Day Drinker: Garnett's Rite Inn

Who says you have to wait until the sun goes down to have a good time?

"Let's go to Garnett's," offered my good friend, Ronda, ex-co-proprietor of the recently departed Ruby Room and Day Drinker play-date on the discussion of our next venue. "It's kind of a rough place, though. At least it was when I was there last. What do you think?"

Hmm. In that case, we'll need protection of the just-in-case kind. Enter Greg, living legend (his words) and ne'er-do-well (ours). We readied ourselves for a day of possible brutality and troublemaking.

On a rainy morning at 7 a.m., you'd miss Garnett's Rite Inn if you weren't looking for it. The sign on the side of the building looked as if someone had thrown rocks at it, for a long, long time. We pulled alongside two cars in the back parking lot. One was in the handicapped space. As we made our way to the back entrance, a herd of feral cats ran out in front of us. That's when the door opened.

"Good morning!" said a large, seasoned citizen, clad in a gray sweat suit with pink tennis shoes and very obviously missing her two front teeth, "Bit chilly out, don't you think?" She was escorting a man with a cane to the passenger side door of the car in the handicapped space. "Hold on, Walt, I'm gettin' it for you." She looked back and waved to us, "Have a nice day!"

Um, rough did you say?

Inside, Garnett's was warm and comforting. "Wow, this place is a lot cleaner than I remember," Ronda said, surprised, her eyes darting around the room. Suns banners hanging from the ceiling, a pool table (sans rips in the felt), matching tables and chairs, a fake ordinance over the bar that stated, by law, one needed to be nice to the bartender. Hardly the stuff of Roadhouse. We bellied up to some wood.

"Good morning! What can I get you?"

That's Laurie. She's been a bartender at Garnett's for eight years, but change the backdrop to a veteran's hall or a church bake sale and she'd fit right in. Big smile, bright eyes that said she was glad to see you. Good people. She works the day shift at Garnett's six days a week.

"I like my boss," she tells us of her extended career, "he comes in once a day and leaves me alone. Not like those other types." She makes a whip-cracking gesture and laughs.

Bitsy, the bar pooch.
We order our usual, Bailey's and coffee, still waiting on the presumed rough stuff. Greg goes commando and gets a shot of sambuca with his java. Good pours all the way around. I come prepared for our morning sloshing with a six-pack of donuts, "fresh baked" from the Circle K down the street. They taste like wadded-up pieces of underwear, but I'm snarfing them down all the same. Ronda and Greg won't touch 'em.

For now, we've got the place to ourselves, but Laurie informs us that at 9 a.m., she needs to put The Price is Right on for the regulars. We decide to take advantage of the juke. After discovering that the Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow duet "Picture" is the number one play, Greg pays extra for the deep cuts and soon, the three of us are singing Frank Sinatra and Hot Chocolate songs at the top of our lungs. We hardly pay attention to the guy in the black ballcap and sunglasses walking in and taking a seat next to us. We do, however, notice the second seasoned citizen of the day walking in with a small, gray and white dog.

"That's Bitsy," he illuminates, sitting the pooch on the bar stool next to him. Its fur is as white as the hair on the guy's head. "She comes in here with me every morning." He takes some treats out of his pocket and feeds them to Bitsy, "I just caught hell from my vet, though. He says she needs to lose some weight."

"Rough place, my ass," I say to Ronda.

We pet Bitsy until she's had enough and starts growling. We retreat to our designated stools and Ronda starts to make nice with the guy in the black ballcap sitting next to her.

"Mornin'," she says, "You must be one of the regulars."

"Nope. This is my first time here. I've been living out of my car for the past two weeks but I'm movin' into a hotel downtown today. It's $120 a week plus utilities. Pretty good deal."

We stop what we're doing. Immediately. And lean in for a closer look.

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