Four years ago Lee's Liquor Lounge was just another dying neighborhood bar. Then this guy Nate calls the owner, Louie, and the place turns into--well, no one is quite sure what. But there's nowhere else like it.
Louie pauses to watch the dancers. "If you try to tell people about this it sounds almost schmaltzy," he says. "But it's nice, clean fun, and what an asset to the bar. I'm telling you, this young gal does one hell of a job."
At 9 o'clock Trailer Trash takes the stage and by 10:30 Lee's is once again hopping and the dance floor is crowded. There are those who predicted a short run in the limelight for the whole Trailer Trash/Lee's phenomenon, but if it's starting to grow stale nobody at Lee's is letting on. It's been an incredible run, and has shown no signs in recent months of losing steam. Still, Dungan knows that his little "hip pocket gig" is not unprecedented. He remembers the stretch the Barking Ducks had at the 400, and the Dr. Mambo's Combo salad days at Bunker's. But he also knows that he's got something else going for him; he's got Louie, and he's got a classic catalog of American music. "This is totally Louie's bar," Dungan says. "He puts his stamp on everything. This is a great bar, period, and that has everything to do with Louie and the whole tone he sets. Nobody works harder than Louie. He's the only bar owner in town who has a mop handle in his hands at 2 in the morning. You don't have to over-promote Louie; he's his own best ambassador. Because of him this would be a great place to come with or without us. The whole point was just to work up a bunch of classic tunes, find a great place to play, and rock the joint.
"It's been effortless for us, a total backdive, and I think as long as it's still fun for us, it'll still be fun for the people who come out to visit us. If it ever gets dangerously close to work, I guess we'll pull the plug. Louie doesn't need us. He's been to the fair and seen the bear, if you know what I'm saying. This isn't his first rodeo."
Louie has another saying: "Nothing is any good unless it works." After 20 years in the bar business he thinks he's finally found a formula that works, and he knows it's good. "We've worked hard to make this a clean and responsible place," Louie says. "And I think it's finally paid off. This used to be a rough area around here, but it's gotten so that I don't even need a bouncer in here most nights. I get fewer complaints than any bar in town. I'm sure I have the same goal as Nate--to make Lee's a showplace for the city. And I think we've been a credit to this area all along. The councilmen and the big shots, this ain't their kind of joint; they like the fancier places and that's fine. But this joint will never do them no harm."