Otto's Garden Room

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Little Otto’s Garden Room

 ê My Last Fistfight ê I Hope ê

Little Otto’s Garden Room is located near Los Gatos, California along Bascom which shortly turns into Los Gatos Boulevard.

Los Gatos (translation: The Cats) is a hilly village that, when my parents were young, was in the middle of nowhere south of San Jose.  Today it is phenomenally expensive, upscale place to live along route 17.  Me, I live in Texas.

However, I spent 6 years doing heavy business in the area, staying at various hotels, renting cars, and moving to different hotels for a change of scenery.  The Los Gatos Lodge had been suggested to me and I loved its peaceful, colorful landscaped surroundings.  I spent about a year living at the Lodge.

To get to the Lodge, one path took me down Bascom.  One day, stuck in traffic, I crept to a halt right outside Little Otto’s Garden Room and scanned through the open doors and saw a pool table and players doing a pool player’s crouch dance around the table inspecting shots.  I mentally noted the location and vowed to return.

A few days later I returned and shot for an hour or so in this rustic, quiet, bar.  Modest food was available, the tables were decent and beer was available.  I had found a place away from home!  So I returned a few more times.

Little did I know that Little Otto’s Garden Room was a biker’s bar.  Yes, you’ve got it, a place where armies of Harleys arrive, bearing whatever humanity they bear, and arriving in a thunder of noise followed by silence as all engines are shut down. 

Their departure is even more impressive when 30 or 40 Harleys fire up at the same time.  They then single file onto Bascom like a funeral procession.  Once the first Harley gets into traffic all the rest follow like a string of beads, traffic lights becoming irrelevant.

Friday night, some time during 1986, was the fateful night.

Traffic ground to a halt and I decided to enter Little Otto’s for some pool.  The bikers had arrived much earlier and had parked around back, apparently, as they commonly did.  So from Bascom the place looked as if it only had a handful of cars or trucks in attendance.  I did not know they were there until I entered.

I approached the bar.  Nearly all the bikers were at tables, not too loud, and none were playing pool.  A couple of laborer types were playing pool and another table had the rows of quarters indicating it was the challenge table.  I ordered a beer.

Two fellas at the bar were arguing and it was getting pretty heated, but did not appear to be headed towards violence.  “Hey you!  Yeah, you!” was half-shouted to me.  “C’mere” and I apprehensively slid down the bar towards them. 

It turns out these two fellas were arguing about the relative benefits and merits of certain Harley Davidson engines.  One was an ardent supporter of the Panhead and the other was equally supportive of the Shovelhead version.  Now, until that moment (like a lot of you) I was totally unaware that there was a Panhead or Shovelhead anything out there in the World.  I would have guessed that they were sharks in the sea if I had been pressed.  “C’mere! We want you to be the judge.”  I saw absolutely no possibility of anything good happening from that point forward.

“Thumper here likes Panheads and I say Shovelheads have better (engine terms go here) and we want you to be the judge.” 

I responded that this was California, and seeing as I was now a California Judge, I was willing to dismiss all charges for the bribe of a beer.  They laughed and bought me a beer but I did not get off the hook.  Crap.

They proceeded to argue at length about the technical aspects of each engine and eventually it became time for the closing arguments.  “Buddy, (referring to me) I say I like Shovelheads MORE than he likes Panheads.  You are the judge.  What is your verdict?”  I sensed death and dismemberment.

How can you decide who likes something MORE than someone else likes something?  I’m doomed. 

I asked the first guy, taking charge like a judge would, WHY I should rule in his favor? 

He responded with a long list of engine attributes, which I shot down, saying the question is, why do you like it MORE than he likes his?   How many do you own?  Ever rebuilt one?  Name your kid after one?  Etc.

I turned to the second guy and he almost yelled, “I like Shovelheads more!”  I, being most judge-ly, asked for proof.  He tore open his shirt and he had a tattoo of a Shovelhead engine block on his chest.  No shit.  It even had a script “Shovelhead” tattooed underneath it for us idiots that are unable to distinguish a Shovelhead from an outboard motor.

Carlo sees a way out!  Turning back to the other guy, I ask to see his tattoo of his engine block.  He, thankfully, says he doesn’t have one.  “I hereby declare that this man loves Shovelheads more than that man love Panheads!  Court adjourned!”  About half the bikers laughed and raised their beers.

So I extract myself from their conversation, posted my quarters on the pool table, hit the head, and return to the far end of the bar closer to the pool tables.  The two arguers went off in some other direction and that episode was closed.  Little did I know that chapter two in Little Otto’s Garden Room was just about to commence as my quarters came up.

I begin to play 8-ball against a rather clueless player.  We are playing for $5.  This guy, some kind of construction worker based on his work boots and clothes, was pretty toasted.  I won.  There were no quarters behind, so I played again.  Another $5 to me.  Now he wants to play for $10.  OK, and eventually he misses and I run the rack.  Just as the game is about to finish, another set of quarters arrives from a new player.  He pays, but starts to curse me as I start to play the next player.  “Hey, he and I just played for $10, but for a beer or $5 is fine, too.  Your call.”  The incoming player will only play for a beer.  Fine by me.

