By KELLY SMITH
You stare at yourself in the mirror one last time before you leave the house. You decide that your barely-there makeup and ripped black jeans with a basic white blouse look decent. After a few seconds of intense inspection, you remember that you’re not supposed to wear white after Labor Day. After rummaging through your closet to no avail, you ask yourself, who am I trying to impress anyways?
Your GPS takes you to a side of town that your parents don’t want you anywhere near after dark: Nebraska Avenue. You stare in awe at the prostitutes on the side of the road. It’s already past midnight. You want to turn around and go home, you really do, but you’ve already made it to where you’re going.
You cautiously turn left into a gravel parking lot smashed to the brim with cars. You park in the back, behind a tree, and pray that a drunk person doesn’t scrape the side of your mother’s 2014 Toyota Corolla that she’s been letting you drive around.
You’ve heard about this place before. You’ve heard of the snobby bartenders and the arrogant crowd. Do you really want to be here?
Before you even get to decide, your roommate drags you by the arm into the dimly lit building that dons a brightly lit sign reading MERMAID TAVERN in purple and blue paint. You pass by a wooden patio where dozens of young people are flicking cigarette ash into the humid Florida air. You notice two dogs smiling and licking each other’s faces. Before you get a second to look any further, your roommate flings the door open and pushes you in. You trip on the uneven floorboards upon your entrance but no one seems to notice. You must be invisible.
It’s loud—so loud that you’re yelling in your roommate’s ear about how you can’t hear anything.
“WHAT?” she yells back, “I CAN’T HEAR YOU.”
You scan your surroundings and instantly realize that the crowd looks exactly as you expected it to. Every single person in the room is wearing black; your white blouse is suddenly an eye sore. Every woman has black hair, perfectly lined blood-red lipstick, over-the-knee socks, and winged eyeliner sharp enough to kill a man; every man has a beard, a ponytail or a man-bun, a collared shirt, and thickly rimmed glasses. It reeks of cigarette smoke—good thing you’re a smoker, too. You grip the pack of Marlboro Lights in your purse figure this common bad habit will help you feel a little more in place. Your eyes dart to floor level and everyone’s shoes remind you of some sort of beatnik statement. You stare down at your Toms, ripped from over wear, and scowl.
“TRY THE HAZLENUT BEER,” your roommate screams into your ear. “IT’S REALLY GOOD.”
You try to meddle your way in between the overcrowded room to make it to the bar, being sure to say excuse me as you bump into people but not a single person budges. Your roommate starts pushing people out of the way and shows you that you have to be tough here in order to get what you want.
You stand at the bar. Behind it, a man who appears to be seven feet tall stares at you. He’s bald but you figure he cut all of his hair off and glued it to his face because his beard defies the Laws of Nature. You stare back. You look at the twenty-eight taps that line the bar like a beautiful row of roses waiting to be picked for a lover. Suddenly you realize that you have no idea what you’re doing.
“What are you drinkin’, Blue Eyes?” Seven Foot Man inquires.
“I, uh, I’m not….I’m not sure…”
You’re squinting to read the chalkboard behind him that describes every beer on tap tonight: Angry Chair, Arrogant Bastard, the Hazelnut one your roommate mentioned, something Du Monde that has a 9% alcohol content and sounds absolutely terrifying, and countless others.
“I’ll have a sangria, I guess.”
He laughs and starts making me one.
“Are you starting a tab, honey?” suddenly another person from behind the bar appears; she looks exactly like a modern tattooed Bettie Page, rolled up bangs and all. Her shirt reads, “Friends don’t let friends drink Budweiser.” Classy.
“Yeah, sure, my name is Kelly.”
“Yeah, and I need a card. What kind of bars do you go to where they don’t ask for a card?”
“Leave Blue Eyes alone. Here’s your sangria. I already started your tab.” Seven Foot Man smiles and gives you a quick wink. Bettie Page scoffs and yells at the people next to you, telling them to hurry up and order already, picking out beer it isn’t rocket science.
You and your friends find a metal table outside and claim your post for the rest of the night. The sangria is delicious—it tastes like a holiday fruit tart topped with cinnamon. Clouds of cigarette smoke glide through the air along with bustling conversation and laughter; a dog barks. You feel somewhat normal, now.
Two sangrias later, you look at the menu that has been tempting you the entire night: Drunken grilled cheese, Banh Mi Fish Burger, Pumpkin Flan, Piccolo Fritto of Shrimp, Charcuterie. Your roommate orders a Drunken Grilled Cheese and ten minutes later, in all of its glory, you’re staring at it along with the truffle fries and side of raspberry jam served with it. After one bite, you vow that your life will never be the same; every grilled cheese from here on it will be ruined because of this.
The night progresses; it’s nearly 2 A.M. now and you’ve been sipping Canadian beer. Two guys, Irelio and Luis, come to join you at your table. They’re greasy but their shirts are collared and their shoes are polished; they claim to be local artists.
“Our band is called The Invention Of. We’re working on a new CD right now. It’s called Foxy Shazam. Look us up on SoundCloud if you like post hardcore or metal music.”
You’re high fiving Luis as the two of you are listening to track two of their new CD, titled Blasphemy. As the brews keep coming and the conversation keeps budding, you become more and more excited to be here, disregarding the fact that you previously thought you didn’t belong. You’re humbled, happy even, and Seven Foot Man appears in front of you.
“Hey, Blue Eyes, last call. You ready to cash out?”
You nod, say goodbye to your new friends, and follow Seven Foot Man inside, where he cashes you out and bids you adieu.
“See you next week?” he asks.
The Mermaid may be a tough crowd to get used to; from the bratty bartenders to the quirky crowd, it’s intimidating. We all know this. But, while Seven Foot Man winks and calls you Blue Eyes, you decide that you like it there, even though you didn’t want to. In a way, it feels like home; a home full of good food served at a table full of a dysfunctional hipster family. But, still, it’s home.
Kelly Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org