Barfly is a column that celebrates old haunts and new hotspots of Los Angeles nightlife. Sometimes playgirl and former sex writer Nicky navigate hangovers and heartache, one bar at a time.
Around 9 PM on a Tuesday, after another tedious work day followed by an always-exhausting class in managerial accounting at the community college, I headed to a nearby bar called Foxfire Room for a first-time, face-to-face meeting with a guy I’ve been messaging for weeks.
The location was his suggestion, but when I arrived a few minutes ahead of him and looked around I thought, hey, I’ve been here before. My ex’s friend Doug, who worked at a movie theater and made comedic shorts on the side, would always celebrate his birthday here. Doug was a textbook cinephile, and cinephile’s love Foxfire Room: a Valley Village dive on Magnolia Boulevard, which serves as the namesake of the 1999 Paul Thomas Anderson film Magnolia. It’s well known that the bar is prominently featured in the film, although personally, I’ve never seen it.
Even without watching the film, Foxfire’s popularity makes sense to me on a pragmatic level. It meets all the standard requirements: it’s too dark, the bar is the perfect height, and there are purse hooks, coat hooks and foot rests. The stools have backs and armrests so you can really settle into your seat and get comfy. There’s a jukebox, scattered dartboards, and snacks you can buy in a pinch. The bar is designed for settling in; once you’re here, you’re not going anywhere.
I ordered a beer along with a shot of whiskey to sip and immediately struck up a conversation with the bouncer and the bartender. The bouncer is a specimen of a man – chiseled, in his early forties, with a soothing voice and serious demeanor. The bartender, a quintessential jolly dad-type, brings me my drinks. (“There ya go, Nicole!”)
My “friend” arrived and ordered a bourbon neat, and we transitioned to a table in the middle of the bar. He was all smiles and youthful, starry-eyed, new-to-LA energy. It was immediately clear that we both loved to talk, and our conversation effortlessly pivoted from careers to relationship horror stories to our favorite Criterion Collection films. “Did you know the movie Magnolia was shot here?” he beamed, “I really love that film!”
“I did not!”
He was too green to have lost all of his innocence, too attractive to be completely non-threatening, and absolutely bursting with charm. He was a reader of books and a writer of things and after another round I was totally convinced this young man would accomplish whatever he wanted. Shit, I’d have hired him.
I’d known, well before our meeting, that he wasn’t the type who typically showed a romantic interest in me – his age, interests, and pretty face said it all. But perhaps I’d been too quick to judge, as he was kind and eager to talk about Hollywood and writing, and would regularly land on things we could, “do next time.” Growing steadily tipsy as the night lingered on, we got more comfortable.
I was having fun, but three hours in, I’d reached my limit. I closed my tab and said good night to the bouncer. I thanked the bartender (“See you soon, Nicole!”) and collected my things. My friend offered to walk me out, which I credited to his good manners at first, but when we got to my car, he hesitated.
I gave him a hug, then we hugged again, longer, and finally, mutually, went in for a kiss. It was unexpected, as nothing about our interaction at the bar felt sexual. A kiss, a kiss like this, screamed sex. It lingered, it escalated, it moved from my neck to my lips and chest, and culminated in a wildly passionate embrace as we stood pressed together on a dark street right off Magnolia Boulevard. I was left short of breath and stumbling for my keys, and as I drove off I felt as though the whole evening had been on the cusp of something bigger. Apparently the feeling was mutual, because when I got home we continued to exchange sexually-charged messages into the early morning hours.
The clock struck 9PM and again, I was seated at the bar at Foxfire on a Thursday — that coincidentally happened to be Halloween. The blend of normal folks and people in full-on costume surrounding me was comforting. It was livelier than I expected it to be. The bar was festively decorated, candy was being passed around, and everyone was having a good time.
I’d decided to go out after my accounting class again, though decidedly not a Halloween person. I just felt the urge to celebrate. I’d recently survived a bad car accident, which was par for the course in October, a historically difficult month for me that’s full of painful anniversaries, emotional ghosts, and skeletons from my past all begging to be dealt with at once. How perfect that October closes each year with drunk monsters and sexy devils openly drinking at bars. I felt relief as I settled comfortably into my seat.
