Saturday, October 21, 2017

We Walk into a Bar without Costumes

Millennium Fandom Bar, Las Vegas, Nevada
Millennium Fandom Bar, Las Vegas, Nevada
So I was talking with Buffy Summers (aka “The Vampire Slayer”), and learned that she didn’t live in Las Vegas. She’s from Southern California, and she was at Millenium Fandom to celebrate her friend Saffron’s birthday. Saffron lived in Las Vegas and was a regular at the bar.

I should acknowledge that “Buffy” and “Saffron” are not their real names. I learned their real names, but they asked we use the names of the characters when we quoted them here -- which was only fair, because they had put real work into their costumes, and they went with the bar’s theme for the night, “Joss Whedonverse Celebration.” Whedon is the writer and director of many beloved movies and TV series. He is perhaps most closely associated with TV show (and movie) Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I loved that our new friend didn’t just dress as Buffy, but as Buffy from a particular episode, “Doublemeat Palace” in which the Buffster works for a local fast food franchise, wearing a Doublemeat uniform and carrying a soda cup with the franchise’s logo. Saffron, a recurring character on another show created by Whedon, Firefly, wore the costume from the “Our Mrs. Reynolds” episode.

Later in the evening, the bar was holding a Whedon trivia quiz that we were told would cover everything from Toy Story to Cabin in the Woods.  We left before that started, but while we were there, two different Whedon works played on the TVs around the bar (The Avengers and Serenity, a movie sequel to the Firefly show).

Whedon’s work represents just one “fandom” that the bar salutes. On the bar menu, we saw nods to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (The Golden Ticket), Guardians of the Galaxy (In Groot We Trust), and the Coen BrothersThe Big Lebowski (The Dude).  Mindy ordered the Bond themed License to Kill and I ordered the Columbo, which was, um, Columbo themed.

Judging just by the name of the bar, you might think it would be just a Star Wars themed place, but it’s actually a welcoming place for a variety of fans from detective fiction to cartoons to zombies.

When we walked into the bar, we were quickly welcomed by the founder and owner, Alex Pusineri. He was warm and gregarious and happily shared his desire to make the bar a place where people felt at home. He pointed to the people playing a variety of board games around the room and assured us that if we asked, any of the game players would be glad for us to join them. He mentioned that though vaping was allowed, the bar was a non smoking zone. Gambling was also forbidden (a rare thing in this city).

Alex is from France, but obviously delights in all kinds of American popular culture (though Japanese and European pop culture is celebrated as well). We observed Alex greeting almost everyone who entered, often embracing returning guests. He took pictures of everyone who had dressed for the night (it seemed that Firefly ensembles dominated the evening).

The bar was decorated with a icons from many different fandoms: the police call box Tardis from Dr. Who was tucked in the back of the room; a display case housed a tricorder, communicator, and phaser from Star Trek TOS; Captain America’s shield was on the wall along with Superman and Batman symbols; and the golden idol from the opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark is in another display case. I was embarrassed in my deficit of nerd knowledge when I had to ask the identity of artifacts from The Fifth Element.

Mindy and I had decided ask different questions at this bar. (We usually ask, “What makes for a good bar?” and “Whether you go or not, what makes for a good church?”) At this bar, we asked, “What’s your favorite bar in fandom?” and “What’s your favorite church in fandom?”

The first person we talked to about this was Linda, one of the bartenders, who said that one thing she enjoys about her job is the chance to dress up for the plethora of theme nights the bar offers. I asked her about favorites, she said she liked the Disney fandom nights, and we weren't surprised that she enjoyed dressing as The Little Mermaid’s Ariel because of her bright, gorgeous, long red hair.

Her favorite fandom bar was one I thought we’d hear repeatedly through the evening, but to our surprise she was the only one who said her favorite was the Mos Eisley Cantina on Tatooine in Star Wars: A New Hope. She said she’d love to serve that variety of alien guests.

As more and more customers came into Millennium Fandom, it took a bit longer to find out what her favorite fandom church was, but she finally decided on the church from the AMC series Preacher. I also enjoyed that show, so we talked about it a bit, especially the amazingly destructive end of the first season. Neither of us had watched more than the first season on Hulu, since neither of us pay for cable, so we’re waiting for the second season to come to the streaming service.

Tyler was the other bartender that evening. I complimented him on his hat, a hideous piece of knitting which the character Jayne wore on Firefly (in the show, the hat was a gift to Jayne from his mother. Tyler had borrowed the hat from birthday girl Saffron.)

I asked his favorite bar, and he admitted that his fandom specialty was gaming, so his favorite bar came from the video game Mass Effect, a place where violence ran rampant. (Not necessarily a place he’d like to work, he added) He also served guests between questions, and took a bit of time to think of a church. He finally came up with the religion of Dungeons and Dragons, telling us that every Thursday night, he joins a D & D group at the bar. The characters in his game group honor “Helm the Watcher,” and throughout the game are likely to call out “Helm help us!”

