Wednesday, March 28, 2012


My bar went out of commission back in December. The shock has passed and the pain is starting to hit. You don't see many writings from women ministers extolling and eulogizing their bars. I'm out to change that.

When I was a child my grandfather, Skip, had a bar that was his second home. It was called Marie's. It was on the side of a busy trucking road near West Point, Virginia. That branch of the family is a matriarchy, and Skip was a flawed man with a bar love, so the negativity regarding the evil Marie's among the formidable women who raised me was palpable. I never heard the name said without a sneer. If they hadn't all been good Southern women they would have used spit as punctuation. I do recall that the adjective of choice to describe the joint was "damn"(sic).

I think I only got to go in Marie's once and it was from begging Skip and wearing down my beloved grandmother, Janie Bell. I was shocked that it was clean, pretty well lit and served mediocre hamburgers. Skip made way better hamburgers at home. My child mind just didn't get it.

My dad #1 didn't have a Marie's but my dad #2 had one. It's called Dot's. It used to be Tom Tom's. You can tell the length of tooth on a Northsider in Richmond, Virginia by the need to specify that we're talking about Dot's Back Inn that used to be Tom Tom's even though there is no other Dot's. It's as close as we can get to snobbery.

Dot's, which was owned by Cookie, sits two blocks behind the marital home I shared for 15+ years. Now it's owned by Jimmy but Cookie pulls a shift every now and again to keep her finger on the Northside pulse and to keep the decades tenured regulars happy.

Years ago when Dot's caught on fire and had to be redone all the food was better in the new digs. There were a lot of theories on why this would be. These theories involved everything from grease traps to lead paint. My theory was that the cooking staff had gone on a bender during the remodel and their zest for newfound sobriety on the re-opening came out in the dishes.

Jimmy has them cooking like fiends these days at Dot's. The specials board has become my go-to spot for fine vittles with some caution. I made the mistake of getting Jimmy's S'mores for dessert one night. It's deep fried French toast with marshmallow creme and enough Hershey's syrup to make you twitch for an hour after. A Bud is my dessert now: one with dinner, one for dessert. I don't live near there any more so I can't be indulging with abandon in the hops and barley beverages. Abandon = 3.

My daughter has been dating Rafael, one of the sous chefs at Dot's, since she was just out of diapers. She draws him pictures. He gives her free broccoli. It's a relationship a mother can approve of. They had a falling out a few months back when Lorelei thought they may actually be dating. I reminded her that it was just a long-running joke and that Rafael thinks of her like a daughter so she patched it back up. Rafael was never aware of this time of romantic struggle.

My buddy Paul and I have become buddies because we both go to Dot's for soup together about once a month. He says the bar stools are where the maritally woe begotten hang out. Yeah, that's about right.

One night my friend Faye, a Dot's waitress, misread a couple's signals and they stormed out with much huffing and tossing of hair. We don't toss hair in Northside unless it is to shake out the inch worms who have taken over the Spring trees.

"While they were sitting over there saying nothing, I was just saying that people my age fear Alzheimer's way more than cancer. Dang, I hope the Alzheimer's hasn't crept in already. Why didn't they say somethin'?" God, I love Faye.

Another night a friend told me about how when one of the Dot's waitresses had worked at Legend Brewery she had tried to talk him out of having his own personalized mug on the premises. She had warned that she'd seen too many lives fall down into the bottom of one of those "prestigious" mugs and fail to re-surface. See? These are good people at Dot's.

I didn't know this much about Dot's last year. Although the food at Dot's is and was far superior, I spent my bar stool time a block away at Shenanigans. Yep, my bar was named Shenanigans. Strangers seem to find that, and names like "Janie Bell", and "Cookie" endlessly amusing.