A slight man was sitting next to me, alone and happy, wearing an old detective-style trench coat. He looked over at me and tipped his glass slightly, in typical “hello there,” bar noir fashion. I too have become an expert at going out alone. I’d regularly done it in the past, but always while secretly on the prowl for a romantic connection. This year, I took deliberate time off from dating which has been hard and lonely, but far less emotionally damaging.
On one TV was the Clippers game and on the other, rotating coverage of the West Hollywood parade and the wildfires currently engulfing California. Our state burns again and again, but Halloween goes on, regardless.
“So you go to a lot of haunted houses?” I hear a bro to the right of me say to another. They continue to discuss various haunted houses around Los Angeles. I hadn’t realized this was a thing, but on the other hand, literally everything is a thing here, so why am I surprised? Their youth reminds me of my friend from a few weeks ago, the one with the charisma and the kiss. He only lives a few blocks away, I think. What if he walks in and sees me sitting alone at the bar with the trench coat man?
Despite the spark, I hadn’t heard from my friend again. Maybe he had a girlfriend or a lingering ex, maybe he had complicated stuff going on, or maybe he’s just a good drunk kisser with better things to do. Little of that has to do with me. Creating time, making space, having the desire to exert romantic energy, and your own personal hierarchy of needs — these elements all factor in when we meet someone new. We pick and choose who we give those things to, and though some people are confident and forthright about their intentions, others play their cards close to their chest (myself included).
Usually it’s after I sleep with someone that I never hear from them again, but things are different lately. I’ve been asking myself – what am I getting out of this? What’s in it for me? My time away from romance has put things into perspective.
My panic subsides after realizing there is no way my friend would show up here, on Halloween of all nights. If he isn’t the type to try to fuck me after a mind-blowing first kiss, then he isn’t the type to cruise his local bar on the biggest party holiday of the year. I’m that type.
The man in the trench coat is now talking to an older woman wearing a butterfly costume while “Monster Mash” plays in the background. I think to myself, good for him.
It’s a little after 9 PM and I’d just dropped a girlfriend off to meet a date in Hollywood. I didn’t feel like going home quite yet, still high from the new-love-interest energy transferred onto me by her pre-date enthusiasm, so I decided to have a nightcap at Foxfire before heading home to Echo Park. I entered through the back, made my way down the hall towards the bar, and when the striking bouncer stopped me I noticed a tinge of familiarity sweep across his face. “Wait, you come here, right?”
“I do!” I replied, cheerfully. He smiled and waved my ID away, motioning for me to come on in.
I took off my coat and got comfortable once again. Claude, a financial advisor from Woodland Hills, introduced himself immediately. Small talk ensues, and we begin to exchange pleasantries about growing up in the valley. Eventually I tell him I’m an accountant, and he proceeds to do what many men do when they learn I’m an accountant – explain my job to me in great detail. In an attempt to change the subject I asked, “Do you come here often?”
“Yeah, I do. Hey, did you know they filmed the movie Magnolia here?”
“I didn’t.” I wanted to tell Claude that not only was the film named after the very street we’re drinking on, but it was also named after a term coined by writer and researcher of strange phenomena Charles Fort. He referred to “Magonia” as a mystical place in the sky where things are kept until they fall to earth. Apparently the film relies heavily on Fortean themes and unexplainable events but again, I’ve never seen it. Paul Thomas Anderson may have many layers, but I got the feeling that Claude did not.
Over one vodka soda with lemon, we chatted about 401Ks, Money Market savings accounts, and creating a diverse portfolio. When I ask the jolly, dad-like bartender to close out my tab, Claude handed me his business card and suggested I reach out the next time I’m around. I thanked him for the conversation and say goodbye.
I’m not going to call Claude. Even if I’d let him walk me out, even if I’d kissed him, his card would make its way to the bottom of my purse unused because I don’t have the desire to make time, create space, or exert any romantic energy. He’s clearly not for me, just like I’m not for everyone. While driving home it hits me: that’s it! I’m just not for everyone. Foxfire Room, however, is exactly my type and as it turns out, I’ve gotten a lot out of that one-time, late-night, cinematic kiss. Maybe I’ll even get around to watching Magnolia someday.