We have just received advance copies of The Joy of Tippling by Ray Oldenburg. Like the bestselling The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community, his new book is packed with factual information, humor and wit, personal insights, and sound sociological observations. The Joy of Tippling is a celebration of third places, and a call to community.
Here’s one of my favorite passages from The Joy of Tippling (pages 39-40):
Returning to the matter of choosing a bar, I’m reminded that there’s a book on the subject in which the author claims that he can tell exactly what a tavern is like by giving the place the once-over from the outside. Now dear tippling friends, I may pull your leg a little from time to time, but I would never go that far! The fact of the matter is that even the most experienced tippler, especially in a strange city, sometimes enters the wrong establishment.
What seems like a pleasant enough oasis may, once you step through the door, reveal itself to be one of the devil’s own. Right there on the bar you may spot one of those ten-ounce cans of beer: the undersized brew at an oversized price. You may be about to order when a juke box kicks in at full volume and you are jarred enough to make your spine ripple. Or your ears may be assaulted by some horse’s patoot guffawing at his own jokes, or the pathetic mumblings of a bleary-eyed drunk who should have been ousted hours ago. In all such cases and many others, you’ve stumbled into the wrong place.
What to do about it? For years, I did what I considered the polite thing. I’d have one beer and leave, often without finishing it. I cannot say what flaw in my upbringing caused me to do that but I never liked doing it. I’ve never enjoyed one of those pro forma pilsners and never felt the house deserved the small profit it garnered from them. The “improved response” came upon me, as I recall, without my even thinking about it. I’d set foot in an inviting corner bar in St. Louis one afternoon and headed for the mahogany close to where a customer was seated. I gave him a nod and a friendly “How ya doin’?” only to get a cold, fish-eyed stare in return. Instantly I realized that if this was that sorry bastard’s kind of place, it wasn’t mine, and, as quickly as I was taken aback, my arms extended outward, my eyes rolled heavenward, and I executed a most graceful turn off my left toe and proceeded directly out of there. How nicely, I prided myself, did the choreography fit the situation.
So that’s my standard response now, and I recommend it. When it’s time to dance the back-step, do it. You mosey into the wrong cantina, do the Wiskalopian Whirl. If the joint is a turn-off, execute the One-Eighty, the Tippler’s Turnabout, the Righteous Rotation. Get the heck out of there and find a decent place. Do not insult. Do not try to reform. Just do your trick and leave ’em wondering. That’s their just desserts.
Another sort of place to avoid is what I call the BYOF (Bring Your Own Friend) tavern or bar. At first, these might appear as the cozy establishments of which we tipplers are so fond, particularly when they are crowded and the conversation is thrumming. But there is no unity; people enter these places with their own friends or in pairs and stake out their territory. There they cluster, and anyone entering the establishment alone is sure to stay that way. No one meanders or calls out to others across the room—the laughter is not general. The setting here, by the way, is incidental, and if a cushier place opens elsewhere, that’s where the patrons will go.
As a final note, I’d like to suggest a way to relate to a bar, especially a local one, that has the potential to become your “home away from home.” Just walking in feels good: the decor, the happy faces, the noise control, and the greeting from behind the bar. Here, I would suggest, that you sit at the bar because you don’t want the relative privacy that booths allow. You want to be part of what’s going on. When you order, buy one for the bartender and you will immediately be a special customer. Some of life’s best hours may be spent right here, most enjoyably in the company of different sorts of people and both sexes, as in the next chapter I somewhat boldly attempt to discuss.