"You can get just so much out of bars and they won't go down anymore. They come up. People in bars were like people in 5 and dime stores: they were killing time and everything else."
-- Charles Bukowski in "Would You Suggest Writing as a Career?"
Last year I heard a story on Graham Sander's Craftbrewer Radio about how Australian pub culture was in danger of extinction. Of course, immediately I was alarmed. Even though I've never been to Australia, my combination of liberal do-goodism and love of beer and pubs made me feel like I should do something to save Australian pub culture. Then I thought, wait a minute. What about pub culture in my own back yard? What's happening in the US? More specifically what's happening on Long Island?
I suppose that part of my initial enthusiasm for putting together a Long Island Beer Guide was that I wanted to save Long Island pub culture -- be the "pub messiah" (after all, I already have the long hair and the beard) --, but after visiting a few pubs, I started wondering what it was that I really wanted to save and so I find myself sitting on a bar stool in Callahan's pondering the meaning of beer and the social function of the pub.
Another tidbit of trivia I heard somewhere (I don't remember the source) is that people in the US are drinking most of their beer at home, rather than at the pub. What does this mean? It could mean that people are going to the pub to drink whiskey and tequila and saving the beer for when then are parked in front of the TV. Or it could mean that people just aren't drinking at the pub.
In my last installment I guessed that people my age (in the twenty-five to forty-five range) aren't going to the pub because they have kids to take care of. I know I certainly can't get to the pub every night. I'm lucky to get to the pub once a week and even that has to be planned and logistics filed at the central family planning office at least twenty-four hours in advance. Even if I could go to the pub every night, would I want to?
This brings us to the central question of today's musings: why drink at a pub?
Like any good beer reporter, I decided to ask the woman in the street why she drinks at a pub (instead of, say, at home or at work). The woman in the street reported that she used to go to this really neat pub in her neighborhood. "It was easy," she said. "It was on the way home and you'd just get sucked in. You'd see all your friends there. The only problem was that after a few months a bunch of us realized that we were spending more and more time drinking and that there were all these people getting shit-faced every single night and I started to think it was just a little sad, so I stopped going." Thank you, woman in the street.
I wish I had watched the television show Cheers! because its such an important pub-cultural reference. When I ask people this question about pubs, specifically neighborhood pubs ("locals"), they often say, "Everyone's looking for Cheers! That mythical place where everyone knows your name."
That's partly why I like going to Callahan's now. After nearly three months of showing up one or two times a week, the owner and the bar staff all know me and a few of the regular patrons know me and most know me by sight if not by name.
One reason to drink at the pub is that drinking (beer especially) is a social activity. When you drink beer, you talk. And when you are sitting at a bar next to someone, you invariably end up saying a word or two and sometimes it turns into a conversation. If the bartender knows their business, they'll be talking and they'll do stuff to get conversations going.
Next time, I'll write some more about the social aspects of pub-going and about some of the games people play while drinking.