Tuesday, July 7, 2015

My Life in the Bars I Have Known and Loved

I have been known to enjoy the occasional drinky-winky.

And I particularly enjoy it in a bar.

I have always been fascinated by bars and bar culture.  My parents were both teetotalers and did not approve of people going to bars.  My father once said he couldn't think of anything more boring and wasteful.  I guess that's why bars have always intrigued me so.

So parents use that as a reminder that anything you disdain, your kids will probably want to do. 

The iconic bar, of course, is "Cheers," "...where everyone knows your name." 

And that is probably one of the main reasons people congregate in bars.  Why else get out of your robe and bunny slippers and head off to a public place to spend way more for drinks than they cost at home?

Because we humans need to rub elbows with each other from time to time or bend the ear of the friendly bartender who acts as part therapist and part best friend.

The British pub culture is a perfect example of this.

British pubs are cozy, woody, lots of architectural details.  They make you want to hang out there. You can shut out the world and stop time.  And whether you live in London or a village, your neighbors will be there.

I love checking out a bar.  I do the same thing with restrooms, too, but I will save that for another post.

So what makes a great bar?

  • It must have literally "a good bar."  That means a nice long one preferably with a lovely countertop and a place to hang your purse because I like to sit up at the bar. 
  • I like there to be many bottles lined up in a pleasing manner. 
  • The bartender must be friendly and it doesn't hurt if he or she is nice looking
  • A nice bathroom helps
  • Nice tables for those who don't like to sit at the bar
  • No windows (or if there are windows, a great view).  The no windows part helps to shut out the world and keep you drinking!
  • No TV - now this is controversial.  Hubby would not agree but if you really want to have a conversation, a TV set to a sports channel is not conducive to conversation
  • Good food.  Well, at least some nuts.  Something.

And that is my most important point about bars.

If you want to focus on your partner, your friends, your kids (if they are of drinking age), there is no better place than a good bar.  Some of the best conversations I have had with my adult children were in a bar.  The booze flows and so does the conversation and revelations!

It all started when I became of drinking age while in college (well it started a bit before that with a fake ID but I am not going to go into that because my mother might be watching me from wherever she ended up).

My first bar was The Handlebar, a dive bar with a table shuffleboard court...you know, one of those long wooden game tables with little pucks you would shove down the length of it and try to be the one whose pucks went the farthest?  

The bar was dark and funky, but the best part, it was the closest bar to my college.  After a night of slaving away studying, it was fun to grab my roommate and head down to the Handlebar to meet up with friends and have a beer (or two or three). I met one of my husbands there! Beer was my drink of choice then, which could probably explain why I gained 20 pounds my senior year in college.  I have fond memories of that little bar, but I don't think it's around anymore.

That was 1969-70 and I had yet to develop a sophisticated view of bars.

After college I moved to San Francisco and though there were many bars in my life then, I can't remember them.

The 70's were a blur.  Remember what they say:  If you remember the 60's you weren't there.  And, my friends, the 60's as we have come to know that era - hippies, pot, revolution - didn't really start until about 1967 and lasted until the late 70's.

From the mid-70's to the mid-80's, I was busy going to library school, starting my career and having children, so I didn't really have the time nor the inclination to do a lot of bar hopping.

But in the mid-80's, I was derailed a bit by an unexpected divorce, so going to bars seemed the right thing to do.

I was living in the Monterey Bay Area (CA) at the time and met my soon-to-be Hubby, a meet-cute story I have told in detail in my blog post "Hubby."  (If you haven't read it, you should, it's a good story)!

Hubby had a huge gaggle of friends.  So many, in fact, that they used to call themselves "Rent a Crowd," because they could gather a party-loving crowd together at the drop of a hat.  His friends became my friends.

Sly McFlys, down on Cannery Row, was the watering hole of choice for Hubby and his friends. 

No matter when we would go there, all of our friends would be there.  We knew the bartenders, so that was a nice perk. One of the friends was an attorney and was in there so much, his clients would call him there.  Again it was a funky kind of bar but it was dark and smoky (we could smoke in bars then), but it had a nice long bar and good music. Beer was still my drink of choice, though I was developing a taste for wine. I can't say much about the restroom except there was a lot of activity in there, if you know what I mean.  It was the 80's, after all.  Today it's more of a family-type sports bar with lots of live music.

Hubby and I got married, we had a child together so now we had a family, Hubby was working on his career, the kids had activities we participated in so the partying fell away to a certain extent and no new bars came into my life.

But then the kids left, we moved to Seattle and a whole new era began.

The main thing that happened was my taste in bars and my taste in drinks.  No more dive bars.  No more funky. No more beer.  It's time to upgrade!  I liked the posh hotel bars.

