Day 18 – June 25th at Gypsy Bar in downtown Phoenix
Irony at the Gypsy
The first time I went to the Gypsy Bar in central Phoenix, I pictured an arty bohemian hole-in-the-wall with lots of character and kitsch. The kind of place you see along Roosevelt during the First Friday Art Walks – independently-owned converted houses, transformed into an eclectic dream, unique and bursting with flavor.
This is not what I found.
There is nothing whatsoever gypsy-like about the Gypsy Bar. In fact, the “Gypsy Bar” is but one feature of a corporate monstrosity also housing an upscale bowling alley (the Lucky Strike), an arcade, and various other bar-like rooms linking it all together. This establishment is over 10,000 square feet of corporate funded fun.
There is definitely a lot of money sunk into this place. Everything is a little posh here at the “gypsy” and its sister attractions.
The business is also not anywhere near the Roosevelt district of Phoenix, but located near the ballpark. In fact, it’s difficult to find, unless you walk down Central Avenue between Washington and Jefferson, or manage to park under the structure. Its address is on Jefferson, but if you look there, you will not find it. MapQuest, nor Google Maps, nor your GPS will help you. Mark my words.
Once you find the building that houses the “Gypsy Bar”, you’ll climb to the second floor, and enter by the plush bowling alley. You’ll traverse through various rooms, until you find a large oval well-appointed bar. A few steps down, and you’ve entered the dance arena. A number of leather couches encircle a rather large dance floor.
The Set-up & KJ:
One length of the dance floor sports the stage, a few feet off the ground. This is where the KJ sets up and conducts her show. Singers are also free to take the stage, or the floor, or navigate the large room.
Since I had been to the Gypsy once before (albeit not for karaoke), I knew what to expect. Well, sort of. Nothing can really prepare you for the sheer mad energy and spectacle of a Mystic Molly karaoke show.
The provider for the karaoke shows at the Gypsy Bar on Tuesdays is Starz Karaoke. We are familiar with their book, as it’s available online, sporting the same song list as a couple of our regular haunts.
Assisting Molly that night was her friend and follow KJ Frankthatank, also with Starz. They are both friendly and capable KJs.
Time to sing!
I had parked and found the place with no trouble at all (this time). I found a good spot in the center leather sofa, facing the large dance floor, and large stage. My friends began to show up and joined me on the sofa. Teresa, Suze, and Bosco. We all sang, and the drinks (though expensive) were good, and the crowd lively.
Karaoke starts and ends early, from 8 pm to midnight. We arrived closer to nine, and left just before the end, in all about three hours.
Although the rotation was light at first – only 5-6 singers on the list – it grew as the place filled up closer to ten. That’s pretty typical of a lot of places. If you want to sing more, arrive early. Most people don’t go out earlier than ten.
First I sang Gypsy – duh! It’s a gypsy bar! Right…? – by Fleetwood Mac, and it went okay. I sang a duet with Teresa, Time of the Season by The Zombies. We’ve sung this song tons of times over decades, always a cappella. We were well pleased with how it went. I sang So in Love (from the musical Kiss Me Kate), and had a little unexpected assist. A young woman from the crowd had glommed on to me after some of us had been dancing. I was handed the microphone, then climbed up to perch upon the wooden room divider just above our seats. As I sat there, this young woman leaned toward the microphone, very close to my face, and began to sing along. It didn’t matter much that she didn’t know the melody. It’s a slow song, so she’d find a pitch and an approximate vowel, and chime in. I thought it was rather charming at the time. Not something I’m usually very patient with, however.
At first the crowd consisted of a mob of corporate types, literally being stand-off-ish. They wouldn’t enter the dance area, and instead hovered about behind the sofas, blocking the way. I tried to talk to them, and gave them a friendly greeting that went unacknowledged.
Maybe they were there on a company team-building evening out. In any case, they were an insular group. They had on corporate name tags, and had wandered down to the karaoke area in order to humiliate one of their own into singing a Celine Dion song.
Turns out their chosen victim wasn’t shy about it at all, and did a fine job with the power ballad. Another one of the company men sang Sweet Caroline, which they all enjoyed immensely. That song for whatever reason is always a crowd pleaser. Then the whole group of twenty or thirty people took off.
Many of the other patrons that night were young – in their 20s – babies. There was one guy who, while singing Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell, climbed over all the furniture and really put on a show. Very entertaining. The crowd went wild. There were also a cluster of Christmas elves and a Santa. This was in June. This place was slightly crazy.
The ambiance, the music, the singing, the energy…off-kilter and alive. There was a growing buzz, leading to something wild and profane.
One of the babies was turning 21, and had her birthday party with her. They were youthful, joyful and spontaneous. I joined them on the dance floor. Often when the music takes over, and the crowd goes a bit crazy, I prefer to be a participant. I don’t stay too long on the sidelines.
The coup de grace however was dealt by the amazing KJ Mystic Molly. The centerpiece of the night was her celebration of the 21-year-old’s birthday. Mystic Molly gave our young friend Megan a lap dance that will live in infamy. A couple things you should know. 1) Molly must be known for these displays of debauchery, because 2) it seemed clear the birthday girl came here that night especially for this treatment. And 3) the lap dance is not a traditional lap dance, i.e. it is not in the least erotic.
Now Molly says there is a clear divide when it comes to her shows: there are those who love her, and those who…um…less than like this sort of thing. This show is not something you take lightly, and it’s not something you stay ambivalent about.
The birthday girl was put through the motions, positioned every which way, whilst Molly simulated sex acts with her. They were, of course, fully clothed. Sometimes the nasty bits didn’t quite match up, but you know that’s not really the point. No one was getting off, not the participants, and probably not the spectators. What made it particularly entertaining for me was the nonchalant look on Molly’s face. She looked completely disinterested while she manipulated this sweet young thing – as she gyrated above her, from behind her, and underneath her. This was not a chair dance. I would say they laid upon the dance floor, except they kept moving into new positions. The young gal seemed completely passive and willing to be put through all this. It was a rite of passage. For her, it was a marvelous birthday. And for her friends a wonderful show. The crowd hooted and hollered, took photos and video. Appreciative and a bit stunned too.
Much of what we witnessed that night was not entirely expected. Unless you’re familiar with a Mystic Molly show. I hope she doesn’t take any offense, because none is intended, but I’d have to say there wasn’t much that was mystical about it.
Just as there were no gypsies there either.
It was a night of contradictions.
As I left, my brain was filled with epiphanies. Was it the lights and music and entertainment that left me feeling intoxicated and full of life? Was it those Bloody Marys? (I swear I only drank two!)
While I drove home that night, I longed to pull over and write in my journal. I looked for an open coffee shop, one with a hipster vibe, no, make that a gypsy feel to it. I wanted to sit in a corner, drink some tea, and capture all the thoughts bouncing around in my head. I tried to do just that, in incoherent script. The next day much of the mystical magic was lost to me.
Another loss: Mystic Molly of outrageous KJ fame is no longer a staple of the Phoenix karaoke scene. She is taking a lengthy hiatus, and even hints that she’ll be but an occasional visitor to this world. We may never see a Mystic Molly lap dance show again. I’ll count myself as lucky to have been there at the Gypsy Bar that night.