Column #327 Mobile, Alabama
Friday, August 1, 2008
I am writing this from the Battle Hotel in the heart of the Mobile, Alabama Historic District. I’ve just returned from a night of darts just ten miles up the road, about halfway between Mobile Regional Airport and my hotel, one of the most historic in the Deep South.
Opened in 1852, burned to the ground in 1905, rebuilt and reopened in 1908, closed in 1974 and reopened again in 2007, the Battle House is known as the hotel where Southern hospitality began. Its history goes on and on…
In 1860, Stephen Douglas stayed here the night he lost the presidential election to Abraham Lincoln. In 1913, President Woodrow Wilson lodged here while in town to give a speech to the Southern Commercial Congress. In 1952, Elvis Presley holed up at the Battle House after he was kicked off of the fairgrounds for doing the “Shake”.
And it’s here where the famous Colonial Ballroom once brimmed with “revelers in sequined costumes, tablescapes with giant floral arrangements and finery” for the royalty of America’s original Mardi Gras well before New Orleans, just one hundred miles to the west, became the city most associated with the annual celebration.
Of course, I didn’t travel to Mobile for any of this crap. I mention it because it’s the gentlemanly thing to do down in these here parts. And at least appearing to be a gentleman is important if you want the fillies to take notice.
What I came here for was the darts.
The place to throw – the absolute only place to throw – is at Paddy O’Toole’s at 3692 Airport Blvd. The joint is proudly owned and operated by Herman and Ethel Rosenbaum and their son (who tends the bar) Shlomo.
Okay, that last sentence was a lie. Sorry. O’Toole’s is an IRISH bar through and through. In business for thirty years, the establishment is in every way unremarkable from the outside. It’s sandwiched in a little strip mall between a Firehouse Sub shop and a Chinese restaurant that probably serves Chihuahua soup. There’s no window. There are no flashing neon beer signs. There’s just a rusty old metal door in the middle of an empty cinder block wall. But on the other side of the door is a wonderful scene.
The room is long and narrow, dim and dirty, and it stinks. To the right is a long bar. It would appear that many of the patrons have been sitting at it since the place opened. In the back to the left is a small alcove with a pool table. Across from the bar are some tables and chairs, most of them singed from cigarette butts and sticky from drops of spilled beer.
To the immediate left of the entrance is the darts area. I’ve seen much worse. The lighting is fine. The oches (or what remains of them) are raised, kind of. There are chalkboards instead of those crappy-arse grease pen things that turn your fingers black and mess up your trousers when you wipe your fingers off on them and then piss off your wife when you get home after throwing darts all night, assuming you can find your way home. But I digress and write run-on sentences…
There are three boards, probably all 1970s originals, rock hard and indestructible even if blasted with one of them there rifles hidden under one of them there blankets in the back seat of one of them there pickups in the parking lot with the Confederate flag in the rear window.
Every one of my first few handfuls bounced out. So I turned the board and got down to business. Three hours later I had notched a half a dozen maximums, a highly unusual event in my darts book, and I was only interrupted once…
The intimidating bald dude in the sleeveless Crimson Tide shirt said his name was Bobby. But he left me alone when I explained that, even though after twenty beers I may have appeared to him to be a Jewish black dude somewhere I done didn’t belong, my name was actually Wilbur and I was just killing time trollin’ for fillies with teeth and waiting for NASCAR to start on television.
But the most remarkable thing about O’Toole’s is the money. Every inch of the walls, the front of the bar, and even parts of the ceiling, are plastered in dollar bills. There are thousands of them, all individually signed by whoever stuck them there. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Of course I had to leave the Dartoid mark. Being a Jewish black dude, at least in Bobby’s eyes, I found a bit of discarded gum, affixed it to a quarter, stuck the quarter on the wall and then… stole the quarter and raced back to the Battle House.
It was a good night at O’Toole’s, it really was. It’s a friendly place, different for sure, and worth a visit if you’re in the area (if for no reason other than it’s the only bar in town with a board).
It’s just not a stop I’m likely to make again in my lifetime.
From the Field,
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