Seattle is a big city and there are tons of bars to recommend it.

We worked our way through many of them.  It was a fun way to get to know the city.  We would go for a long walk in a neighborhood and then treat ourselves to a drink and a nosh.  We particularly liked hotel bars and there are two that have
passed the test of time.

Oliver's in the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Seattle is a lovely room with gorgeous high windows and great cocktails. 

It has a long bar that looks out those windows onto all of the City's activities. Great for people-watching.  And it doesn't hurt that there is a huge Macy's right across the street. I like one of their signature cocktails, "The Silver Bell," a lovely drink topped off with some champagne.  My taste in drinks has decidedly changed. The bartenders are always friendly and you get peanuts with your drink. We have stayed in the hotel several times to celebrate Valentine's Day and have been known to close the place down.  That's how friendly the bartenders are!

The Six/Seven bar in the Edgewater Hotel is about as iconic Seattle as you can get.

If you are lucky enough to snag a table by the window, you are literally sitting on the water with cruise ships and ferries going by. And The Edgewater Hotel is the home of some famous rock star shenanigans:  The Beatles fishing from their room and the Led Zeppelin "mudshark incident."

As we traveled, we had some happy moments in some great bars.

Victoria, B.C. is one of my favorite places and we never leave there without a stop at the Bengal Lounge in the Empress Hotel.  The hotel is impressive enough but the lounge evokes England's empire with its ceiling fans and curry buffet and sitting in its plush chairs enjoying a fancy drink with waiters in full waiter regalia doing their wait thing, life is good!

Farther afield, when traveling in Europe, we have enjoyed some great bars, bartenders and other travelers.  Having a drink in your hotel bar in another country is an easy way to strike up a conversation with your fellow travelers, share some travel tips and possibly makes some new friends.

One of the nicest hotels we have stayed in was the Grand Hotel Casselbergh in Bruges (Belgium). 

And the bartender was handsome, friendly, and fun and we met some other Americans there.  We all met there after a busy (and rainy) day of sightseeing. 

It was a welcome respite after touring the frites museum and sampling the local beer!

Another high point in my bar-loving life was The George pub in London. 


It was right around the corner from where were staying in North London and we just happened upon it. 

The food was delicious so we ate there two nights in a row and one night we were eating late and the bar was closing (many close at 10:30pm).  We had engaged both the bartender and the waitress (who turned out to also be the bar manager) in conversation, and when I told her being in their pub was just like being in the Queen Vic from "Eastenders," she got a kick out of that and let us stay after hours with them.  We got to talk with them as they cleaned up and closed the bar. 

For those of you not familiar with "Eastenders," it's a British soap opera that I have been watching since it first started in the 80's.  Much of the story takes place in an East End pub called the Queen Victoria, so it was a wonderful experience to be included in the real life workings of a real life pub.  All of the staff lived above the pub, something that is quite common there. That is one of those special travel memories that I savor.

Finally, I have to talk about our "local."  In British pub culture, everyone has a "Local," that bar where you always go to have a drink and meet with friends.

Ours is Daphne's in Edmonds (WA), a tiny little hole in the wall that only seats about 15 people.

The big draw is Desmond, the bartender.  He is there Tuesday-Friday holding court with his admirers.  And he has many.  He is a welcoming, funny and exuberant host.  His cheese plate is a thing to behold and order a Moscow Mule so you can witness "the slapping of the mint!"

And there's no TV.  Just Frank Sinatra singing classic songs.

It can be hot, crowded and we might not be able to find a seat.  It doesn't fit all of my criteria for a great bar.

So why do we go there?

Because Desmond makes sure that everybody knows our name!

Tell me about your favorite bars!

I was inspired to write this blog post by a charming little book I reviewed back in December "Of All the Gin Joints" that gives the history of bars, restaurants and hotels in Los Angeles and the drinks they inspired.  Highly recommended.


See you Friday

for my review of the new movie 

The Week in Reviews
(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)

and the latest on

My 1001 Movies I Must See Before
 I Die Project."

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  1. I'm not much of a bar person (don't drink beer or cocktails), but just last week I had an IPA at the Morse Bar in the Randolph Hotel in Oxford. They have a great wall of autographed pix, ranging from Helen Mirren to Hillary Clinton. Check it out next time you're there.

    1. Dan, I just so happened to have been in the bar at the Randolph because that is where Colin Dexter hangs out, the author of the Morse mysteries. As a big fan, I wanted to go to all of the Morse haunts. The bartender said Dexter sits at a specific table and if someone else happens to be sitting there, he waits in the lobby until the table is free. Have you been to The Eagle and Child or The Trout, out by the river?