(a farewell) to the cha cha

September 9, 2010

My emergence into Capitol Hill nightlife began in that tunnel burrowed beneath Bimbo’s Bitchin’ Burrito Kitchen, in its current dwelling nestled among the previously untrodden strip of pubs along Pike Street. A brazen red arrow led me under & I curiously followed, armed with a library card reporting that I was several years older but perhaps none the wiser. My first vision of the Cha Cha Lounge/“the Cha”/“Cha Cha” was of a trio of girls attempting to scoop their belligerent friend from off of the floor, & the corresponding table of fellows cheering along every time they lifted her sweater to reveal skin & more skin, untainted by any modern harness. This was it! This was Capitol Hill. Here was the new underworld.

The Cha Cha Lounge itself is a curious little cave. It’s not worth debating if it’s a good bar or a bad bar. It’s neither. It just is. It just exists. It just pours beer after beer after (admittedly weak) cocktail for the droves of Capitol Hill denizens that appear night after night regardless of the crowd or the shoddy service (which admittedly the service usually is.) It’s armed to the teeth with eclectic Lucha Libre bullshit & bathed in its signature red light, which acts as an equalizer: built-in beer goggles if you will. One brilliant wall is comprised of glass bottles glittering in the dim room. I accepted all of this for what it is & enjoyed it all the same, perhaps because it was all I had, & as with any bar perspective is really pivotal.

So for a few years I collected my Capitol Hill moments there, mostly in black-&-white printouts from their most worthy possession–the photobooth tucked away near the bathroom. It was a Sunday-Monday standard for many, due to its incredible all-day happy hour that boasted $5 pitchers of Rainier. Thus, “Do you want to grab a pitcher?” generally always translated into standing on line at the Cha Cha & feeding the remaining dollar bills into the photobooth machine. Some nights they’d push aside tables & chairs & attempt dancing to music that wasn’t intended for clubs & was all the more charming, & I appreciated those nights because every patron seemed to have the same amount of rhythm as I did (little if at all.) It was there that I blacked out for the first & hopefully only time in my life; I had thought “blacking out” was just a term for that hazy brown-out period where your mind is almost gone & you’d really rather not be held accountable for your consequent actions. No, it was merely the end result of losing count of your whiskies. There was that night that we found John Popper tucked away in the smoking alcove, & worked our way into his table, & watching a Blues Traveler roll us a joint seemed epic enough for the evening. But what amazed me most was the replication of the same familiar faces, night after hazy night, in the same hole in the ground. Sometimes, Capitol Hill is the smallest town in America. It was like a den everyone would wander through on their way to scattered points in Seattle. It was home base. But this perceived strength grew into newfound trouble: those same faces became ghosts haunting around you regardless of the night. After an amount of time, you lose that desire to see the same faces, the same reminders, the same ghosts each & every night.

Of age, I was released into the wild, & I drifted from the Cha Cha. Occasionally pulled in to meet up or wander through, the disillusion grew rapidly. Once given distance, you can only notice: that place is hell. Just a sensory overload of stifled red air. There was a few weeks last summer the central air was busted & there seemed to be a palpable plumbing issue. Changes are evident: the weekend crowd has evolved slowly from flannel, to Belltown, to those in flannel complaining of Belltown folk; the five dollar pitcher deal has inched up to an unastounding $6.50, in the same economy that washed away Moe Bar’s happy hour $2 wells. It is perpetually loud, & the musical selection varies too widely to make the few stray redeeming albums worthwhile. The service, well, that’s still what you’d expect. Sometimes the bartender will flat-out ignore you for awhile while he flips through discs of noise to replace the previous noise. One time the bartenders will deny you the opportunity to snatch up your cardigan from a table you can both see at last call, & you’ll wander home on a bitter January night, arms crossed, wondering why the hell you let something like that happen. I will maintain this forevermore: this is nothing more hellish than the Cha Cha at last call. Ornery bartenders will get on microphones & curse & whine until the crowds disperse before 2am. Sure, man, you want to avoid liquor code violation, & I get that, man I’d respect it even, your crowd can tend towards obnoxious…But you get what you give.

Cha Cha, you’ve given me all & now I’m nothing. If Ferlinghetti is perpetually awaiting a rebirth of wonder in America, I am simply awaiting for the dejection to ebb away. Recently, I was downstairs to meet lovely folk near the foosball table. There was a line to get in. There was the casual mix of familiar, vaguely familiar, & all-too-familiar faces scattered about. There was that distinctive scented blend of well liquor, American Spirits, sweat, burritos, marijuana, & miscellaneous body odor. There was a mandated $10 credit tab that ensured you’d at least have to chase your pitcher with a shot if you wanted to get the hell out. There was a girl in the bathroom yelling expletives into an empty stall, dropping her pint glass into shatters on the bathroom floor. There was a new sign installed above the bar: “Order here…then move on!” I chose simply to obey the latter. I fled. Thanks for the memories, really it’s been good, but I’m not looking back.

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3 Responses to “(a farewell) to the cha cha”

  1. KMB said

    Very well-written. This sums up the experience perfectly. Fuck you, Cha Cha, and goodbye.

  2. boner patrol said

    get over yourself it’s not you like were forced to walk in the door, additionally, you can’t make fun of the ‘Cha or hipsters if you call your blog Cap to the Hill

    fuck off, I hear Redmond, Issaquah, and Kirkland are all hiring village idiots

  3. aarwenn said

    WELL said. I’ve been steering my drunk self elsewhere, too.

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