Stranger in a Strange Land: The Perfect Bar

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Perfect Bar

There comes a point in every man’s life when he sets out on a quest to find the legendary “Perfect Bar”. During his noble journey he will become lost in smoke-filled rooms, engage in enlightening drunken conversations with strangers, and have intimate moments spent hugging cold, white porcelain. His ultimate destination is the discovery of a magical place that, until found, exists only in the fantasylands of television, movies and imaginations. When he stumbles upon the Perfect Bar, he will recognize it by its familial feel. Although he has never been there before, everybody will somehow know his name and, more importantly, know his drink of choice. Everything about the “Perfect Bar” will be right. The jukebox will crackle all the right tunes, the patrons will entertain with interesting conversation and the bartender will know what to do when told “PBRMEASAP”.

I have been wandering the streets in search of the fabled “Perfect Bar” for over a year. During my quest I have had the pleasure of enjoying the 1940’s atmosphere of a Sinatra-filled jukebox on faded red velour carpet at the Lounge. I have cried at the in-your-face reality of another pathetic Hawkeye loss cast down from the wall-sized televisions of Courtside. I swam under the summer stars with the Jimmy Buffett inspired land sharks and successfully avoided tripping into the blazing bonfire lit on the nautical deck of the Yard Arm. With amused curiosity I watched ghost-like shadows slither across a white bedroom sheet tacked to the tiled ceiling, transparently concealing the true happenings of Isabella’s stage. I have danced at the Busted Lift’s floor and have watched others try to reenact Coyote Ugly on top of Gin Ricky’s bar. I’ve enjoyed bottles of wine at both Jamie’s and The Grape Harbor and have drained pints at both Lot One and Bartini’s. I have crawled up and down Central circa 1972, yet still I continue to wander, wondering, “Where is the Perfect Bar?”

Although all of these bars are superb in their own unique way, none have met my rigorous standards for being declared the “Perfect Bar”. At some point they are too crowded, too expensive, charging cover, not stocked with the right beer, or playing the wrong music. Some have committed the mortal sin of offering its patrons, regardless of musical taste, the ability to be D.J. for a night by downloading music onto an Internet jukebox and killing the atmosphere in cold blood with the first note of any non-David Lee Roth Van Halen disappointment. At other times these places feel too old, too young or too much like a private party I am clearly not invited to. Perhaps I’m a perfectionist? My expectations are too high? Maybe this idea of a Perfect Bar is only that, an idea. A figment of my imagination.

Ah, but not so for I have found the Perfect Bar. I present to you the Walnut Tap. Granted, I have never actually been to the Walnut, but in my mind I know it is a tavern of perfection. In my mind I see it as a nitty-gritty pub whose air is filled with a low hanging London fog of stale smoke due to non-existent ventilation. I know its wood floors are finished with a sticky coat of fallen ash mixed with wasted beer. In the corner sits a dust covered neon jukebox spinning nostalgia from its collection of 45s. In the background the comforting clink of a breaking cue ball ricochets off the peeling wallpapered walls held up by now-antique beer signs. At the bar I see Sam and Scott, two college buddies, swivel on torn leather barstools while engaged in an intellectual critique of Tom Waits’ latest work of art. I know when I go to order a PBR the bartender will instinctively announce my wise decision with a ring of the obligatory P.B.R. bell hanging on the glass filled wall behind him.

In my mind I know the Walnut is the “Perfect Bar”. My quest is complete. I shuffle up to the tavern’s simple entrance and reach out for its metal handle, ice cold from the freezing temperature outside. Before opening the door, I pause. Through the condensation-concealed glass, I take a long look inside. I see the swirls of smoke, hear the hushed murmur of drunken conversation and smell the bitter aroma of a wooden floor saturated with hops. “Perfect,” I say out loud. Watching my word delineate in the crisp winter air, I let go and quietly walk away.


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