“You met Jan already this evening Ani?” When she nodded her head, he continued. “He’s been working for the old man since he was about 13. Use to be the dishwasher and busboy when this was a restaurant. When he got to be 21, Mr. Markowitz let him work as a bartender when one was needed. He took on whatever job was asked of him.
I remember one Sunday I was here with my family having Sunday dinner. It was a tradition in Guelph. The place was busy and Jan came out of that swinging door that leads into the kitchen in his cowboy boots and jeans and yelled out ‘Who wants soup?’ People stopped eating and stared at him. It was just so ‘unclassy’. I think a few of the old ladies might have felt a heart palpitation or two and went for their hankies and smelling salts.”
The four of them laughed together as they all imagined Jan in the luxurious old restaurant. Ani lit another cigarette and settled herself in the corner of the two bars and smiled as she waited for the rest of the story. Hank’s words almost echoed in the emptiness of the room and Ani noticed his Dutch accent for the first time. She made a mental note to ask him some time in the future about it, but for now she just enjoyed the fact that he was talking at all.
“Jan was made manager and things ran along the same as they always did for some time. When Syd came along - Wow! They almost shut the whole place down while all the renovations took place. The Priory didn’t get changed, but the nightclub did and the ‘Men’s Room’ vanished.
When they first opened the strip-club….” He paused here and took a deep breath as if fortifying himself. “I remember that first night like it was yesterday. They couldn’t advertise it because of some moral code or other at the newspaper, so they had to rely on word of mouth. Men were afraid to come in here in case they were seen by anyone else. They didn’t want to be caught looking at naked women. That’s when they decided to paint the ceiling that dark brown. It helped make the place darker. The men would stand half hidden in the hallway and check out the room to see if they could see anyone they knew. If they couldn’t, they would edge into the room and find a dark spot where they thought they could get away without being seen.”
“Little did they know,” Pete said, “that when those spotlights came on and reflected off the mirrors, that whole area around the stage lit up.”
Hank nodded vigorously and laughed to himself as he thought of all the men who were suddenly embarrassed and almost in the spotlight themselves. “When that first woman took off her clothes, some of the men almost wet themselves right then and there. Like they had never seen a woman with her clothes off!”
“Maybe they hadn’t,” Ed said and Pete nodded and shrugged his shoulders.
“They only had the strippers at night you see. The place wasn’t even open during the daytime at first. After that first poor girl, well, the news spread around Guelph like wildfire and the place started filling up at night pretty quick. It became the thing to do, and the place to be seen by your other male friends – especially right beside the stage. Men were getting here early to get those seats – it was crazy. But still,” Hank paused and Ani noted a sadness creep into his eyes, “it was never the same as the ‘Men’s Room’. Too many men were trying to be macho in front of the women and their friends. More fighting goes on in here than in any other bar I’ve ever worked at.” Hank shook his head while Pete’s eyes lit up.
“Pete likes a good fight,” Ed said with a laugh.
“Gets all the frustration out,” he replied. “We’ve seen some beautiful women without their clothes on and a guy just has to do something about it. A good fight now and then never hurt anyone.” Pete’s grin made everyone laugh and Ani and Hank headed off to get the orders from a couple of customers who had settled in their sections. When everyone had gathered back at the bar again, Pete took up the story from his point of view.
“I liked working in the ‘Men’s Room’ back then. It was quiet and enjoyable and seemed like a place for men to just get together and bullshit. Nothing much happened and we were usually out and home by 1:30 at the latest. It was just a nice sociable place. Worst thing that could happen is some guy would get too drunk and puke, but that was it.
But Syd? He’s a different story altogether. I have to agree the place needed changing to bring in more money. The restaurant was having a hard time keeping a good chef and the food went downhill and so did the patrons. As soon as this place went in and the nightclub changed, the whole hotel took on a different atmosphere. Some of the old guys have never come back they were so upset at the changes. But it brought more new people to make up for that loss and Syd didn’t care. His Dad always seems happy at the end of the night when that cash register is rung off.”
Pete paused here and poured himself a glass of water and took a long drink before continuing. “You have to work harder to make the same money we made before. I’m not sure what Jan does all the time, but Syd loves to hear himself talk and he thinks he’s so smart on that microphone. But you watch – as soon as there’s a fight, he’s hiding back behind the bar. He’s scared shitless of getting hurt and is always shoving someone else into the face of danger.”
Ani laughed as all the guys nodded and agreed. She recalled Syd shouting orders from behind the bar during the fight the previous night and she shook her head with her new knowledge. She was grateful for this little story as she now knew not to expect anything from the owner’s son if there was any trouble around her.
“I wonder what he would do if I was in need of help?” she asked.
“If I was you – I wouldn’t count on good ole Sydney to help you out,” Hank cautioned. “The man is a lily-white coward and that’s all there is to it. If I was you and something started – I’d run. Remember that.”