Everything must Go

Sunday's closing-night auction at the Go Lounge was the cue for the downtown crowd to wallow in wistful nostalgia, but it wasn't nearly as sad a bon voyage as it could have been. Many an establishment has waved goodbye after a final, bittersweet purge of its inventory; at least this one took place with the owners' knowledge, during business hours and without the involvement of a crowbar.

Even before the bar opened its doors for the last time at 6 p.m., bidders milled about the front walkway, waiting to get their hands on the treasures that lay inside. Two of them -- unassuming-looking guys in shorts and T-shirts -- loudly complained that the lots weren't available for early preview. "I've got a buyer on the line from Tokyo!" one howled in frustration, his cell phone seemingly stuck to his ear.

If Japan needed beer signs and bar stools that badly, it would have to face some formidable competition. Once we were inside, I sat next to a representative of one of the major theme parks, a bearded gentleman who was poring over the list of available mementos. Whatever he was looking for, I doubt it was Lot No. 10, described in our notes as "2 rickety, nasty ass gold chairs." You don't see that sort of glowing praise in a Sotheby's catalog.

As the furniture pieces in question were hauled to the stage, we both noticed that their upholstery was as tattered and suspiciously stained as the auction sheet had implied.

"Send them to the cleaners first," he nudged me, grinning.

"Send them to a priest," I amended.

Splitting heirlooms

Maybe he was turned off by the earthy nature of the merchandise, but my corporate friend disappeared after only 27 of the 100 items were snapped up. In his absence, much of the remaining ephemera went to Go staffers and regular customers, who were intent on taking home souvenirs of the hazy but fondly remembered nights they had spent in the club. Sentimental value drove a wooden "Happy Hour" sign to a whopping $185, and a young blond woman shelled out $170 for a cherished spanking paddle that came with complimentary whacks on the backside from bartender Thom Butler.

I found it both touching and amazing that the employees were ready, willing and able to pony up huge sums for tangible reminders that an era of their lives was coming to a close. Where are these people getting all that money? I pondered. The tips can't have been that great.

The bidding was fierce but friendly, with participants graciously dropping out when it became clear that one of their number had his or her heart set on a particular object. Occasionally, however, tenacity reared its head. "What are your plans for this thing?" one hopeful buyer challenged another as a window frame edged toward $40. Neither cared that their Holy Grail had been advertised by the auctioneer as "the crappy one" among several similar frames.

A bidding farewell

The final lots were the most eagerly awaited: "dream dates" with members of the staff. For a week, I had wondered what these mysterious singles' outings would entail. A server at the neighboring Harold & Maude's Espresso Bar hadn't known either, but jokingly assured me that "sexual favors" would likely be part of the deal. After all, these were the same people who had cheerfully posed in the buff for one of the company's most notorious print ads.

As it turned out, only the male members of the team were put on the block, in dinner-and-drinks packages that garnered between $30 and $150 after much coaxing of the reluctant audience. My own cab fare was safe. I love these guys as much as anyone else, but I'm not letting any of them take me out for hummus until they get their tattoos removed.

After more than four hours of stakes-raising excitement, the total monies earned were just under $5,000. The big winner was Artistry owner Bret Ashman, whose acquisitions included the bar itself (for $1,000) and some 300 unopened beers (only $200, with 21 Buddha glasses thrown in to sweeten the pot).

Ashman told us he'd incorporate the fixtures into his space at Magnolia Avenue and Central Boulevard, moving his retail business to the third floor and opening up a bar at ground level sometime between Dec. 10 and Jan. 15. His newly acquired baubles would form a Go Lounge tribute area that would perpetuate the nightspot's name (and its spirit).

"I saw you taking all those notes, and I was worried you were going to outbid me at the last minute," Ashman kidded me.

Not to fret. Even if I had that kind of money to toss around, I'd never interfere with anyone's plans to keep the Go going in one form or another. At least not without calling Tokyo first.