In Oakland, California, up the street from the Grand Lake Theater, the boring shop windows of the numismatist and the vacuum cleaner mechanic part for a dark wooden cottage at 3325 Grand Avenue. This unprepossessing joint dates from the end of Prohibition. Above the fa├žade is the silhouette of an arched alley cat. A neon sign sticks out over the sidewalk, proclaiming The Alley.

Past the narrow swinging doors, the bar is on the right, under a shingled overhang. Booths are on the left, each one separated by what looks like a worn wood fence and decorated by layer upon layer of business cards. Deep in the back there is a piano, where Rod Dribble has been tickling the ivories and helping the meek find their voice for some 42 years. When things are a bit slow, Rod himself takes a turn, singing too closely into the microphone, sounding scratchy.

Oh yes, The Alley is a piano bar. In the early week, the pretty pairs of lungs come out just before midnight. On weekends, the place lights up around 10pm, rarely does Rod have to toe the pedal switch that cuts the mic when someone is a little too enthusiastic about their "singing".

A simple and cheap bill of fare is available for dinner, before the kitchen closes at 9pm: iceberg salad or french fries run $2; a cheeseburger or steak sandwich can be had for $4; fried chicken for $9; or a porterhouse steak for $12. Drinks run $3-4 and the bartenders are good with the basics, but don't order anything new or different. (A decent selection of beer is available bottled, but why would you want to drink beer when you're at a piano bar?)

Dark Sundays and Mondays.

The Alley

I

In ev'ry Town, where Thamis rolls his Tyde,
A narrow Pass there is, with Houses low;
Where ever and anon, the Stream is ey'd,
And many a Boat soft sliding to and fro.
There oft' are heard the notes of Infant Woe,
The short thick Sob, loud Scream, and shriller Squall:
How can ye, Mothers, vex your Children so?
Some play, some eat, some cack against the wall,
And as they crouchen low, for bread and butter call.


II

And on the broken pavement, here and there,
Doth many a stinking sprat and herring lie;
A brandy and tobacco shop is near,
And hens, and dogs, and hogs are feeding by;
And here a sailor's jacket hangs to dry.
At ev'ry door are sun-burnt Matrons seen,
Mending old nets to catch the scaly fry;
Now singing shrill, and scolding eft between;
Scolds answer foul-mouth'd scolds; bad neighbourhood I ween.

III

The snappish cur, (the passengers annoy)
Close at my heel with yelping treble flies;
The whimp'ring girl, and hoarser-screaming boy,
Join to the yelping treble, shrilling cries;
The scolding Quean to louder notes doth rise,
And her full pipes those shrilling cries confound;
To her full pipes the grunting hog replies;
The grunting hogs alarm the Neighbours round,
And curs, girls, boys, and scolds, in the deep base are drown'd.

IV

Hard by a Sty, beneath a roof of thatch,
Dwelt Obloquy, who in her early days
Baskets of fish at Billinsgate did watch,
Cod, whiting, oyster, mackrel, sprat, or plaice:
There learn'd she speech from tongues that never cease.
Slander beside her, like a Magpie, chatters,
With Envy, (spitting Cat) dread foe to peace;
Like a curs'd Cur, Malice before her clatters,
And vexing ev'ry wight, tears clothes and all to tatters.

V

Her dugs were mark'd by ev'ry Collier's hand,
Her mouth was black as bull-dogs at the stall:
She scratched, bit, and spar'd ne lace ne band,
And bitch and rogue her answer was to all;
Nay, e'en the parts of shame by name would call:
Yea when she passed by or lane or nook,
Would greet the man who turn'd him to the Wall,
And by his hand obscene the porter took,
Nor ever did askance like modest Virgin look.

VI

Such place hath Deptford, navy-building town,
Woolwich and Wapping, smelling strong of pitch;
Such Lambeth, envy of each band and gown,
And Twick'nam such, which fairer scenes enrich
Grots, statues, urns, and Jo---n's Dog and bitch,
Ne village is without, on either side,
All up the silver Thames, or all adown;
Ne Richmond's self, from whose tall front are ey'd
Vales, spires, meandring streams, and Windsor's tow'ry pride.

Alexander Pope, The Works (1736)

CST approved

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