Tuesday night, sometime after 10. Charlie Papaceno, sporting vintage specs, was working the bar of the Windmill Lounge, a little dive on Maple. A couple huddled in the corner, and two more pairs sat at the bar.
It was my first time. I saw Brooklyn lager on tap and I thought it was a marketing shtick. The Yanks were on the tube while the Beastie Boys spun on the jukebox. But a customer, Diamond Jim, defense lawyer by day and burlesque producer by night, was responsible for the play. They made some pretty good music when he was younger, Diamond Jim proclaimed. I mentioned that they still did.
Charlie knows his way around the bar. Come alone and he'll introduce you to whomever you sit next to. He's a ringleader; a facilitator. He also knows how to make a drink. In a city embracing top-shelf mixology to the tune of $12 cocktails, Charlie bangs out classic drinks for 7 to 8 bucks apiece.
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He told talking dog jokes the night I was in. And when asked, he spooned syrup from the maraschino jar into an aviation. Two women made him commit the sin. A syrupy sacrilege, sure, but he didn't care. Charlie just wants to keep his customers happy.
I drank rye from a tumbler etched with a TWA logo and read the mirrored sign that commanded me to "Try the Tacini! It's a taco. It's a panini." I was glad I wasn't hungry. "This guy was drunk in here and came up with it," Charlie told me. "Ground beef, pico de gallo, taco meat."
Charlie's divorced but stays tethered to his wife for the kid and the bar. Maybe more for the bar. The couple racked up a lot of debt when they first opened. Now they've got a feel for things and are making a profit, and things are evening out. But consistency is the hobgoblin of simple minds, according to Charlie; he's ready for a change. "The second my son turns 18 I'm moving back to New York," he said. He misses the walking. And the people. And the freaks.
I switched to beer and zoned out to the music while James Brown played in the background. And then Al Green, and then Cash, and then Ella. It's a fine jukebox. The best so far in Dallas.