“Okay. Okay. What I’m trying to say is there isn’t any money to be made here on a ‘Western’ Saturday night. Why they continue to do it is beyond me. They have to be losing money!”
“So why am I here?” she asked as she looked about at the quiet room.
“Oh! Well it gets busy enough sometimes. Like it probably will tonight – but guaranteed you’re taking home little more than your hourly wage.” When Pete finished, he joined Hank on the wrought iron railing and crossed his arms in exactly the same way as his co-worker and rested a heel on the bottom rung.
Ani wanted to groan as all her calculations went out the window. She hadn’t been counting on this. In fact, she didn’t even know this happened, even though she had been in the nightclub next door many times on a Saturday night. Hoisting her bum up onto the top rung of the railing, she tried to perch alongside Hank and Pete. Sitting up on top of the railing, she felt as if she was going to topple over on her back on the hard cement, and she got down. Leaning in against the corner where the serving bar met the stand-up bar, she lit a cigarette and puffed a cloud of smoke into the air.
“Why do you guys work here?”
Pete and Hank looked at each other and grinned.
“We get to look at naked girls most nights. Who could argue with that?” Pete said as he took his money out of his money belt and began folding the bills neatly.
“Really? Are you serious?”
“Of course not!” Pete grinned at her and concentrated on his money belt.
“I need the extra money,” Hank said as he straightened his waiter’s jacket and tie. Ani had noticed how he liked to look neat and tidy, or perhaps it was efficient and professional. His gray hair added to the image, and she couldn’t figure out how old he actually was. “I like to buy a new car every two years and the extra money helps with that.”
“Ed told me you’ve worked here nine years, Hank. I’m amazed!”
Hank looked her over approvingly before glancing through his empty section. “I’ve worked for the Royal Hotel for nine years. Not all of them have been in this bar. In fact, this bar didn’t exist when I first started working here. It was a high-class restaurant before it became this. I don’t know why, but over the years people just quit coming here to eat. But back when I first started, there was a bar across the hall.”
“Across the hall? Where?”
“It would have been in-between the women’s washroom and the coffee shop. When they renovated it all disappeared. But it used to be “The Men’s Room”, which meant that any women patrons had to be escorted in by a man. They couldn’t get in on their own. Not like now at all.” He paused a bit while he obviously thought of those days.
Pete was about to add a comment when he saw one of his customers nod in his direction. Sliding off the railing he moved down to the cash register and rang in the order before coming to stand near them again as Ed filled it. “I use to work there too when I first started here. It was only open for another couple of months after I started, and then we moved over here and everything changed.”
Both Ani and Hank watched as Pete rounded the stand-up bar and headed up the stairs. Ani was dying to get all the history on the place, but she held her tongue out of respect for Hank. With nothing to do, Ed perched on the lower section on his side of the bar and leaned an elbow on the top. His face was open and inquiring and it made Hank open up.
“The ‘Men’s Room’ was completely different from this place. It had a different atmosphere, more camaraderie if you know what I mean. Naked women make men crazy and they say and do crazy things. But the ‘Men’s Room’ was quiet. Men went there to be with their friends and have a good time chatting or playing shuffleboard and pool. Not compete like they do here. And when there were women in the room, there was a respect. Men watched their mouths. The swearing pretty much stopped if a woman was escorted in, unless of course a fellow was drunk.”
Hank turned his head and let his eyes sweep across his empty section. Ani could see his shoulders shrug as if he was holding a conversation with himself before he turned back to them.
“I use to make a lot more money over there than I do here. I don’t know what it is about this place, but there isn’t any respect for another human being in here.” Pete had come back and was now perched beside Hank again. He nodded hard at Hank’s last comment but didn’t say anything of his own. “I think they should have left the ‘Men’s Room’ when they renovated but they said ‘changing times’ and all that. Well, personally I think it was Syd who changed things here and not the old man. When Syd started working here – well….”
“It was like night and day.” Pete’s voice was animated, like it usually was when he got excited. “When Syd came to work here, things really changed. I think he was some kind of salesman before he decided to work for his father. But the old ways got thrown out as soon as he showed up. They took out all the old chandeliers that were down in this section – really beautiful things they were – and expanded the bar of the restaurant. Most of the changes were on this level with the stage and runway. They did some renovations with the washrooms in the main hallway that use to service both the ‘Men’s Room’ and the restaurant.” Pete’s voice slid down into silence and Hank took up the story once more.