My Life In Bars

My wife and I have a new son. Needless to say I am spending a lot less time in bars. Even before that, things dropped off as my drinking partner of nearly a decade and a half had to go on hiatus due to concerns over fetal development and such. It has been a bit of a bummer, and I have had a few irrational moments. During one of the early short stretches of sleep I had a dream where all of my friends were in a bar drinking and instead of a valid ID to get in I had a handful of Colorado driver’s licenses with comically obtuse dates on them and cartoon characters where my smiling mug should have been. I guess my fears of fatherhood might be a bit apparent.

Anyway, I have come down off the ledge but I am still thinking a lot about my life in bars. Being a new dad gets you thinking about your own past and what you liked about growing up. When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time in bars, cantinas, and pool halls. I know, I know, I can see your pinched up face. It was the late 70s and early 80s. My father was very young when I was born and I have a lot of uncles. They spent quite a few Saturday afternoons in various bars and would often take me along. I suspect that some of my uncles may have been using me as bait for some of the more sensitive female staff and patrons.

“A little often” seems to me to be better than “too much, rarely.”

Stories that begin with “I grew up in bars” usually have a pretty morose tone and end with meetings of some sort. I guess I am offering the opposite view point. In fact, there is no alcoholism in my family and my experiences are all pretty warm and fuzzy. Some of my earliest memories have to do with the loud crack of a rack of balls breaking and a treat from a vending machine, amazed how the coil of wire dropped out a bag of chips or a sleeve of Wacky Wafers. I can remember kneeling on a bar stool, the cold burning my fingers as I sipped Coke from a frosty schooner, the bartender smiling at me. Darts and other bar games came pretty natural after that.

While vivid and well remembered, these memories are few. My parents were not barflies with a baby. They were young and worked a lot. Maybe, once every few months, I would get to go. My uncle Charlie might stop by to grab me and my dad to head to a local joint where I could snack on a bowl of pretzels, listening to the adults laughing or bitching about work. I really love that I got to be there and see my dad as a “normal” guy.

Of course, as I got older, I found my own entertainment and it became a bit more conspicuous for me to be in a bar. My visits trailed off and my next bar experiences were not until I was legal. I went through a club phase as new bar goers sometimes do but the comfort of the plain old tavern found me. I turned 21 when I was living in Minneapolis and on those cold winter nights a (sort of) quiet beer with friends sent me right back to being a kid except that the jokes and gripes were now mine.

I guess that this whole approach doesn’t fly anymore. Sure, if you are reading this, I expect that you have a pretty friendly attitude toward (or a strong affinity for) drink and its trappings. I like that about you. The problem that I see is that in this world of college binge-drinking and the probably-urban-mythical butt-chugging, the sight of a kid in a bar is considered unsightly and it is probably illegal.

In general, I feel like drinking and alcohol are facing some of their toughest critics since prohibition. The pseudomorals of the easily offended soccer mom and the condescension of the righteous morning news show are building a wall against casual drinking. I am shocked at how often I meet folks who are quick to judge my regular drinking related to my involvement in the brewing and food industry, and they turn out to be terribly irresponsible drunks. I say to them: “A little often” seems to me to be better than “too much, rarely.” I am not saying that I never overindulge, but beer and liquor are not necessarily just tools to get fucked up in a horrible way. I was lucky enough to learn about moderation on those Saturday afternoons spent in a bar with family. I can enjoy one or two drinks, a conversation and the ability to leave the joint under my own control.

I don’t know. I suppose that I will not be able to show this new kid the magic of a friendly bar. He may not even care. It could be something you are born with. As I sit here now, thinking about the bars that I love, what I do know is that a bar and a good group of friends are good things to have and something to be cherished, regardless of what they might say on the news.

Also, if you happen to be waiting for a pool table and I am there teaching my kid how to shoot, give me a break will ya? I am trying to impart something important.

About Chris Washenberger

What is my favorite drink? Huh... That is a tough one. What do you have? That is probably it.

  • Kezza

    I also grew up in bars with young parents and a big Irish-American family. I think it taught me a lot about responsible imbibing, social etiquette and of course bar games. I credit a lot of how comfortable I am in new crowded situations to that upbringing. Maybe bringing kids into dive bars is frowned upon, but that certainly doesn’t seem to be the case at breweries around town. I actually like when I meet well-behaved (key!!) kids in bars. They’re usually very well-adjusted and fun to chat with. I think the key is to use it as an opportunity to teach your kid how to interact with adults and in public in general. Nothing grinds my gears more than a group of adults at one table pleasantly ignoring their kids as they run circles around a brewery/restaurant patio until someone inevitable breaks something/hurts themselves/causes some sort of raucous and half of them start screaming. It’s these kids/parents that give the awesome parents like you a bad name. Establishments in Denver need more parents with chill kids to hang out and show everyone how it’s done!

    • Chris Washenberger

      I think that there needs to be a balance. Some places just aren’t meant for kids. Parents need to be proactive too. I know that if I had gotten out of line in a place there would have been hell to pay.

  • D.T. Pennington

    Aww, this was sweet. I wanna give you a hug.

    My folks didn’t drink around us growing up. No idea how I’ll approach booze when it comes to my own rug-rat. I definitely don’t want it to be demonized.

    Good stuff, sailor.

  • Star Bar

    VERY well done sir!!! People forget that bars, saloons, taverns, watering holes all served as gathering points for the neighborhoods they were located in. People went in for social contact, news, info, gossip, etc. Over indulging was slim to never, you didn’t want to act like a jack ass in front of your family, neighbors, and friends. Those establishments helped build and support community. If video killed the radio star, Facebook killed the neighborhood bar. Very few people know how to interact face to face anymore, let alone make new friends, and that is very sad. You let me know when you are ready, and I will bring in another pool table, for just that purpose.

    • Chris Washenberger

      Sounds good to me! I would also say that if you do not have a regular bar, Star Bar is a pretty good choice.

  • Gennie

    Hi Chris, I enjoyed reading this article even though I am a senior citizen who has never drank alcohol. Well, not intentionally… it doesn’t count for the two times my drink was spiked.

    I can see how you learned good values and learned to appreciate your Dad and uncles through your being taken to bars. The videos I see today of bars seems to be a place no child should be. But then maybe sports bars would be similar to where you grew up, where people go in to have a few drinks, hot wings, watch sports and be with their friends.

    In Ireland and Britain the pub is where you eat and be with friends and family. I don’t think there is any place to eat in Scotland, Wales, Ireland or England that doesn’t serve alcohol. I could be mistaken, but that is my impression from the friends I have who live there or moved to USA from there.

    So, I think it is all about your culture. Having a glass of wine or a beer with your meal does not make you a drunk or a bad person. I don’t drink because my grandfather was an alcoholic… and his behavior would change drastically when he was drunk. But I go to reunions with my cousins and enjoy their company while all of them are drinking but me. They seem to enjoy me too, because I don’t show any disapproval and love them unconditionally. It is not my place to judge.