If you’ve ever seen Bar Rescue, you’ll remember scenes in which Jon Taffer quickly looses his marbles when an owner refers to their bar as having some sort of “soul”. As he states, it, “bar’s don’t have a soul- they are a source of revenue”, and then swiftly tries to encourage the failing bar owner to remove their head from their ass. We watch as he storms off through some decrepit doorway, his height forcing him to duck under poorly installed piping and flinging liquor licenses out of his path. The owner is left feeling even more lost, as though hanging from a cliff, Taffer is yelling from above to cut off the dead weight that is your child. In all fairness, he’s right. The bar is nothing but metal and wood, and a wheel that has stopped turning. He’s there to rescue these people from their own anthropomorphism and how it has gotten in their way of success.
On the other hand, if you’ve ever been to one of Taffer’s remakes- you’ll feel something is missing- some element of unique that has left the neon glowing touch screen jukebox and mini filtered self serve skinny margarita machine to be desired. There’s so much catered to the “basic bitch and boring bro, that you stand around thinking, I would never come back here..ever. If you think about it, pre-measured shot machines and uniforms made in China, the endless sounds of football games and the overflowing of brand names on glassware, even the bleach smell from the dishwasher and the rubber from fresh bar matts can’t masque the feeling that…this place has no soul.
“Anthropomorphism helps us to simplify and
make more sense of complicated entities.”
So many things go by in a night at a bar, in a restaurant- things that don’t happen anywhere else, say maybe a circus. In any event, a bar is complicated in that what happens changes daily- is always striving to put out fires, and ignite desires. As a bar owner, there is always something new to deal with- wage increases, licensing expiring, community boards and customers threatening to sue. In the end, how can so much drama, so much ridiculousness and happiness come from one place?
When I was working at a bar downtown, we encountered a lawsuit that would crush the spirit of Zeus himself. It was, perhaps, my fault as I encouraged the owners to rid itself of the filth that was running their bar when they weren’t looking. A group of boys, I dare not say men, were consistently giving the bar away. They would screw girls in the bathroom, put blow up their nose and drink to their hearts desire-getting on the roads, drunk, and leaving crumpled receipts and unbalanced registers in their wake. When we fired them, a lawsuit of racial discrimination and unlawful termination followed soon after. It was devastating to watch the owners who had loved and put so much stock into these boys, be forced to defend themselves through the law. I had seen it all along, and although cutting a cancer out of your body is never painless, it had to be done. Where then can you rationalize these feelings? These shake your head moments that keep you up at night? How can you ever look at those four walls the same?
My sister won’t mind me saying this, but having her as my sibling has taught me patience and fortitude. It’s taught me that people make mistakes, and if you respect one another and accept that which they cannot change, their limitations as a person and as yours, you will have a better realtionship- be more successful together. I’ve learned that sometimes, Sis just has her days and that everything will be ok. Sometimes those last six months, sometimes it;s the afternoon. The point of the matter is that sometimes you just have to go with the flow of who they want to be in that moment. You have to acknowledge that they have seen better days and they will again.
If we must do this with people, get through the difficult times, and shine with them in the golden ones, how could we not personify the bar as a living breathing thing with a lifespan that we hope lasts long, but will certainly have it’s days? We can’t. So Taffer-be-damned bars will continue to have a soul, and owners must take their deep breaths and know that everything will be ok.
When someone breaks a sink, steals a fixture, a tap handle or a pair of antlers, stupid as it may sound, this hurts if you care. If you see the bar as your home, if it get’s manhandled, like a bully stealing it’s lunch money, you feel for it and if you care, it upsets you. Those are the days you never forget.
Once I was talking with Nate at the Marshall Stack and some shady character asked about some sort of beer or what have you, and as I quickly answered him how much it was, I turned back to make my point to Nate about whatever argument we were having at the time. It was about then when this idiot must have somehow unscrewed the Long Ireland tap handle and made off with it. I’m not even sure when we noticed it- I think Matt saw it the next day, but the shame and upset that caused me, has never left.
Graffiti on the walls, gum under the bar. It’s all something we deal with- why, I have no clue. It’s not something we should have to live with, but here it is, and we scape it off our backs every night. It’s hard throwing a party every night and there are so many goers with self esteem issues, you never know what they’ll leave behind or take with them. You invite them into your home, and if home is where the heart is, how can we not take it personally?
Perhaps the greatest way we anthropomorphize the bar is in this way.. If you care about your job, if you put your all into it, you put a part of yourself in it. Your blood sweat and tears are in fact in the wood, in the floors and in the money you count. So, in essence, when a bar closes or burns down, or gets worn with time, a part of you does too. When the owners, who we jokingly refer to as Mom and Dad, decide to fold or call it quits, we become a child of divorce, of failings and of bitersweet memories. It has taught us things, and if you are self reflective in the very least, you are a better person for these things, you have given it as much as it gave you.
When you return to a bar after having worked there, the memories hang there like invisible cobwebs. Like a scene in Lord of the Rings, you can see conversations you have had, people you have loved morphing and changing, the highs and lows. A bar is a time machine, it will keep your memories safe and sounds, and there should you choose to return, a part of you will be looking at yourself on the other side of the mirror, waving and nodding reminding you or a younger, more naive self. A nostalgia will always reside when you work in a bar, and it’s part of why the seats that are worn in, the chalkboards that reveal past bartenders handwriting like a Da Vinci painting, and the dust on the wires can give you the chills.. As much as we hate to admit it, you never forget that bar;s soul.