Monday, March 13, 2006

Ode to Tending Bar

Sometimes I miss being a bartender. I spent more years waitressing than tending bar, but it's the glass stacking, last call chiming, weird concoction brewing, story listening and telling life of the bartender that I miss. When I worked the bar in seminary I used to quip that my work hours should count as a pastoral internship. Bartender, minister, there are many obvious similarities, but there are so many benefits to tending bar that you don't know until you've done it, and missed it once you retire the shaker and winekey.

I recently read The Tender Bar by J.R. Mohringer which is one of the reasons I've been missing my apron and second hand smoke. The characters of that memoir's bar, Publicans, exist in recognizable form in the bars I worked in, and most of the restaurants, too. Mohringer is so talented at evoking the bar feel that I woke up one morning after an extended read and thought I had a hangover. (Turned out to be a sinus headache from my mold allergy, but he had me going there for a good five minutes.)

I've seen, known, been related to, and served enough alcoholics in my time to not feel completely romantic in my barroom memories. Most of the clientele have morally questionable reasons for being in attendance on any given night. So what do I miss about it? The family-type relationships that develop, without the family responsibility; the amazing uncensored stories of patrons' lives (people edit heavily when talking to the preacher, but not the bartender); and, most of all, I miss the laughter. If you take yourself too seriously in a bar, you're likely to get bounced (another job I had that I don't miss.) A good bar, a tender bar brings out the absurdity in life, calms you down, and sends you back into the world a little lighter, even when you've had nothing to drink but seltzer all night. We could use a lot more of that feel in all our gathering houses.

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