Tavern on Camac

A quiet night of cocktails gets derailed by a piano-playing gypsy.

By Gerry Christopher Johnson
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 1 | Posted Apr. 15, 2010

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Photo by PW Staff

I have accomplished quite a bit in my clubbing career, much of it unsavory. There’s the time I went to Key West and got my Hottentot Venus on, exposing my bird chest to the thirsty patrons’ perverse delight. And then there’s the time I vomited on a stripper who didn’t understand that “no” doesn’t mean “do a split.”

In fact, it seems like only last week—perhaps because it was—I shared an illicit, vodka and CeCe Peniston-induced dance with a stranger with no shirt and no boundaries—as my significant other watched in horror from across the room.

The next morning, as I lamented my throbbing head and swirling stomach, I knew that ObamaCare alone couldn’t put my body—and my relationship—back together. I realized that I needed not only a health care overhaul, but also nightlife reform.

As experienced as I am in the art of getting down, one thing I've never done is simply sat down, shut up and enjoyed my cocktail. An understated night of piano music and aperitifs at Tavern On Camac seemed like the perfect opportunity for redemption. No more grinding to CeCe Peniston for this hot bod.

Despite my resolve, several ominous events warned me to stay home. As I pulled my jeans over my ashy knees—lotion is a luxury I’d rather not waste on Sunday nights, when I keep my pants on in deference to the Lord—I was disappointed to hear the rain pounding the pavement, as well as Action News announce a flash flood warning. Surely, thrashing against the doors of a Honda Civic as my lungs fill with rain water would not make for the most elegant of evenings. I said a prayer and decided to put on Jergens and clean underwear. You know, just in case.

A freshly made friend—the only one underemployed enough to accompany me on a Sunday night—didn’t set the classiest tone when he pulled up to a gas station to urinate behind it. He then felt compelled to share an anecdote about recently beating up a married couple that harassed him at the pump. We’ll now refer to this special friend as Sunoco.

However, neither a natural disaster nor a potential psychopath could derail my plans. Nothing could stop me now.

Nothing, except for show tunes.

As I approached Tavern on Camac, my optimism was shattered when I heard a chorale of voices belting, “Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes!” from inside.

“What’s going on in there?“ I asked the doorman.

“Oh, I think it’s show tunes night,” he said.

Black and under 30, I shuddered in disgust.

But I had already weathered too much to get here. There was no turning back.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Broadway sing-off was coming from upstairs, the ground floor virtually empty. With the Bob Fosse fanatics out of sight, Operation Classy was still in effect.

A series of events, however, made for a rocky start to the night, beginning with our trip to the restroom

“You guys better buy a drink!” a mysterious voice yelped behind us as we stood at the urinals. The voice belonged to a strange, pint-sized white man whose lollipop kid stature startled us as much as his random reprimand. The mad hatter then disappeared as quickly as he came.

An impassioned “Oh hell naw!” roared from Sunoco’s lips, finally breaking the post-pee silence. I could read the race-related thoughts running through his mind as he dashed out of the bathroom with violent purpose.

Luckily, when I caught up with him, the bartender had already defused the situation, apologizing for the overzealous barback, and saving Tavern on Camac from the fate of Rosewood—or worse, that of a married couple at a gas station.

Shaken up by the night’s preliminary shenanigans, I ordered a cranberry and vodka and cozied up to the piano, where I figured trouble couldn’t find me.

Behind the keys sat an alluring older woman named Ghosha. Her business card said “song stylist,” but her aura said gypsy. Her straight, jet-black hair, purple eye shadow and smoky voice that cracked in all the right spots were infectious. I found myself attracted to her mystery.

“Ghosha, are you gay?” I asked.

“Honey, I’m everything,” she replied.

Indeed she was.

While I enjoyed her singer-songwriter set, I asked Ghosha to switch it up, play something for the homies.

When she launched into a version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” I wanted to be Marvin Gaye to her Tammy Terrell. But first I had to practice. And to pee again.

In the restroom, I rehearsed like it was my big night. But just when my Luther Vandross séance started to kick off, my phone tumbled down onto the urinal cake. “Does the three-second rule apply to this situation?” I wondered, aghast.
I snatched my phone out of the porcelain and fled straight to the bar for another drink. My goal for a sophisticated night out was running on empty.

When I got back to the piano, I was ready. “Mama, I want to sing!” I proclaimed. The chitlin circuit reference was lost on Ghosha. Still, she played the perfect song.

“You make me feel!” we belted in unison on the tiny bench, she banging furiously at the keys, me playing air piano.
“You make me feel!”

I then turned to Ghosha and admitted, “You make me feel like a natural woman, Ghosha.” She seemed touched. Or perhaps disturbed; it was hard to tell.

Finally, I could be a slave to the piano bench no longer. I had Sunoco take my seat and I stepped up to the standing mic and crowned myself lead singer. The three of us wailed into the night, a trio of Arethas, complete with bigger-than-life egos and unchecked diabetes.
When the song came to a close, I realized I had failed like a CeCe Peniston comeback album: I had neither sat down nor shut up as I had originally set out to do.

I was, however, enjoying my cocktail. One out of three ain’t too shabby. 

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1. Ghosha said... on Apr 28, 2010 at 12:32AM

“Thank you for letting me be part of your classy evening!”


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