Hotel bars are magical. They’re transient places, where road-weary travelers can drink and spill fantastical stories about their lives to strangers they’ll never see again. You can be anyone. You can take on any persona. Passing through town on important business? Sure. On an around-the-world vacation? Why not.
Friday night I was in the mood to eavesdrop on conversations and reinvent myself. So I tested out this scenario, seeking out the characters and tales you can only encounter at temporary, roadside lodgings. I visited the most exciting hotel bar I could find: The one inside the Motel 6 in Bay Minette.
Bay Minette’s Motel 6, located 21 miles north of Interstate 10, has a bit of a reputation on TripAdvisor, where the hotel itself is rated a 2 out of 5. Ryan E. said the on-site bar was “extremely loud and kept us up all night.” Cecil S. called it a “nightclub/bar” and said it was “inside the hallway area, so the hallway and office absolutely REEK of cigarette smoke so if smoke makes you ill like it does me, be forewarned!” On Expedia, a reviewer said “people [were] coming and going at all hours.”
I expected a lobby bar in the traditional sense. But it is not. You have to walk through the lobby of the Motel 6, sure, but then you need to follow the sound of thumping tunes down the fluorescent-lit hallway to a pair of blacked-out doors with no hint as to what is behind them.
Inside, it is truly a wild change of scenery. The bar, named The Host Sports Bar, more accurately resembles a Texas honky tonk. There’s a wooden stage, where, tonight, patrons are singing karaoke, a dance floor, where couples are two-stepping under laser lights and a peculiarly large number of men in cowboy hats talking about the rodeo.
This was not your typical hotel bar. It had a claw machine filled with stuffed animals. And a darts league that meets there on Monday nights. I sat down at the bar and got the distinct impression I was the first person who had “passed through” in months. (Later, when I asked someone if he was staying at the hotel, he seemed confused. “This is a Motel 6?” he asked.)
I leaned over to the woman sitting next to me, who was sipping from a bottle of Bud Light and a plastic cup filled with a neon blue swill.
“Whacha drinking?” I asked.
“A Blue Motherf*cker,” she said, laughing. She hollered at the bartender: “What’s in this?”
The bartender told me it had a long list of spirits in it like a Long Island iced tea, but this one is blue.
“What’s your name?” my new drinking buddy asked.
“I’m Janice,” she said, reaching out to shake my hand. “Where are you from?”
I’m terrible at improv. So much for my made-up persona.
“Do you know Kirk Jay? He was on ‘The Voice.’ He sings down there. I go to church with his momma.”
I did not know Kirk. We compared notes on the surnames I did know in Foley. She seemed satisfied and introduced me to her friends, who were chain-smoking Black & Milds.
Meanwhile, I was thirsty. I studied the backbar. There was a Jäger Shotmeister, which keeps the black digestif at its ideal, low temperature for aiding digestion, a Red Bull fridge stocked with at least four flavors, a dozen brands of domestic beers and zero, from what I could see, cans of trendy spiked seltzer.
I noticed a few cases of Smirnoff Ice Original in the beer fridge. It had been at least a decade since I had cracked one of those malted beverages open, so I ordered a bottle. The cloudy drink tasted familiar, like a Sprite, with more body. Cold, sweet and carbonated. Just like I remembered. Smirnoff Ices came out in 1999, before liquor brands needed to gussy up their alcohol with exotic flavors. This was the O.G. The Original. It was practically retro.
A man asked me to dance to Chris Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey.” I politely declined. Another asked what I was doing there. I claimed to just be passing by. From Foley? “That’s a lie if I ever heard one,” he said, grinning. “You’re too quiet. You’re making people nervous.”
Everyone here seemed to know everyone here, and I got to know them too. Janice’s friends were named Ugly Boy (a nickname, I hoped) and Raphael, who was wearing sunglasses at 9 p.m. Ugly Boy asked if I wanted to be related. I politely declined. Raphael leaned in close: “You don’t need to pay for a drink for the rest of the night. If you need somebody to love you, I’m here.”
Yes, this was an intoxicated man proclaiming his love to a stranger at a hotel bar, but it felt genuinely sweet. Probably because I had spent the day as I do most days, texting with a man I had met on Bumble, trying to be especially clever and funny and cool. It’s an exhausting exercise, this calculated performance, of trying to make a man love you who will never even like you. Raphael loved me and I hadn’t even needed to whip out my online dating persona.
“Thank you,” I said, holding a hand to my heart. “That is very kind.”
After a few more nostalgic Smirnoff Ices (they only cost $2.50 apiece and the credit card minimum was $10), I slipped out around midnight. Raphael was on stage belting out Brett Young’s “In Case You Didn’t Know.” Maybe I was on a malt beverage sugar high, but I felt content. I liked The Host. I didn’t have to put on an act there. I just had to be myself. And at the Motel 6 bar in Bay Minette, that was more than enough.
In retrospect, though, they may have been so friendly because they thought that I, a single woman hanging out at a Motel 6 on a Friday night, was a sex worker.
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