Slaters: Crossing The River Styx

Photo: Sarah McKiernan

If you’re not drunk, you’re not ready for Slaters. Come with mates. The bigger the group, the better. Ideally, you’ll all be between the ages of sixteen and twenty, freshly tipsy from a few hours of pre-drinking. The night doesn’t begin at Slaters, but it can be made there.

Slaters is a small bar in Liverpool. Of Slater Street, without the apostrophe. It’s got a vague claim of Irish heritage but no pride in the claim. It’s situated in the thick of it, a stone’s throw away from the Seel Street nightclubs: Heebie Jeebies, Peacocks and La’Gos. This measurement of distance is not an approximation, it’s been empirically verified by the punters who frequent Slaters.

To enter Slaters sober is to see things you should never see. You see these things when you’re drunk too, but inebriation does wonders for lowering the standards of your own humanity. As Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys once sang, “you couldn’t have done that on a Sunday.”

The correct mode of entrance is the stumble. Up three or four steps, depending on how good your counting is. Flash the I.D. to the heavies on the door, a nervy moment if you’re borrowing a faded out passport with someone else’s face on it. Everyone has their own method, but I personally liked to memorise not only the name and birth date on the passport but the corresponding star sign. Sometimes I even made up a little titbit about the middle name.

“Can you believe my Mum was thinking of calling me Gerald? Thank fuck it’s just me middle name.”

The bouncer doesn’t care. He’s too busy perving on girls from the vantage of the top step. Girls in tiny dresses wearing skyscraper stilettos, lathered in makeup and St. Tropez fake tan. Most have got the thick Scouse brow, and their fake eyelashes are so extensive that they could qualify as prosthetic limbs. Cleopatra can’t touch a Scouse girl on a night out.

You step through the door. You’re in. When you’re not yet 18, getting into a bar using someone else’s I.D. is the sweetest victory life can offer. When you’re over 18, you’d do anything to recapture the feeling, the swell of energy, immediately pushed down lest you give yourself away. Play. It. Cool.

After the adrenaline of getting in, your senses adjust. Heat. Too much of it. Bodies packed around you. Strange smells that can’t be identified. TV screens with the horse racing on. Why? You’re in no state to find out. Apparently some people don’t treat Slaters as their River Styx – the jumping point to a night on the tiles – but as their final destination. Such people lost their way long ago.

You head towards the bar in the next room. Go left and you have to push past a wall of people. Go right and you have to take an interior bridge adjacent to the toilets. You go right and catch sight of the door-deprived bathroom. The so-called urinal is a trough filled with assorted vomit.

Instead of taking this as a warning, a metaphorical sign-post labelled “Go No Further”, for some reason you’ve now got an urgency to go deep into the dark woods of depravity, to stay the night at the rickety mansion in the middle of nowhere of your soul. Onwards Christian soldier: here we fucking go.

The bar is in sight and the jukebox rings out. Thin Lizzy or The Strokes. As you mill past bodies towards your destination, your shoulders get wet. We’re in the splash zone, and drinks are flying. You spot your mates eking their way forward to the bar and urge them on with a nod. You spot the dickhead from school. Depending on your drunken disposition, he’s either the worst person in the world or he’s actually, not a bad lad, really, if you think about it.

You get the nod to order. Finally, the reason we’re all here: the quadvod. That’s four shots of vodka for four English pounds, plus a mixer of your choosing. Four shots. Four pounds. Mixer. You get it, right? They don’t have a “College of Knowledge” sign on the wall for nothing. The source of all knowledge sloshes before you.

Slaters was not built for these times, or indeed, any times. Previously served in one receptacle, the quadvod is now split between two smaller glasses and accompanied by a larger glass, which is empty. It is illegal for the barstaff to serve the quadvod as was originally intended. If you want to spend the night at the rickety, haunted mansion that’s up to you, they’re merely handing you the keys to your own downfall.

And there will be a downfall, be sure of that. Come tomorrow morning, the hangover will be awe-inspiring. A quadvod is essentially a haemorrhage in a glass. “Smooth, fresh, delicious.” All vodka adverts on TV should end with the narrator being forced to down three shots before repeating the promises of taste quality to the nation. “Smooth, fresh, delicious.” But tomorrow morning is an abstract concept, and you sip away at the concoction disguised slightly by a Red Bull mixer.

You trot down the winding metal staircase to the basement. The floor is sticky and the ceiling is low and all your friends are there. You huddle together and swap stories and make jokes and drink drinks. Smiles abound as the headiness kicks in. Someone starts to sway to a tune, another is already slumped on a chair with sleepy eye-lids flittering. You know it won’t be long until you all head out to Heebie Jeebies to dance to some Motown classics.

Before you leave you spot a photo being taken in the corner of the basement. Three girls your age lined up in identical pose for a photo. They face the camera from the side, their elbow on their hip, as if caught half way through the ‘I’m a little tea-pot’ song. They’ve got the handle but they don’t have a spout; it’s essentially a mug shot. And as you look at them, and you drink some more, and you turn to your friends, and you catch the end of a meandering story, you wonder if there will ever come a time when you won’t be able to tolerate the charms of Slaters. But the thought passes and you drink again because tomorrow morning is an abstract concept.

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