Meanwhile the $20 Loser is sitting at the bar cussing me out to the bartender who is not very happy with Loser.  “Hey, man, you do this all the time.  This fella (me) didn’t drive over here to clip you out of $20, it just that your game sucks and his is good.”  Loser turns from the bar and starts yelling at me.  Apparently he wants to pick a fight.  A fistfight. 

Damn, I’m 40 years old, work in an office, and a construction worker wants to fistfight me over $20.  Loser starts yelling “HUSTLER!  THIS GUY IS A CHEATING HUSTLER!”  The biker crowd’s attention has been garnered.  Double crap.

Loser is off his stool and coming towards me in a threatening manner, so rather than get hit in the back of the head, I face him.  He stops just outside of arm length and is still yelling at me.  Then he is quiet.  His eyes glance to my right.  I half turn my head and peripherally see someone doing an unmistakable “cocking a bat” motion.  I now know a pool cue is about to be swung at the back of my head.  I pitch forward as the cue zings right over me and almost hits Loser.

“HEY!  You almost hit me!” yells Loser.  “Sorry, man,” says his Sneak-Attack accomplice; a fellow laborer I saw him chatting with at the bar.  I’ll be damned!  They plotted an attack, messed it up, and are now arguing about it while the battle they started is still in progress although no blows have been landed.

My left fist hit Loser squarely on his nose and he reels back crashing through bar stools and down.  I turn to face the Sneak-Attack runt who wanted to hit me with a pool cue.  He is a little guy compared to my 6’1” frame.  I head towards him and he back peddles to get away from my closing on him.  He trip over something and stumbles headlong, I mean butt-long, into the biker’s tables, spilling pitchers and mugs of beer everywhere.

A biker stands, puts his hand on Sneak-Attacker and says, “We’ll handle this ##hole who knocked over our beer!”  He and his none-too-petite girl (I think) friend started waling on Sneak-Attacker. 

I turn back to Loser, who has gotten up with his bloody nose and, gotta love his spirit, starts kicking at me. 

Here is the rhythm:  Loser kicks.  I block the kick and punch his nose.  Loser kicks.  I block the kick and punch his nose.  He reels back and I shoot out the door to my rent-car.  Dang, I can’t get the keys out fast enough.  Here comes Loser.

Loser and I resume the Kick-Punch routine out onto Bascom.  Here comes a vehicle.  I get off the road.  Loser stays out in traffic.  The pickup slams on his brakes, barely missing running over Loser, and Loser’s life and limbs are mystically spared for the moment.



The driver emerged yelling “What the @#$% are you doing?  I just banged up my wife’s knees!  She’s pregnant!”  Loser, staying in his rare congenial form, cussed at the driver!  The driver emerged into the headlights, must be 6’6”, 300, snags Loser by his shirt and starts poking him.

Carlo is free.

I get back to my car (Driver is still bashing Loser in the road) and I thought, if Driver kills Loser, the Cops would be looking for me.  I call the bartender who was near the door, and tell him “Check this out, he picked a fight with someone else!”  The bartender and a couple of bikers said “What a Loser.”  The bar half emptied to watch the road action. 

In 4 seconds, I said goodnight, fellas, thanks for the help, tossed $20 to the bartender, said to buy some replacement beer for the boys, and rode my trusty rent-car back to a quiet retreat at the Los Gatos Lodge.

As I lay my head down my bruised knuckles and bruised thighs began to ache.  “Forty years old?  Bar fighting over $20?  Potentially being involved in a death or two?  Maybe mine!  I'm a total moron, but damn that was fun!  Uhhhh, that is, now that it is over.”  I slept great.


But how could I be sure it was over?  I watched the papers for the following two weeks and there was no report of any missing persons or crime reports.  No bodies were found on Bascom.

About a year later I was in the area on business and curiosity got the best of me and I stopped in the Garden Room for the last time. 

I thought I’d be anonymous.  The bartender smiled at me and waved me over.  He said that was the last fight in this place since then.  Loser had lost 4 teeth to the truck driver.  Sneak-Attacker had his nose broken and lost two teeth.  The Bikers appreciated the entertainment.  Nothing in the Garden Room was broken.

 I instinctively put up quarters.

 Just then I could hear a procession of many, many, many Harleys looping around to the back parking lot.  I smiled at the possibilities, but concluded it was time for Carlo to leave.

 Little Otto’s Garden Room.  That is where I learned, for eternity, that a name can be very, very deceiving.   I wonder if my quarters are still there?


PS:  Otto's has apparently changed a bit.  No pool tables?  Dance floor?  (Ad found on the internet.)

         Otto's Garden Room
Dismount from your Harley and give your forearms a break by wrapping your hands around a cold one instead of a sticky clutch. Actually, Otto's used to be a biker bar, but the clientele varies now. Hand-poured shots. Dance floor, jukebox (10 tunes for a buck), video games, darts. Biscuits and gravy. Smoking/cigars. Cash only. H/A. Free parking. Open M-Th 10am-2am; F-Su 8am-2am. Happy hour: 10-11am.
15043 S. Bascom Ave, SJ (408/356-9760).

Nobody paid me any money to put these links here, I just thought they deserved it.  Tell them Carlo sent you, maybe they'll buy me a beer.

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