In the days back when I traveled in Eastern Europe, I had a guidebook that explained the grades of drinking establishment I might expect to find and learned there was a class of bar in Poland called a pivarnia or some such thing that catered to their manly but odd working hours - there was a gap between the end of the shift at around 3 pm and supper at about six. I learned men went to such places to stand and drink. They weren't recommended. The one time I did open the heavy door of the local example in the particular Baltic neighbourhood where I taught English, all the Daddies of the little darlings at my school turned to greet the vision of me at the door and, as one, swore at me at the top of their lungs. I was not welcome. I closed the door, stood for a moment still outside and then walked away.
I didn't fit in. I've often thought later how great it would have been to fit in that world, to have slapped the backs of the real menski Polski and shared a beer. But I couldn't. It could never be. For some reason, that feeling of dislocation popping into my mind when I read Eric Asimov's article in The New York Times today:
Studio Square was all too typical of a syndrome afflicting New York beer culture. Great beer abounds today in New York, and the choices keep getting better. Nowadays, almost every neighborhood bar has at least a few craft beers. The better beer bars offer an expanded selection, scouring the world for unknown brewers and new beers. And the mark of a top-flight spot is one or two cask beers, served unpasteurized and unfiltered with natural carbonation, rather than from a pressurized keg. Yet an imbalance exists that threatens to undercut the pleasure to be found in a perfectly drawn pint. While aficionados yearn to have beer taken as seriously as wine, too often beer is presented in a context that diminishes the respect it deserves.
Because, you know, respect is only possible in a context of "creative extensions of pub grub" or at a "small jewel, more atelier than bar." The thought of such a place makes me yearn for the reception back in Poland which I think I might prefer to face again than too precious a beer bar. Asimov hits - but then seemingly squirts foul - the real point late in the article. To install a high end kitchen and staff costs money. Which means more expensive beer. I don't want more expensive beer, thanks.
Don't get me wrong. I am really glad a place like beerbistro exists a few hours from here and that I get to end up there once or twice a year or so. Most days, however, if I want to try something really swell and beery in my food, well, I will make it, thanks. Learn to cook well if you can't - the beerbistro cookbook is a good place to start. Usually what I really want when I go out is a plate I can get a decent and modestly priced dinner for the family and have a good craft beer selection to daydream about as I sit and let life's concerns recede. Heck, my nearest to a local even has peanut butter and ice cream on the menu. Magic. Sometimes just one type of sandwich will even do. Other than that, food in a tavern is supplied so you can extend a session, so you don't have to run next door for supper and have someone else nab the primo seat you have occupied since 1:37 pm physically and mentally since last Tuesday. Pub food should be tasty and it shouldn't kill you but, really, are any of you pushing away the bowl of nuts in your favorite beer bar because there just aren't enough cashews in the mix?
The fact is beer may go with good food but good food need not go with beer. To think otherwise strikes me as something approaching an argument the temperance union may have tossed around when it moved into a new town a century ago. It says beer needs something else to make it OK. Like nicely dressed wait staff or small portions on big plates. Like the old rules which in some Canadian provinces that lingered long after prohibition including the one that said you can't get served if you don't have a seat. Last time I checked, good beer really didn't care what your betters thought.