Thursday, June 23, 2011

Our Bar

I always wanted to be a regular somewhere. Growing up there were a few restaurants where my parents had befriended the owners and we would get special treatment, like the best table in the house or a free appetizer that was off the menu. But I chose to move to Los Angeles, where connections like that are forged out of celebrity or because of the bank account of one. Compounding that challenge is the fact that by nature I struggle to be outgoing. I can be socially awkward when it comes to new people.

Thankfully I was not alone in moving to the City of Angels. A collection of like-minded friends that I amassed at college also migrated to the city. Not the social butterflies either, the guys and I spent the majority of our first few post-college years hanging out in their crappy apartment (I use this term lovingly), drinking and playing video games. But the few times when we did wander out, thankfully there was a dive bar across the street.

15 years later we’re still drinking there.

Like the best dives, the bar itself isn’t memorable. It’s dark and although smoking has long since been banned in public places, the place still reeks a little bit of smoke. The d├ęcor hasn’t changed much since the 70’s. Sure modern touches like a flatscreen TV in the corner and an mp3 jukebox now inhabit the space, but the wood panel walls and the out dated pleather chairs remain the same. There’s a pool table in the back shoved in a room that’s too small for it, requiring the cues to be cut in half in order to play. There’s the requisite dart-board and Golden Tee golf game located next to the popcorn machine. The bar doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is—a very comfortable, lived in dive.

Its proprietors are a short, frizzy-haired waitress with a thick Polish accent named Nina, and the surliest bartender in the history of the service industry. He never smiles and spends his time staring at the patrons with a thinly-veiled look of contempt. They are a couple. At least I think they are. Though they rarely speak to each other. They are the consummate good cop/bad cop. While Nina is outgoing and friendly, always greeting us like she’s glad to see us, the bartender (I don’t even know his name) acts pissed off when you have the nerve to order a drink. Forget about the fact that we’ve been patronizing this place for well over a decade, ask the bartender if you can open a tab and he’ll curtly say “no.” Ask Nina and not only will she open the tab, but she’ll pour a double and offer a bowl of snack mix that she consistently refers to as, “keeeebles and bits.”

It’s the kind of place that doesn’t carry imported beer. It’s the kind of place where you will literally get laughed at if you try to order a drink from the bartender without booze—just ask my buddy who once had the audacity to skip a round of drinks because he has the tolerance of a small rodent.

Our lives have changed--girlfriends, marriages, kids, jobs--but the bar remains the same.  Except for a brief period of time when the hipsters found it and a line would form outside on Saturday nights. There is something amazingly comforting in that.

They might not know my name there, but they know my face. Our status there doesn't get us much other than a warm greeting.  Sometimes Nina will boot people out of the corner tables for us, but that's about it.  But my friends and I don't ask for much either.  We just like having a low-key place that fits us.  And while we don't have the luxury of an abundance of free time that allows us to hang out there as much as we used to, it isn't long before we find ourselves back at our bar for a smile, a drink and a bowl of “keeeebles and bits.”

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6 comments:

SFD said...

Maybe the reason the waitress smiles so much is because she's been serving you dog food all these years?

James (SeattleDad) said...

But at least it's good dog food. And with cold drinks to wash it down.

Dr. J said...

Reminds me of our bar in med school. One night, a guy and a girl came up to Emily and I and talked to us for a while. After they left, we asked the waitress who they were, because we didn't know. They were the bar's daytime staff, even they knew us. Lots of free drinks at the Rat, lots of good times there.

Daddy Geek Boy said...

SFD...But my coat is so shiny!

James...Is that why they serve them in a dog bowl?

DR.J...That's sweet.

OneZenMom said...

Nooooorm! ;) We don't have our own bar, but we do have a little local Mexican food place (with a bar) where the staff all know our "usual" orders by heart. It's a nice feeling when our favorite waitress greets us by name and brings our drink order without even asking what we want. ;)

Daddy Geek Boy said...

Zen...Nina's finally learned my drink. Which is awesome.