Beer & Loathing

Journey into the last, real neighborhood bar on the Beach. It's nothing like Cheers.

Rafael works construction and Rick handles air cargo. They spend most of their nonworking hours at the Cove, gambling, horsing around. Rafael is a Boston Red Sox fanatic, always wearing the team's hat and jersey. His wife died recently and now he lives with his mother. He doesn't have a lot of friends but he's found a position on the Cove team.

"These guys work long shifts and take three days off and then they'll stay around for a day or two, talk trash -- you know, big mouths," Jaco says. "They love sports. They love to talk about this and that, love to bet on the games. Rafael knows pretty much everything about sports. When I look at a guy like that, he must be a good guy. He's not the kind of guy that will get trashed and hit somebody in the head. I don't think alcohol is really why he's here. It's the social life."

They're here during Monday Night Football and stay through daytime baseball, golf, and tennis. Many participate in the Friday marathon that stretches from right after work past the Ninja Turtles, looking all too real, on the tube Saturday morning. There is no last call.

Jaco comes in at 4:00 p.m. to relieve a bartender, and one of the first things he does is pull a spiral notebook from a shelf beneath the cash register. The slot-machine ledger lists the players and their credit points. Jaco translates those points into cash and counts out each person's winnings from the register. On one afternoon Jaco handed cash to four men seated around the bar.

Like the jukebox, Jaco leases the slot machines that are located in many bars and are legal when used for "amusement only," when winners don't get cash for points. Sal, a small-time slot player, bets no more than $20 a day. But from what he's seen at the Cove, he estimates that Jaco is raking in $3000, maybe $4000 a day on the three machines, which will accept five-, ten-, and twenty-dollar bills.

The bar owner laughs at the amount. "Yeah, $5000, $6000, $7000" he says, inflecting each number at a higher pitch. "If I was making that kind of money I'd be outta here in a heartbeat."

A couple of regulars are playing pool; two others play the slots. What Skinny Frank is missing in front teeth he makes up for with talent on the pool table. He hustles playing one-handed.

Mick has a clip of twenties in his trouser pocket and is feeding the slot machine every five minutes; he's been playing since 2:00 a.m. His life as an itinerant waiter is a rut: work, smoke pot, drink beer, snort coke, hook up with whores, gamble-gamble-gamble. Mick plays the slots for twelve- and sixteen-hour stretches, once a week. Nursing a draft beer, smoking Marlboros and tap-tap-tapping the four bet buttons on the box. He's played 30 to 40 times in the last nine months, since moving to the neighborhood, and he claims to have bet $2500. He's made back about $1000. Once at the Cove he scored 10,000 points on a cherry flush worth $500. "It's foolish, no doubt," says Mick, acknowledging that nobody can beat the house in the long run. "But it takes my mind off my personal and financial problems. And there's always a chance -- of course, very small -- that I'll win."

The occasional encounter with prostitutes and strippers at the Cove is another perk for some regulars. The licentious bartender who stripped on the bar last year is still fresh Cove lore. "I tell you, she had a perfect body," Jaco remembers, shaking his head slowly. "She mooned this guy right in his face and he dropped his beer bottle. Ah, it was beautiful. It was, well, it was the right thing to do. She'd do anything, whatever it takes to bring the guys here." The bodacious bartender was tipped $50 for that single performance. She made friends quickly, but she wasn't loyal.

"After work she was really down on those guys, kind of cold, and the guys got upset," says Jaco, explaining her demise. "She'd tell them, 'Look at you. What are you going to do, take me to McDonald's for dinner? You got nothing.'"

Sure, Jaco admits, there's the triangle of drugs-gambling-prostitution going on here, but, hey, that's part of the bar business. He swears he doesn't get a cut of the two-bit drug concession and that it's all done behind his back -- even though he's at the bar most of the day and has two hidden cameras monitoring the scene. Why would he condone drugs and prostitution? he asks. It's bad for business: If a guy walks in and buys cocaine, he'll probably not want to drink; if he does he'll buy a six-pack nearby and go home. Same with prostitutes. She takes a guy out of the bar, he loses a customer. "Drugs are cancer," Jaco proclaims. "The Miami Vice days are over. Nobody dresses like that any more."

Jaco portrays himself as a hard-working family man. Up at 4:30 a.m. and at the bar by 5:00 a.m. every day to restock and clean. That's another reason for staying open around the clock, he says -- companionship in the wee hours. "I bond with these guys easily," he says. "If you approach them as a big shot, they'll challenge you. But if you get dirty, they respect that. You always take care of the people that take care of you."

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