‘You can’t kill bad grass…’
The barman strums a Roy Orbison song on an acoustic guitar. An army vet brushes tears from his face whilst describing feelings of being left behind by the country he served. A drunk stumbles over a bar stool to a cacophony of broken glass and broken dreams. This is the final days of The Roaring 20s, a dive bar in the forgotten backstreets of Las Vegas…
Having worked and lived in pubs on and off for eight beautiful years, I know what it’s like to feel enclosed in the warm embrace of a local bar for local people. An uneasy family in which everyone is the black sheep and everyone is drunk. All the time. Being a bartender is one of the oldest and therefore most noble professions. A good bartender is many things. A therapist, a mediator, a boxing referee, a host, a doctor and a shoulder to cry on. A cold shoulder, but a shoulder nevertheless. Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets captures this dichotomy perfectly, the contrast between doing a job that any monkey can do for minimum wage or being the best goddamn bartender from Timbuktu to Portland, Maine – or Portland, Oregon for that matter.
Directed by Bill and Turner Ross, Bloody Nose Empty Pockets is a warts and all chronicle of the end of an era. This is only one dive bar in one shitty town, but it could be a stand in for thousands of others. One of those places where people sit at the bar, wood everywhere, a jukebox, you know the kind. It perfectly captures the sadness and strangely poignant unity that a bunch of drunks can share. The Ross brothers (I’m presuming they’re brothers) document this event without comment, without narration, without judgement. Instead, they allow the grizzled and varied inhabitants of The Roaring 20s to tell their own story. Indeed, every one one of them has a story to tell, and for the first time in their life, they have an audience to listen.
Nagging questions of authenticity are both merited and difficult to ascertain (do your own research, but be warned… I kind of regretted doing this myself), but no matter how much of this is actually real doesn’t matter. Not really. What matters are the emotions that Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets evokes.
At closing time, this is a heartwarming and heartbreaking tribute to the pubs and bars that make up the fabric of our very souls. A Tom Waits song brought to life.
I’ll take a Guinness please barkeep…