Shenanigans used to be Ray's Cock and Bull, a bluegrass bar. (Stop your giggling.) My mama and daddy #1 went to Cock and Bull once before my birth but left quickly when someone set their gun on a table. I'm sure daddy #2 went into Cock and Bull at some time, since it was his neighborhood, but I haven't heard about it. Cock and Bull was still open when I moved to Northside in the 90's but, in light of the gun story, I never went into it.

I started going to Shenanigan's pretty much when they opened. They had live music. They had nice owners. They sometimes had really good food, other times just decent bar food. Most importantly, they had a large collection of colorful regulars, myself included. I could write a book on my life at Shenanigans because, even though it was a bar, I rarely had more than a couple of drinks so I remember almost all of it clearly.

The ease of Shenanigan's was what I cherished. When you have your own bar it is very much like the TV show "Cheers". I could walk out my back door and be at Shenanigans in about a minute surrounded by familiars. I knew the owners, all the employees former and current, all the regulars, most of the musicians. I took all 12 of the Auspicious Jots readers there at one time or another. I had at least 6 birthday parties there. I celebrated innovations like the new paint job, the outlawing of indoor smoking, the moving of the stage, and three rounds of menu changes.

When my Janie Bell's dementia wasn't too bad, but in place enough to keep her from knowing she was in a bar, I would take her to Shenanigans for a burger. When my kids had a rough day at school or a truly great one we would celebrate with a soda at the bar. My out-of-town guests came with me to hear music. I received many a hug and a round from a friend as our family struggled through loss after loss. Their stage is the one I have sung from the most. On my first maritally separated Thanksgiving, the owners of Shenanigans took care of me and made sure I was fed and loved so it became one of the most delightful Thanksgiving meals ever.

Twice during storms when the power went out I was in Shenanigans which was a bummer because we were on the same line so I knew I was going home to darkness. The second time was memorable because I was on a barstool beside the Showdog's crack guitarist, Jim, and he said, "Decades I've spent playing in bars and this is the first time I've ever had the power go out."

"Don't look at me. I was here during Hurricane Irene and got the last burger from the grill before the lights went out for days," I piped up as I emptied my beer to go to my darkened home.

"Of course you were," Jim replied. At the time it sounded like admiration in his voice. Now I wonder.

Now that Shenanigans is gone I eat at Dot's. I visit my fave Shenanigan's waitresses Mary and Bonkers in Lakeside. I don't hear 1/10th of the music I used to. And I find myself thinking, "I should head on down to Shenanigans" before realizing I can't.

I've been courting a bartender (professionally only) at Penny Lane Pub. When you aren't an alcoholic, the bartender can make the bar because conversation is way more important. He's almost off the probation period of New Bartender thanks to dancing his tail off with his darling wife on one of the last nights at Shenanigans while I played full body tambourine for everyone's favorite 70's funk cover band, NRG Krysis. Shared absurd experience is a key element to any long-term bartender/customer relationship.

But Penny Lane or any other bar is not the same and never will be. Shenanigan's had a look to it at sunset that was so welcoming and happy. At that same time of day, Shenanigans had some regulars who had a look to them that was always off-putting and menacing. To a man, they were harmless and had their charms.

Shenanigans was like a home. I knew which chairs I liked, when to get the special, the best spot for wi-fi, and how to move through it when crowded. I know where I was sitting when Richmond's troubador, Page Wilson, very publicly asked me on a date when I was very married. Page and many others have gone to the Shenanigans in the sky, their deaths made more melancholy by the inability to hoist a pint in their honor at the very bar they loved.

There are many reasons, easy to list, not to have "your" bar. But a bar can be a safe place to make friends, be yourself, try new things, wax philosophical; to learn how to put up with loud mouthed turkeys, and to practice your jaw at being a loud mouthed turkey. Shenanigans was all of those things for me AND they served booze and burgers. God love them.

Do me a favor. This week hoist something wet in a public setting and call out with great reverence, "To Shenanigans!" Then look solemnly around, tap your glass down in front of you and slosh back whatever you like to drink from tea to Jaeger. I'd do the same for you.

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