Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Consolation of Bars in Wintertime

Back when I lived by myself, before being married and also while I suffered being 1,500 miles from my beloved spouse during most of the first two years of our marriage, this time of year was made barely bearable by going to bars.  I am very susceptible to wintertime depression, made worse because I love being outside.  I still remember Sunday afternoons when I lived in Michigan when I insisted on taking long walks despite the icy winds and falling snow.  Some of those Sundays I trekked the fifteen blocks or so to my favorite bar.

Walking was wise, both because I usually left my local in a state where I had no business being behind the wheel, and because when the snow piled up, spaces in the parking lot became more scarce, and the entrances to said lot treacherous.  (It was on a major thoroughfare, so the plows constantly dumped huge walls of snow in the entrance.  This also meant the sidewalk in front was impassable, so I always walked to the bar via the back alley.)

To my mind, this place was the Platonic ideal of what a bar ought to be.  It was dark, with wood tables and booths but bereft of idiotic knick-knacks.  There was just enough space to fit a large number of people, but it was still cozy.  The jukebox was one of those olden CD boxes, and was well-stocked with good music, a balanced mix of hipsterish stuff (Elvis Costello, Radiohead) and old chestnuts (Rolling Stones, AC/DC.)  The beer selection was fantastic and reflected west Michigan's bounty of exceptional brews.  You could order up a damn fine olive burger and Philly steak sandwich, or just help yourself to some free popcorn, if so inclined.  Best of all, the staff were model bartenders and waitresses.  The main guy seemed able to hold about 20 orders in his head, and always knew what new beer on tap I'd like.

The place was perhaps too good.  My friends and I took happy hour there at least twice a week.  On Sundays, however, I usually went by myself, out of pure loneliness and the desire to spend time with other people.  There was also the $4.75 special on pitchers of Pabst and, amazingly, free pizza.  Yes, that's right, free pizza.  This confluence of factors, combined with Sunday football, hockey, and basketball games on the TV, drew in an audience of lonely, single, thirtyish dudes like myself.  I would order me up a whole pitcher of Pabst, and drink it down while cadging free slices between bullshitting about the Lions' playoff chances or the relative merits of Steely Dan.  Occasionally I would stare out the window at the funeral home across the street with two impossibly long Polish names, and think morbid thoughts.  (This was northeast Grand Rapids, after all.)

Nowadays I have the love of my life and two supercute babies at my side, and my Sunday afternoons are not the long stretches of dread and loneliness that they used to be.  That said, I pine to spend a day at my old local, with my old friends and the therapists behind the bar that helped me survive two unforgiving Michigan winters.

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