a twelve pack every day that must have gave him the courage to enter the house in the evening. The youngest brother was a blond haired man who was mostly blind, he would come into the record shop occasionally and purchase blue-grass records. He owned several little pug dogs, one of which was much braver than it should have been, its leash no doubt saving its puny life countless times. My wife stopped the man one day and asked what the dog’s name was and the man answered in a slow Appalachian drawl, “his name is pug, ‘cause he’s a pug dog.” Obviously. One evening when we were getting out of our car a giant bag of garbage was hurled out of the second story of their house, landing in their backyard where it lived for the winter. Across the street lived a woman who at first appeared to be a new graduated sorority girl, one could hear her blasting Journey out of her house one day. Then suddenly a few weeks after some man banged on her door screaming “you fucking lying bitch, you fuckin’ slut”, the Grateful Dead was blaring and she was wearing tie-dyed skirts and owned a big dog. Walt’s Lounge was just around the corner.
Walt’s basically consisted on one wide dark hallway, with two uneven tables and roughly seven bar stools, the television flickered in hazy color and the sound was turned down except in the afternoons when one could watch three hours of day-time soaps with cans of Budweiser. Even though I never trusted a bar that served beer in cans, I had a fondness for Walt’s. One reason was that nobody, with the exception of Jenny and Jerry ever went there. Initially anyway, soon after we discovered it various Columbus personalities would also hide out there. On a weekend towards the late nineties it was not too uncommon to find Tom or Dave Shannon from the Cheater Slicks or Jim Shepard, other than those three its dank confines would frighten off even the most hardened hipster.
Walt’s had a semi-mediocre jukebox, one half was pretty much garbage with Night Ranger being pumped alongside Faith Hill and Tim McGraw but the other half was pure dive-bar gold. Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty, Hank Williams Sr. & Jr., Tom Petty and George Jones. We could always pump dollars into its never satisfied slot and pretend that we were real down-and-out country folk. Which for the exception of Jenny, we weren’t. Jerry and I were terrific slummers who fit all the criteria for Americana showmen with the exception that we were living just above the poverty line. At one point Jerry had given up black punk rock t-shirts with black jeans for mother-of-pearl Western styled shirts and um black jeans. I went through my George Jones western shirt phase in the late eighties and early nineties, and ended up giving him some of my shirts. I also went through a phase of wearing polyester picture shirts which would certainly fetch a few bucks on e-bay these days.
There was something that was romantic and liberating that we would find in the dive bars that dotted the north campus area around Ohio State. Walt’s was small but it provided an escape, even from the regular haunts we usually inhabited, by the time we started visiting Walt’s, Moriarity’s and The Ranch (all within a three block area of Summit) we were all well versed in escapism.
Walt’s was run by a tiny German woman who spoke with a pronounced lisp; she appeared to live in the bar for she was always present, no matter the time of day. Her eyes were small, with lids that seemed half shut even when she was delighted, I never thought it was because of alcohol or drugs (although she was always nursing one of those cans of Budweiser); she was just built that way. She was kind to us even if some of the clientele were skeptical of us, they could tell we were former students at best and art-chic losers at worst but we didn’t give a fuck. I usually went to Walt’s once a week for a few years.
Jerry and I also inhabited Moriarty’s for a while; it was just north of Walt’s on the corner of Summit and Hudson, a block south of where Jerry would be killed in 2001. While Walt’s held a severely beaten down clientele, Moriarity’s could be a bit more dangerous, it was as if the folks that inhabited Moriarity’s were prison bound for sure while Walt’s consisted of either inept former criminals or just the average low-income wage earner who just bottomed out. During several instances I had to remind Jerry to shut his mouth at Moriarity’s. While Jerry barked big he had little experience in using his hands in a bar-room other than holding a cold beer, playing pool or lighting a cigarette. I, on the other hand was usually dumb and brave enough to duke it out and I knew the men in Moriarity’s were cut from a much different cloth than the campus lunkheads or indie-rockers I would occasionally tangle with. But after a while the bartender at Moriarity’s became familiar with our being there and when I started dating my ex-wife Robin (who was a regular pool hustler) he became quite fond of us.
A few years later I would take my second (and current) wife to Moriarty’s and to the Ranch (two doors down from Moriarty’s) on our first date where I introduced her to shots of whiskey chased by shots of Jagermiester. Pure fucking romance, man. I once took a date to an even scarier bar just off the corner Hudson and Indianola called “Mac’s”, it was as if there were three cognitively challenged named Walt, Dan and Mac Moriarty opened up these bars and never understood why they never got rich at every family reunion. Mac’s was a frightening place even by my low give-a-shit standards, while my date and I chatted at the sticky cigarette charred bar a fellow approached her and tried to charm her away from me. We ended up leaving after he kept screaming “hey, Lens Crafters, come on over here and fight me for her!! Len’s Crafter, you hear me?!” Mac’s closed shortly after that after a man was shot to death there. It coulda been old Len’s Crafter screamer himself.
These establishments housed the absurd, which we were drawn to like a junkie to heroin. At times we would venture into them during the afternoon, and I have a vivid memory of singing “Outside This Bar” by American Music Club while sitting in Walt’s one afternoon.
Jenny went to Walt’s more than I did, and being the lure for nonsensical happenings Jenny was witness to bizarre behavior. There was a man who was wheelchair bound in the neighborhood, he had a large dog attached to his chair and was missing most of his teeth. Tethered to the back of his chair was a large black Hefty bag that would hold the aluminum cans he would pick up around the numerous alleys. One afternoon Jenny was nursing her drink watching the Guiding Light with the German barkeep and an older woman who lived above the Laundromat next to Walt’s. In wheeled the man in the wheelchair, and the older woman rolled her eyes towards Jenny and said “Party’s over, here he comes with that fuckin’ stinking dog of his.” The man ignored her and ordered a beer. During the next hour as more drinks were swallowed, the woman became more vocal, insisting that he take his dog outside. Jenny by this time had moved to the other end of the bar, while the German told her it would settle down. Finally the old woman shouted “Git yer fuckin’ stinking dog out of my face.” With that the man jumped out of his wheel chair leaped behind the bar and grabbed the phone and ran to the back room of the bar and dialed 9-1-1. Jenny was astonished, she didn’t know if it were more so because he could walk or because he actully called 9-1-1 because his dog was insulted. When the police arrived they asked him to leave, while he protested shouting “she made fun of my dog!” , most likely wondering just what in the hell the world was coming to.
A few months after this, my wife came running into Walt’s tears streaming down her face, while looking relieved at the same time. She konked me on the head with her fist and then kissed and hugged me. She had just gotten home and a dead man was lying in the street with multiple stab wounds, apparently a man got out of his car after almost hitting him and stabbed him to death. The street was roped off and when she got home our front door was open and she assumed the dead man was me, when the police let her look at him she realized I must be at Walt’s. She was right, there I was sitting next to Jenny who had gotten into a fight with her husband. Jenny and I both thought this was funny, in hindsight it was horrifying. It would take me years to make up for this destructive attitude.