When I was a kid, there was a smoky, nasty old watering hole/restaurant down the street from where The Lyin’ Dutchman lived, and he frequented it often. It’s a place called Harry’s and it’s still in business. But the only original thing left from the heyday of my youth is the crazy red leather furniture, giving the place the feel of a whorehouse in the Old West; otherwise its been gentrified and made hip by the passage of time and money into my hometown. In fact Harry’s is even online, with its website here promoting “the most generous drinks in town”. Gone is the smoky atmosphere, the ancient barkeeps and scores of shady clientele, except for the Lyin’ Dutchman himself. If I return home and need to find him, there’s a 98% chance I can find him there after hours, harassing the waitstaff and making insane proclamation of days gone by.
But Harry’s is his, and it always has been (in my lifetime). It’s the bar where they know him, know his drink and have a history of his antics. It was verboten to us as kids; if anything we were allowed in the doorway as far as two steps could take you, to check if he was in there. It stunk, it was filled with creepy people and staffed with geriatric dyed-blonde women reminiscent of Magda the landlady in There’s Something About Mary. I never understood the need to seek solace in a place like that, at least until I got past the ripe old age of 30.
We all need caves to congregate in; places where we can interact with others on our own terms, coming and going as it suits us. Some people find solace in their gyms, but that’s not supposed to be so much social unwinding as it is supposed to be tearing down your muscle fibers in the name of fitness.
For others it’s the coffee shop, where we can peck away at our laptops over $4 cups of coffee, lamenting the decline of obscure independent film makers and the vinyl record.
For me, that place has manifested in the form of Patton Alley Pub, Springfield’s beercentric bar, with something like 36 beers on tap and a bartop made from old bowling lanes. I like the joint for the character, though; it’s as though the hippies, the bikers and the rest of us middle age roustabouts all decided to hell with the thump-thump techno clubs or the barely-legal-age-loving, all-you-can-choke-down-Natural-Lite-for-$7 style bars, we want a place to get a quality brew and be with friends. The atmosphere is smoky and loud at times, which is either great or horrible depending on your mood, and while every fireman has a favorite bar, this one will always be mine.
When I walk in, Tonia grabs a pint glass and heads to the Guinness tap. The home-made chips and atmosphere make it feel as though you’re a million miles away from the nearest Applebee’s or Wal Mart, and in a piece of country that prides itself on strip-malls and Chinese fast food, this is a welcome sight. I appreciate how much they appreciate different brewers, different music, departures from the script of boring status quo. They celebrate the individual artisan, from the hand-painted murals by Sarah Bliss Rasul to the obscure beers you and I have never heard about. But mostly, it’s about the company of good people; your hockey playing friends, the bartenders, Eric the owner, and everyone in between make you feel as though they’re genuinely glad you’re there. You belong in their company, and they’re eager to share a laugh with you. The place is funky and old and perfect.
It’s like the damn theme song to Cheers (too late, you just sang it in your mind). Before you go hauling off accusing me of parental neglect or having the physique of Norm, just keep something in mind: in our digital overload era, where your every action and thought is conveyed via tweets and updates to hundreds of virtual friends, it’s refreshingly human to surround yourself in the company of real people who have stories they can pour out to you in real time, complete with real interaction and real beer.
My kids don’t have to come poking in the front door to see if I’m there and my sojourns to Patton Alley are bound by the responsibilities of parenthood, marriage, career and the looming specter named budget, but that’s okay, too. I don’t want to be able to be tracked down later in life based on my alcoholic predilections; in the meantime, my dad will continue to inhabit Harry’s on a nightly basis, and 2,000 miles away, when the mood strikes, you’ll find me sipping some Irish Vitamin G in very good company down at Patton Alley Pub.