Columbus, Ohio USA
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To Alice Faye and the Caravan Bar
By Tom Thomson
July 1998 Issue
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Alice Faye King
When an old-time bar closes, some people have been known to say it's not very different from suffering through the death of a friend. Maybe worse because it might involve the loss of many friends – leaving only a treasure chest of memories.
That's about the way it was when the last shot was poured and the final bottle of beer was pulled out of the cooler at the Caravan Bar early last May.
The reason for closing? The building owner had been upgrading the residences over and behind the Caravan. It's called urban renewal, you know, gentrification, revitalizing the neighborhood. But whatever the name, it invariably leave some people behind in the dust.
The bar and one-time restaurant had been at the corner of Fourth and High for years. It was nothing fancy, at least in recent years. Old wood, brick, a bar that ran the length of the long dimly lit room. Booths, two pool tables toward the rear, restrooms barely above code. A wash basin and mirror ouside the above-mentioned doors.
Behind the bar there was the usual collection of beer signs, an unused popcorn machine, and a digital sign whose running letters spelled out birthdays, anniversaries, and assorted announcements.
It was only a short time before its closing that I first visited the Caravan. I'd always heard it was a biker's bar, an easy place to get in a fight. But it wasn't like that at all.
On most nights that I was there, it seemed everybody knew everybody else. Neighborhood people. Old men whose lives were mostly already used up. Restless souls seeking someone to talk to for a few hours, maybe enjoy a laugh or two. Searching for solace, if not a panacea.
Women inhabited the Caravan too, just not as many, most of them younger than the men, some trading sexual favors for grocery money. Most of them were fun to flirt with and talk to, working girls, you might say, less deceitful than many of their counterparts living in the suburbs.
On most nights, proprietress Alice Faye King could be found at the business end of the bar. She was the owner/operator of the Caravan for over six years. Before that she ran the Dutch Cafe, the location of the present Chelsie's.
Alice was good-humored, perfectly coifed, and usually dressed like she had just come from a fancy dinner party. She frequently helped out whoever was tending bar, and she wasn't above restoring order when things got a little too rowdy. On rare occasions, she would steer a troublemaker out the door with the help of her husband, Wayne, or one of her sons. She knew most of the patrons by name.
Most nights when I was there things were peaceful enough. A few of the patrons might have gotten a little noisy. Acted a little crazy. Uninhibited might be a better word. Same with the girls. Sometimes sassy or saucy or coquettish.
I enjoyed my visits because it reminded me of some bars I briefly knew during my navy days. Famous and infamous places like the Blue Moon in Newport, Rhode Island. Like rough and tough dives in San Pedro, California, where my ship was commissioned. Or honky-tonks in Tijuana, Maila, and Noumea. And before and after that, bars along High Street south of the OSU campus.
During my college days and for a few years afterwards, my friends and I frequented such establishments as the Heidelberg South, Ben's Tavern, Kitty's Show Bar, the Brazil Club, and others. Of course, there were also high class places: the Jai Lai and Carollo's for instance. Places to take heavy dates.
Going way back, I remember one evening when I was about 17, a couple of buddies and I talked our way into the Palm Garden, a High Street nightclub about where the Kroger Store now is that was run by the Alexander family. It's said that Dean Martin once sang there with a group. That was before he became famous.
Anyhow, that night I had my first beer, and during the floor show, saw my first naked lady. Well, naked except for pasties. A night to remember.
So you can see, I'm an incurable romantic. A sailor at heart, even before I ever saw the sea.
Goodbye, Caravan. Goodbye, Alice Faye, Goodbye, fellow vagabonds.
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