Welcome to the Cheddar Lounge

Xmas was all whirlwind and flash, like the old Sonic Youth album cover. Chicago to Youngstown and back again on little sleep and plenty of beer. Saw lots of old friends. Blasts from my pasts. Time does funny things in Youngstown in December at the Cedars Lounge.

The Cedars is an institution of sorts. Back in the day, it was a dank dive with cheap beer, loud music and bad poetry on Tuesdays. Somewhere along the line, the owners came into some loot and added on and now there's a groovy couch room and a kitchen. It's still the place in town to go for good music, and about the only place to avoid meatnecks in Starter Jackets and their overtanned girlfriends. I drank my first illegal beer there when I was 17 at a Sister Ray show. My friend Mike once kissed Johnette Napolitano there and promised her a fine deli tray on her return (she never came back). A guy I knew in high school, Jeff, had a band called the Runts and they named their 7" e.p. "The Cheddar Lounge" in the club's honor. When doing my senior thesis, I attempted some long-winded ode to the Cedars, but fell way short of the goal. Sometimes words are not enough, I guess.

On Xmas night, the Cedars is the only place to be. Never mind if it's the only open bar in town (or just seems that way). It's pretty much the evening stop-off for any and every young and every decaying semi-hipster who used to live in town and moved away plus all the regulars (who I sometimes think are the really hip ones). This year there was a beer-soaked, high-energy cowpunk band playing. Per usual, people were elbow-to-elbow and 3-deep to get to the bar. You can get a draft for a dollar (it used to be 75 cents) and the bottles don't cost much more. Just imagine visiting from New York or LA or Chicago, closing out the night with a bar tab equivalent to your first round back home and being much more buttered to boot. Some people get depressed for the holidays, but homecoming Ytowners have a good time.

I went with a friend I hadn't seen in some time and ran into some more long-lost types inside: The bartenders who still remembered me from years before who were still generous with the already-cheap wares; The leather-clad indie-guy with whom I used to ramble incessantly about GbV; The woman who loaned me her 4-track for a solid 6 months in '99 and didn't complain when I returned it broken; middle-aged painters still painting and middle-aged rockers still looking for that gig to break their band; shit-talking pick-up pros and their hard-storied past conquests; good-looking Boho-goth college-types and high school kids sneaking into their first real bar; the guy who taught me old songs on my first guitar and the girl who came all the way to Chicago just to create an ugly scene; One poor sap in a Cleveland Browns jacket watching sports highlights on a corner TV. Nobody else notices there's a TV . . .

We drank a ton at the bar. Then we went to someone's house and drank a ton more. The sun was rising when I finally got back to my mom's place. I didn't really feel drunk at that point, and when I woke up hours later, I wasn't hung over. I felt good. Energized, even, to the point where I returned Sunday with my friends to have a few more drinks before my train ride home.

I've spent the better part of the last year or two getting over certain nostalgic tendencies. I suppose such tendencies fester when old connections disconnect. Stepping into one's old haunt for the first time in years can be daunting, at first. Then, past events flow into mind, create a melancholy sort of high. At last, the come-down isn't so bad; that old haunt -- its hipsters, its hucksters, its drama queens and its ghosts -- keeps haunting.