Bad Bar People #1: The Jukebox Violator
We give you the latest Foobooz series: Bad Bar People, in which we’ll bring you the worst customers, bartenders, and other contributors to dreadful drinking experiences. Enjoy.
The worst thing to happen to the bar scene over the last decade has got to be whipped cream vodka. But the second worst thing is undoubtedly those you-can-play-virtually-anything TouchTunes jukeboxes and the people who use them to make everyone else miserable. These evolutionary mistakes make up the inaugural category of Bad Bar People: The Jukebox Violator.
To explore The Jukebox Violator further, we decided to pay a visit to one of our favorite bars, Bob & Barbara’s. This much-feted dive bar at 1509 South Street provides us with an interesting case study.
Sometime in the late 2000s, Bob & Barbara’s replaced their jukebox of yesteryear — you know, the kind that played CDs — with a TouchTunes model. This was seen as a sacrilege by many regulars, since the well-curated selections on the original jukebox (Miles Davis, Nina Simone, War, James Brown, Michael Jackson, Jimmy Cliff) provided an ideal soundtrack for the overall vibe offered by the bar. But sometimes change is hard, and so the bar pressed forward, joining the 21st Century along with almost every other drinking establishment in the city.
Fast-forward to 2012, when Bob & Barbara’s did something unprecedented: They kicked the TouchTunes play-anything jukebox to the curb and brought back the old groove-heavy model.
“I hated that box since we got it,” owner Jack Prince told us at the time. “People could make it call up insanely incongruous songs during [the house jazz band’s] breaks. Headbanger, devil worship, noise music. I want Lee Morgan and Jimmy McGriff.”
But Prince hasn’t really worked behind the bar there in many years, and so we sought out a man who lived through the jukebox trauma.
Veteran Bob & Barbara’s bartender Robert Dicks told us some horror stories.
There was the guy who played Sheena Easton’s “Sugar Walls” ten times in a row. “I thought she had died that day or something,” remembers Dicks.
Two times in row is considered excessive and offensive. Ten times is unquestionably indicative of a disturbed mind. We were in Bob & Barbara’s once when someone tried to get away with putting Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” on repeat play. A near-riot ensued.
Another way to piss people off with a jukebox is to play anything by Journey but most notably “Don’t Stop Believing.” (It’s also worth mentioning that karaoke DJs seem to loathe this one as well. “Love Shack” by the B52s ironically elicits similar hatred in many.)
“We used to have an unofficial ‘No Journey’ policy,” says Dicks. “We even had a cardboard sign that I would hold up that said ‘No Journey’ whenever ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ would play. People would cheer. A woman who played it asked me why, and I told her that most people don’t really like Journey — they just heard it on Glee, that not even Steve Perry listened to Journey.”
Here’s a handy guide on how you can avoid being a Jukebox Violator:
• Don’t stick your five-dollar bill in the jukebox at 1:55 a.m. and then throw a drunken fit when the bartender turns it off five minutes later.
• Don’t play Journey. You might as well also just avoid searching for Right Said Fred, Creed, and the Goo Goo Dolls. Oh, and this should go without saying but… Phish. No right-thinking person wants to hear that crap in a bar.
• Pay attention to where you are. We were once in Scotty’s at 15th and Ellsworth, a bar that generally has an older African American clientele. A white guy in his early 30s decided it would be fun to play a bunch of Iron Maiden. He didn’t make any friends. (OK, full disclosure, that was the author, who insists he was very drunk and would never do it again.) Similarly, you might not want to go into a hard core blue collar Irish bar and toss on Ice-T’s “Cop Killer.”
• Never, ever play the same song more than once per night.
• Avoid putting more than $5 in the jukebox at a time. People like a jukebox hog about as much as they like a guy who thinks it’s a good idea to play the most obscure Elvis Costello b-sides possible all night.
• If you want to show yourself as a real class act, ask your bartender for some suggestions.
• Although TouchTunes lets you bump other people’s songs in favor of your selection (this is the “Play Now” button, which costs extra), this is a total dick move.
• Don’t hide behind your phone. There are apps that let you use your smartphone to control the jukebox of the bar that you are in. We’ve seen people try to wreak real havoc this way. All of a sudden “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving With a Pict” from Pink Floyd’s 1969 album Ummagumma starts blaring over the speakers, and everyone in the bar is looking at each other suspiciously as if someone farted.
Don’t want to be Bad Bar People? Check in with us next week for some more helpful tips.