I moved into my apartment over the summer. Being new to the city/the neighborhood, I decided to take a walk around to get the lay of the land. Where’s the nearest subway stop? What are my drunk food options? Should I worry about getting skin-suited on my way home from the bar? More importantly, what bars are near me?
As I walked, I saw a few sports bars that were about half a mile away. That’s not bad, not by any means. But as I came back home and circled my block, I was mesmerized by a decrepit building denoted only by a neon Old Style sign. The sign was on, so obviously it had some source of electricity. I looked at my phone. It was around 7:00 at night, so I figured I might as well stop in and grab a drink.
I don’t know how to describe this place other than it being a stereotypical dive bar. Long, skinny room with a jukebox at the end playing Pearl Jam. Random dog walking around through the patrons’ legs. Popcorn machine. Cash only. Top shelf booze was a bottle of Jack Daniels. Smelled like stale cigarettes and the chance of a fist fight. The bartender was a bigger woman, but not intimidatingly so. I pulled up to a stool at the bar and she approached me. In an attempt to act like I’ve been there before, I ordered the first thing I saw someone else drinking.
“Can I just get a shot of whiskey and a PBR?”
“What kind of whiskey?”
“Eh…whatever’s in the well.” Mistake. She shook her head, laughed, and poured me my drinks.
“That’ll be $5.”
“That’s it? Only $5?”
She laughed at me and told me, “You say that now, but you haven’t taken your shot yet.”
And I’ve been back countless times since then. I’ve gotten to know people that go there every day, been invited to events there, and even gotten to know some of their girlfriends and wives. For some reason, I didn’t think myself a regular until one night recently, when I stayed and hung out with Lindsey and two other guys for two hours after the bar closed.
The signs were there the whole time. Free shots. Getting asked about the project I was working on at work, not just “how was your day?” Taking my first shots of Malort with the bartender. Being on a first name basis with Chicago’s Tamale Guy (shouts to Claudio). Learning that whenever someone said, “I’m gonna go deliver some GrubHub,” it was code for, “I’m gonna go hook up with that girl I told you about.”
In sitting there with Lindsey and two other regulars, I felt both a sense of belonging and shame. Here we were, a group who bonded over drinking, but ultimately had very little in common otherwise. I came to realize that I was about 15-20 years younger than everyone in the room. This was their life, hanging out at a bar way past closing time, smoking cigarettes and bullshitting about the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and here I was, in my twenties and just starting my career. I would compare it to Cheers, except instead of heartwarming and fun, it was kind of depressing.
It’s not that I think I’m going to end up that way. It’s that I know it’s a very real outcome to my lifestyle right now, and that’s not something I like thinking about. But with that in mind, winter is here, and it’s nice to know I have a watering hole roughly 3 minutes walk away. I’ll ride it out for now, but come spring, it may be time for a change. .