Off of 5th and Los Angeles Street in the heart of downtown, just on the precipice of the city’s disease-infested, rotten, cancerous, homeless hub, nestled comfortably in the fashion district, is the last skid row bar: King Eddy.
The outside of the bar is coated in flat black paint with a sign in front advertising happy hour and hours of operation: 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. And often this is not early enough with a line of shaking and eager patrons going through alcohol withdrawal in front before opening.
King Eddy has been around since 1933, serving the community—whether the community’s health benefits from it or not—but it’s about to close its doors in the next coming months for renovations. The old owners of King Eddy have recently sold the establishment to one of Downtown L.A.’s head-gentrifiers and current Spring Street and Library Bar owners.
The bar is almost exclusively populated by its regulars, by the hardest, most dedicated, debased barflies.
He goes by the nickname of Pancake. And when you ask him why he chose the nome de guerre, he will tell you that it’s because he’s so popular, so known. Simply put it’s, he says, is because “I’m international like the International House of Pancakes! You understand me, brother? D-O Y-O-U U-N-D-E-R-S-T-A-N-D ME, BROTHER? All right!”
Another regular is less talkative. He just smiles at you, revealing missing teeth. He orders drinks, never taking his creeping eyes off you, making you feel uncomfortable, and it’s at this exact point when he feels that the desired level of discomfort has been reached that he will cease staring. No one talks to him. He talks to no one. But somehow the bartenders know that he is there to drink, and more importantly, that he has the resources to pay.
‘Love at King Eddy’
I know what you’re asking, you dumb reader you: “but, Luis, what about love? Is there love in King Eddy?”
And for those that think there is no love inside King Eddy, two things:
1.) Go fuck yourself.
2.) Love is everywhere, even in the seemingly lowliest places on this terrible, cold world; this includes King Eddy’s.
She met her husband in King Eddy decades ago. Both were hard drinking barflies. A match made in heaven. As eyes met, as long looks exchanged, love materialized and subsequently they began talking about marriage and a planned alcoholic life together.
She was staying in the hotel above the bar and asked him to move in. Naturally, he said yes. They would drink together, go into blackouts together, love each other. And Instead of your traditional and boring Church wedding, the couple decided that it would be more symbolic to get married at the first spot that they shared the realization that they’d want to spend the rest of their ruined lives together. So it was decided to be married inside the bar. Most don’t remember the wedding, before or after, let alone that day.
Years later the husband died.
But the wife, now turned widow, didn’t stop. If anything, her regular visits to King Eddy has increased, fueled now by a motivation of commemoration, to pay respect to the memory of her husband and their conjoined affection toward the bar; drinking, the bar, their love, the memory of him, have all merged into one thing. Tragically, one cannot be separated from the other.
‘Irene, mother to all’
Some of the most harden, bravest and therefore desensitized men and women in this world are bartenders. But at King Eddy, one is a beacon of holy goodness and patience.
“This is their waterhole,” said Irene, the bartender that doubles as a regular patron on her off days. “They’re gonna be lost after we close,” she said.
She, then, quickly resumes pouring drinks, administering medication to the local patients-patrons. They call, slowly, drunkenly, like undead drunks with limited oral skills, “IREEEEENE.”
“This is a local bar that the people from the hotel (Hotel Eddy above the bar), all these years, call home,” Irene said, with a tone of compassion and motherly worry.
Irene doesn’t hide the fact that she sympathizes with most, if not, all of her customers. She’s worried about the upcoming closure.
An old sad song plays on the jukebox. No one pays attention.
“Next week is gonna busy in here,” she said. “Gonna be jam-packed ‘cause all these people are gonna get their social security checks. They get their checks on the first and the third of the month. And by two weeks they’re already broke.”
Someone finishes their beer, gets up and yells “SEE YOU, IRENE.”
Irene sometimes, almost regularly, has to deal with the mentally unstable homeless people of skid row that frequent King Eddy.
“They’d come in and walk around, wandering. They’re not all there, but I act like I don’t see them, like I don’t hear them, like they’re not there. A lot of them are mental. They park their shopping carts outside and come in, [saying] ‘Gimmie a shot a whiskey, gimmie a shot a whiskey.’”
‘The convicts and the writers, and Keifer Sutherland’
On any given day at the bar you will find newly-released men from LA County Jail up the street in Chinatown, caring their plastic discharge bag of personal belongings, with only a $10 bill or two to their name. They stop here for a $5 pitcher of beer or the King’s famous-and-exclusive flavored 80-proof moonshine shots for $3 a piece.
There is a rumor among the bar that once a man had taken four shots of the moonshine, back to back, and had slipped into unstoppable insanity. The police had to be called to escort the man and his moonshine-melted brain out. No one can confirm nor deny the validity of this story.
In addition to the convicts and homeless, King Eddy was once known as a watering hole where writers with drinking problems drank and found inspiration. Two literary legends, Charles Bukowski and John Fante, each called King Eddy their bar at some point in their lives. For some reason so did Keifer Sutherland, once having spent an entire day at the same bar stool, sources say.
It’s here at King Eddy where you go if you’re about to be sentenced and need to get smashed as fast as possible with as little amount of money as possible. Or you just got out of jail and need to wash the peanut-butter-bologna-
‘The mutants of skid row’
Many homeless people have been part of downtown for years, some for decades and even longer. Some go through the rotating doors of the local county jail. Some move to other areas in the city, the migrant homeless person. And of course some die. But there are some, only a small percentage now, that have been slowly changing, becoming something else.
A man, his face completely covered by a hooded sweatshirt only partially exposing his mouth and one eye, staggers around Los Angeles Street, begging for change with a Styrofoam cup, mumbling. He holds a cup with his right hand. His left arm ends in a stump. There is no hand. At a closer inspection, you see a face filled with protruding, bubble-like flesh growth, starting from his forehead down to his cheek. On one side of his head there is a dent as if someone took a spoon and just scooped up 1/3 of his head.
He talks to himself some more, his volume increasing, raises his left arm to reveal that, in fact, it isn’t a stump but a crab-like two-pronged claw. The homeless-man-crab-thing shrieks in an indecipherable tongue, scuttles down the sidewalk, jolts into the busy street and disappears into an alley across the street.
From the self-medication of hard street drugs prevalent in the homeless community to the unhygienic living areas with toxic chemicals being spilled from the local businesses, Downtown LA’s homeless people have been changing and slowly transforming into mutants.
‘Bill the badass’
Bill, the manager of King Eddy for 34 years, said that the bar is only temporarily closing for renovations temporarily. In spite of other sources, he assures people that the bar will reopen after a month or so of renovations. Most people, patrons and employees included, believe that King Eddy will cease beying King Eddy the moment the doors officially close.
But Bill just smokes inside the smoking chamber, looking like a badass. Pays little attention to my questions or me. There’s a sign posted on the door to the smoking room that warns against selling drugs in the bar, but particularly in the smoking section. It’s like a sauna, like a homeless-body-odor-and-beer-
He said that the most popular drink at the bar is Budweiser. The most sought-after dish? Chicken wings. When I ask about the craziest shit that he’s ever seen in his 34 years there, he simply answers, “Women.”
I suspect Bill reads Bukowski.