I’m in this sports bar somewhere in Nashville. You know the kind I’m talking about, the bar where the walls are covered in memorabilia and retro photos, but everything’s too clean. It’s one of those places like Chili’s or Buffalo Wild Wings where the place could be a week old or ten years and you wouldn’t be able to tell. That’s the biggest problem with those corporate chains; they don’t give them the time they need to become authentically grungy.
I understand that’s not really the point when it comes to these cookie-cutter spots. The feel of the place is catered to the clientele, the function over form crowd. The people making up the O’Charley’s bar scene are there for the express purpose of tying on a buzz and watching a few types of sports all at once. There is no pretentious vibe, no one gets a prize for judging your fashion choices, there’s a comfort in that.
Now, any purist wants their bar to have a little filth around the edges, stains in easy to reach places, a touch of laziness. It’s the death of the dive bar. All these trashy hole-in-the-wall spots being taken over by the entrepreneurially minded. Seeing all these pretentious hipster places sprout up makes me appreciate the unapologetically run-of-the-mill bars that make their money off the nine to five crowd.
I’m not that picky; honestly, I don’t really give a shit about what kind of beers are on tap; I don’t need a local selection, I just need a bartender that looks more tired than me. That’s what charm is, the feeling you get when you walk into a place and realize that you’re stepping into a living thing. The character of space is judged by it’s ability to tell you a story just by the way the ceiling fan wobbles or the neon sign outside doesn’t quite work right. The inattention to detail is what turns these dives into jazz incarnate. You never quite know what’s on the other side of a door with bars on it, that’s why you go in.
There’s a problem though with these rough around the edges spots being taken over by the trendsetters of today. These arbiters of everything to interesting for me to understand have turned the fly-by-night spots of yesterday into these polished, anti-drifter social clubs full of assholes with big ideas. It’s not just the clientele either, the bartenders carry the same arrogance as the people who frequent their ironic hole-in-the-wall.
That’s the main thing with bartenders, they can’t act like they’re better than you. That’s why you shouldn’t be a bartender unless you’re sneaking a shot or two under the counter when you think no one's looking. You can’t be the kind of person that thinks you’re too good to be around the people you have to be around every night. There’s nothing worse than going into a bar you’ve never been to before because you and a friend are feeling spontaneous and want to try something fresh and fun out. In this analogy let’s say you’ve gotten all dressed up to take your old college roommate out for drinks since she’s in town from Topeka where she’s spent the past few years using her Bachelors in Sports Medicine to raise a family with some guy you thought she should have never married. Since her birthday is in two weeks, and she’s one of those people that believes they deserve a whole birthday month, you’ve invited her to stay at you’re one bedroom apartment and go out for drinks for a few nights in a row in some attempt to regain some shadow of your former college glory. That’s where this fancy bar comes into place.
You get in your Corolla, because that’s the kind of money you make, and pay five dollars for parking because Nashville is the big city to you’re old college friend. After all, you want to show how expensive things really are when you live in the heart of a megalopolitan cityscape like Nashville. The bar you’re at is called The Falling Crow, or The Screaming Coyote or something super dangerous like that. You walk in with your friend ready to make rowdy memories in you’re JC Penny everything until you catch the condescending eye of the bar wench.
It’s not always the case, but often times when you’re in a drinking establishment surrounded by people with ironic tattoos and low muscle tone, you’ll find that the bartender reflects that specific brand of asshole that will treat you like your drink choice is some kind of reflection on your worth as a human being. What I’m saying is, there are places where you can’t order a Bud Light without being mocked by some bartender with an overly-kempt beard and proof that he had a hundred and fifty dollars one time because of the super creative collection of stick and poke tattoos scattered all over his scarless arms. When I order a Bud Light from your trendy bar, I don’t want it to come with an eye-roll and a smirk. Don’t have Bud Light on tap if you don’t want to serve it to plebeians like me.
The overwhelming truth of it all is that we have become elitist with beer. You can be an asshole about pretty much anything; it started with wine, where everyone decided together that really old grape juice is something worth putting on a plantation owner’s accent when describing. You even hear the same kind of self-indulgent descriptors when discussing beer now. Mouthfeel, nuttiness, acidity, muted tones of ivory or some shit. I’m telling you when I watch a full grown man at the end of a bar swirl his local brew in his glass to better comment on the quality, I want to slam his face into the copper-plated bar top so hard it erases all those stupid words he uses to describe glorified wheat juice.
This all probably sounds pretty angry, but it’s really not. This whole conversation comes down to authenticity, the removal of the ego, and the examination of why things are the way they are. When I hear people shit on dive bars, it makes me sad. I was under the impression that bars are supposed to be a judgment-free zone, that’s why it perturbs me when I get an unwarranted attitude from my beer servant.
Don’t get me wrong, I respect anyone who has to put up with the amount of bullshit a bartender does, but that saying, I do believe in the hierarchy of the server customer relationship. Long story short, you pour, I pay, you act interested when I talk about the sky-rocketing price of abalone, and I tip well. This is the optimal circle of life for any person trapped behind a bar. If you wanted to feel better than me than you should have stayed in school and earned a Ph.D. in something complicated and interesting. All this to say, if you’re the kind of bartender that pours Coors lights with a smile as you appreciate the fact that there are still people in this world who don’t have to order a local IPA to feel important in a room full of Uber drivers and retail workers, then you are the cream of the crop. The bartender that doesn’t ask a single question when I order a Budweiser in a can will always have my forty percent tip.
Somehow Pabst Blue Ribbon is exempt from the whole racism against domestic beer. This is what happens when you let people in suspenders drive culture. The new hipster is just the same as any other monoculture in America, they just think they’re not. That is the essence of being a hipster, the fact that you have to believe you’re different against all odds. I don’t necessarily think it’s a symptom of millennialism, I think it’s the same thing that’s been happening over and over again in waves for years and years. You’re born, you grow up and realize your parents are just people and then you decide to wage war on every conventional aspect of your existence until the hormones in your body level out and you stop complaining about bartenders at pretentious bars in your city.
I’m the problem here, and I’m aware of it. There used to be a time where you had to do something hard to become separated from the herd in a meaningful way. Some people went off and joined the French Foreign Legion, or become crab fisherman in Alaska, or became notable in a stem field; now there are too many options for how you can separate yourself, and they’re all cheap and easy. That’s why we live in a one-tone, flatlined version of a creative cultural environment. Being a beer snob is the equivalent of putting on Red Wings and a flannel and pretending your’e some kind of lumberjack. The reality is, it’s all just pretend.
Sure you can find the subtle differences in beer, and of course there are different qualities of the stuff, but goddamn is it ridiculous to think that you are somehow better than someone else because you have the super power of knowing when one beer is technically better than another.
Everyone is lost in a see of blue-haired irony, and there’s not a well-thought-out worldview in the whole bunch. This new wave of bar people with respectable lives and clean records is boring, bottom line. I can’t tell you how much I want to sit next to a guy with a few missing teeth when I decide to go out for a drink. I want the contrast, not this manufactured echo chamber of pseudo-intellectual, insecure hucksters. This is why it’s frustrating being talked down to by a guy in a hundred dollar t-shirt who drives a 90s Honda Civic because you know as soon as they give you that look of disapproval there is nothing you can do to make them see themselves for the hypocritical, pitiful mess they are.
That’s why I sometimes go to a chain-style restaurant bar with way too many TV’s. Because at the end of the day, all bars have become the same tame thing, and at least no one thinks they’re better than you at a Chili’s.