Logan, who pretty much runs the Department of Public Works, which is the fancy name for the group of die-hards and worker bees who are building the city in the desert that will host the Burning Man event, was telling the crew gathered at the breakfast meeting the other day to behave when they are in the Black Rock Saloon, because the Black Rock Saloon is one of his favorite places on earth, and he doesn’t want anyone or anything screwing it up.
The Black Rock Saloon is in the middle of what passes for town in Gerlach. If you were just casually passing through, you’d definitely want to pop inside for a look around. There isn’t all that much in Gerlach, after all: A park named after and built around an old water tower; Brunos, a restaurant and bar that is the local equivalent of a multinational corporation, because it seems to have a hand in everything, plus two more drinking establishments: The Miner’s Club, and Joe’s Gerlach Club. That’s a lot of drinking for a small town, huh.
The Black Rock Saloon is different, though. You can’t just walk into it. A sign on the door lets you know that it’s not open to the public. It’s for the Burning Man community and their invited guests. In other words, you have to be connected to get inside. People have to know who you are.
It’s easy to see why Logan, and others, love the place so much: It’s a refuge. Yes, it’s mainly a bar, but it’s also a place for like-minded Black Rock souls to gather. It can be very very loud and rowdy and raucous. But it can also be very quiet, with someone playing a mandolin in the background and just a couple of quiet conversations going on.
There are several rooms to the place. The main one has a pool table and a long wooden bar that’s full of names carved onto the top of it. The first night I walked into the place last year, one of the guys drinking at the bar put an exclamation mark on the point he was he was making by slamming his knife into the top of the bar. The guy just let the knife stick there for half a minute or so in the hazy red light as if to say, “OK, pal, NOW do you see what I’m talking about?” I hadn’t heard a word he was saying, but nevertheless I found myself agreeing with him entirely.
There’s a big room off to the side of the bar, which is mainly a work space for Burning Man staff. But there’s also a line of computers against the wall, and lonely-hearted people or those needing to keep up with details in the default world can get connected. The Burners have brought free wifi to Gerlach, and the signal booms loud and strong in the Saloon.
There’s another room off the rear that has a large eating area, with long picnic tables that can be brought in to accommodate a big hungry crowd. Off of THAT room there’s an even more rarified space, a kind of sanctum sanctorum, the holy of holies. There’s a big-screen TV (not hi-def, though, one of those old projector types), a kitchen … and some really good liquor. I was directed there the other night when I was in powerful need of some Scotch.
You pretty much can get what you need in one of the rooms at the Black Rock Saloon, and your money is no good. The booze and beer and margaritas and vodka concoctions … they’re all free. It’s one of the perks you get if you’re one of the 150 or so people who give up their lives for a month to come build the city: You drink for free, at least for the first several nights while operations are still centered in Gerlach, and the crew hasn’t moved out to the playa yet.
In a lot of ways, the Black Rock Saloon is the Burner equivalent of a VFW hall. The vets gather to tell war stories and generally act out. The hard-asses and hard-living types that are drawn to Burning Man in the weeks before the event aren’t all that different from the yarn-spinning graybeards your local community center. They are proud of what they do, have respect for those who came before, and they’re not afraid of raising a fair amount of shit if the occasion warrants.