By Andrew Ramirez
In the ritzy nighttime haze of Beverly Hills, across the street from the grandiose ivy-covered Peninsula Hotel (where, according to the bartender on the Sunday shift at the Vampire Lounge and Tasting Room, a man of certain recognizable financial clout can very quickly find himself being chatted up by a smoky-eyed Russian woman who may or not be a prostitute), I’m alone at the bar, pondering this information over a glass of vino.
I look across Santa Monica Blvd. at the hotel, counting the dollars in my pocket.
The wine in my glass is red—not Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot or Pinot Noir, but a special dark blend unique to Vampire Vineyards. I sip it down, warm and robust, and nod. The bartender comes over to me. Smiling, he says: “Chocolate-y, right?”
The barroom, adhering to its name, is pleasantly adorned in eerie gothic paraphernalia that calls to mind a haunted house on late night TV—never fear: a haunted house on good late night TV. Scowling gargoyles and glowing candles hang overhead. The bar, washed in the dim light, is varnished a deep, hypnotizing brown. The spotless dark floor vaguely reflects the chandelier floating overhead.
As trendy as a place with the word vampire in it may be—do your best to ward off visions of Robert Pattinson brooding in a corner; Kristen Stewart with both hands shoved in her pockets, biting her lip, going: “Ummm”—I can’t help but like the place. The bartender is personable, sporting a tie and newsboy hat (not the cape and false teeth I initially expected), and he says he’s going to give me a discount because no one is here.
“Superbowl Sunday,” he says. “I’ve been listening to my own music all day.”
I recognize the Elton John blaring from the speakers and somehow it complements the Nosferatu-vibe they’ve got going.
“On regular days,” the bartender is telling me, making a face like he’s sucking on a lemon: “I have to play my boss’s iPod.”
“What’s on it? Gregorian chant?”
“Worse. Il Divo.”
The bartender pulls an upside down glass down off the rack and pours it full of white wine. He takes a fresh baguette off a stainless steel cart and slices it into manageable bite-sized wafers, alongside a porcelain saucer puddled with olive oil and vinaigrette.
“I’ve been eating like a cow,” he says, chewing. “Want some?”
To me the meal seems modest. A third of a baguette with some oil. A little wine. What’s so gluttonous about that?
“The meats and cheeses they keep in the back…” he’s saying. “Oh my God.”
Picking up on a moving blur in my peripheral, I twist around in the barstool. Standing in the doorway is an elderly man wearing a white satin jacket, gray pants, and a World War II veteran’s cap. He’s confused, squinting into the dim lounge, as threatening as a misdirected Terrier on a Sunday night.
Still, I half expect something extravagant to happen.
“Do you know where Wilshire is?” the old man says, framed like a noir-meets-Norman Rockwell in the doorway.
The bartender steps around the bar and leads the man outside. I hear talking, chit-chat. The bartender reenters, alone.
I down the last of my wine. He’s back around the bar, chewing again.
“Do you get a lot of people asking directions?” I say, trying to restart the conversation.
He ignores the question. “The make-up crew from a Rob Zombie movie came in here one time. They’re into the whole shtick we got going I guess.”
Then I’m out of my barstool, following the bartender up a flight of stairs to an overhanging tier. At the top of the stairs, it’s a sort of VIP room with two couches, a coffee table, two gaudy gold and red lamps, and a book shelf containing such glossy, stiff-spined hardbacks like Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe, Portrait of a Lady, Jane Eyre, etc. etc.
The bartender shoves an iPhone in my face. “Look,” he says.
On the screen, a long-haired blond dude is wearing a red silk robe, soloing on a Les Paul. He’s bookended by two women. A voice whispers something off-screen. The camera jumps to the same blond guy, this time kissing what appears to be a pierced girl’s belly. I recognize the surroundings. The blond guy is standing where I’m standing, soloing on his guitar.
A phone rings. The bartender vanishes down the stairs. From the stairway railing I can hear the conversation.
“Vampire Lounge and Tasting Room…Yes we’re open. It’s quiet but we’re open…Okay, no problem. See you soon.”
I put a ten on the bar. “Thanks,” I say, “for the discount.”
“You want change?” He punches buttons on the register, pulling out two dollars and some coins.
“How far will it get me with Drago’s wife, over at the Peninsula?”
He smiles. “Nowhere.”
“I better take it anyway.”