Dive Bar Diary: The Deuce

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On a Tuesday I guide my dented SUV into a parking lot of similar vehicles, chaotically sprawled between potholes, and choose my role in the algorithm. A middle-aged couple waves a warm welcome from their landlocked fishing boat, beer coozies in hand.

The Deuce sits behind Preston Highway’s thinnest sidewalk, between a La Quinta Inn and a Hometown Pizza. An awning of chipped shingles gracefully bends above a concrete patio offering distressed vinyl restaurant-booth seats and wobbly round tables. An off-duty mechanic wearing coveralls and motor oil brings a Bud Light to his lips, burried behind his soiled gray beard. My friend Casey points to a wilting chicken-scratch sign hung on the crude brick building. “Lucky for you,” he says, “it’s ladies’ night.” 

Inside, a thoroughly tanned, middle-aged blond bartender taps her manicure against the bar in a staccato rhythm. I order a bourbon-and-ginger ale, which falls within the parameters of the ladies’ night $2 special. “Are you the karaoke crowd?” a man asks us, pointing his Shiner Bock at Casey. “You look just like Chris Martin. Do ‘Yellow’ for us.”

One side of the Deuce is dedicated to daily karaoke with “Robert Dale,” who frames his name in quotation marks on handwritten signs tossed throughout. The other side offers darts and pinball, along with a silent cheering section of busty cardboard cutouts. Tube televisions display a pixelated text graphic from every corner, teaching us that karaoke translates to “empty orchestra” and was invented in 1930. 

Conversation stops as a roar from the street crescendos and pops before halting to silence. The bartender unloads bottles of tequila from the freezer and begins to pour as five heavily decorated men in leather vests explode through the entrance. Each man throws a shot to the back of his throat and immediately turns and heads toward the parking lot, revealing the “Hi Way Riders” patch expertly stitched to the back of his uniform. I decide it’s time to go outside for air. 

A Hi Way Rider waddles in our direction. He is a shorter man with an open-mouth smile stretched across his weathered face. “Are you the karaoke crowd?” he asks in a thick Dixie Highway accent. I am surprised to hear this question twice, and I wonder if the Deuce waits for the karaoke crowd in the same way Christians wait for the return of Christ. “I’ll make you a deal,” I say. “We’ll sing karaoke, but only if every man in a leather vest also sings karaoke.” The Hi Way Rider breathes a gasping laugh that whistles and ends with a grunt. “You’ve got yourself a deal,” he says with an outstretched hand. “I’m Hank.” 

Hank recruits his son, Chris, as well as a terrifying gentleman by the name of Grave Digger. The rest do not need convincing. Each Hi Way Rider confidently chooses without giving the songbook a single glance. They take the stage one by one and serenade us with their favorite Hank Williams and George Strait songs. The infamous “Robert Dale” — in a leather cowboy hat and Star Wars-themed Mount Rushmore shirt that steal my heart — declines my invitation to sing “Eye of the Tiger” as a duet. 

The front door flies open. Older women in flashy off-the-shoulder clothing begin lining the bar and exercising their right to the ladies’ night specials. Some of them fluff their hair while others apply lipstick, perfecting their techniques in compact mirrors. The first to take the stage is a larger woman wearing animal-print leggings and an elaborate collection of colorful jewelry. She drapes the room in Aretha Franklin, and our jaws drop. It is clear that she is the karaoke messiah we have been waiting for. 

As the night crawls into early morning, we make our way to the parking lot, where Hank sits on his glistening motorcycle alone in the dark. A heavenly tune streams from his Harley. “Is he listening to Josh Groban?” I ask Casey. We decide Hank is researching for future nights at the Deuce.

 

This article appeared in the July 2014 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe, please visit loumag.com. 

Article written by Wesley Bacon.

Photo provided by Olivia Harlow

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