When I asked Alex the owner our questions, he first spoke of a real life fan bar, the HR Giger Bar in Switzerland, which is based on the artist who designed the creature and ship from the film Alien. Obviously, that bar was an inspiration for this bar, but Linda pointed out that the question called for fictional places. So he changed his answer to the Overlook Hotel Bar from The Shining. (Really, who doesn’t love ghost bartenders?) For a church, he went to his native
France for Notre Dame Cathedral, the residence of Quasimodo the hunchback.

We also asked Buffy and Saffron our questions. Buffy went to Firefly for both of her answers, mentioning the bar from the first episode of the series (which she called the “Unification Day Bar”) because it was a good place to observe Browncoats fight. Instead of church, she told us her favorite fandom clergy, Shepherd Book (played by Ron Glass) -- who we agreed was a great character.

Saffron went to Firefly for the bar she liked as well, but her bar choice was the bar from "Jaynestown", the cantina in the town of Canton where the scurrilous character is honored as a hero. For her church, though, she went to the HBO show, Carnivale, which she appreciated for its preacher and revival meeting.

We very much enjoyed our time at the Millenium Fandom. If we lived in Vegas, we would likely be regulars. I might even be found there every Sunday night when people get together to watch the Star Trek show, Discovery, because I’m not about to pay for the CBS streaming service that broadcasts it. And we would certainly be curious what Halloween was like in a bar where people don’t need a special day to dress up and celebrate their favorite characters.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

We Walk into a Bar because We Have a Coupon

“My phone ran out of power, can I power it up?” A street person asked the bartender, holding out his open flip phone. “Leave it open, or it won’t charge.”

The bartender plugged in the phone, closing it as he did.

The man from the street standing next to Mindy held out two dollars. He asked the cost for playing pool and was told it was a dollar. He asked the bartender for a dollar in quarters “so I can hit balls with a stick while I wait for the phone to charge.” Then he asked if he could use other dollar for a “taste of beer”.

The bartender said beer was four dollars and made it clear there was no tasting menu. Next thing I noticed the man was holding a beer. The woman around the corner of the bar from us had bought him a beer (we’d all been fascinated by the conversation). I asked her, “Don’t you want to open the phone?”

She grinned and started to reach for the phone, and the man with her said, “Don’t encourage her, she’s an instigator!” She ended up leaving the phone alone* and so did Mindy and I, but we introduced ourselves to Chris (him) and Corey (her).

We were in the Thunderbird Lounge because it was part of the hotel where we were staying (the Thunderbird Boutique Hotel). When we checked in, they’d given us coupons for the place, and we’d decided to use them for food, not alcohol, since this was the first of two bars we’d be visiting that night. We ordered buffalo wings and mozzarella sticks and drank several glasses of water.

The photos on the website made the Lounge look like quite the wild place, with girls dancing on the bar and stylish people playing pool. We saw the stage, but it was empty while we were there. When we came in, two women were eating at the bar; they left shortly after we ordered, and Chris and Corey sat down near us.
They were in the city for an event, staying at the Thunderbird Retro Boutique Hotel and Lounge like us. We spent time talking about last year’s trip, and they told us about their travels. They’d spent time in Alaska, too, but we’d been there in the time of the Midnight Sun. Chris had been there at a different time of year and saw the Northern Lights (though not one of the more spectacular showings, he said).

We eventually asked them our two questions, “What makes for a good bar?” and “Whether you go or not, what makes for a good church?”

For the bar question, Corey said a good bar has the “ability to be both intimate and sociable at the same time. Negotiable sociability. It’s nice to be in a place that doesn’t require you maintain social interaction.” I thanked her for being willing to socially interact with us.

Chris also answered the bar question. He said dressing up for a fancy cocktail bar was too much work, but he also didn’t want to be in “a dive bar where you have to check your wallet. If there’s Guinness or Jameson, I’m happy. It there’s an acceptable selection, I can make do.”

Before they answered the church question, their friend Shaun came in and Corey greeted him warmly. (We forgot to ask how his name was spelled. He might actually be Sean or Shawn or another variation. We’re sorry). They greeted each other warmly. As Corey talked to Shaun, Chris answered our church question. He hesitated about answering it, “I’m an atheist.”

I assured him plenty of atheists had answered the question, and we just wanted to know what he thought.

He said he’d been to different churches, and he wasn’t interested in hearing different people give different interpretations for an ancient book. He said he’d read the Bible cover to cover, and told us,  “I feel comfortable without a faith to tell me how to be a good person.” He said in his experience people in church are hypocritical, but “If it makes your life better, awesome.” He just thought that hour in church was a waste of time which could be better spent, say, helping the homeless.

Corey was still talking to Shaun, but I asked if she’d mind answering the church question before we left. She said she grew up in the Catholic Church, but didn’t go anymore. She said churches would be better if “the leadership allowed the congregation to have input so there can be different points of view.” There should be more than one voice heard, because preachers often make assumptions about those in their congregation.

As we left for our other bar of the evening, a woman was setting up to perform on the stage. More people straggled in as we left, but we were happy to have met the people we had, because a fun thing about visiting bars is meeting delightful strangers -- even if the meeting is short.

*We don’t know if the guy’s phone charged or not. It was still plugged in and closed when we left.