Jack walked into Lawry’s just after 4:30, about the same as every day once he’d finished his bread truck delivery route. Jack was usually the first to arrive and find his place at the end of the bar near the neon lined glass block windows.
“I’ll have ‘the best beer in all the land’ he directed Big Jim who leaned on the bar waiting for the early evening regulars. Jack knew what he ordered wasn’t ‘the best beer in all the land’, but it was a good, reliable and inexpensive beer brewed up north, in the same place for the last 150 years. He also still enjoyed many of the more expensive craft and microbrews that were en vogue these days, but often chose the old reliable as he had his whole life to save a few dollars to help put his daughters through college.
Big Jim slid Jack the weekly paper promoting it’s panel discussion that evening on the future of neighborhood bars. “How come you’re not going to be up on stage tonight? You’ve tended bar at half the places in town and been drunk at all of them a time or two? No one knows more about bars in this town than their best customer.”
Glancing though the list of panelists Jack laughed at the idea. “There are a few here who know more about how to take the soul away from a neighborhood tavern than how to tend bar at one. At least they have a writer who’s been to places like Dot’s Tavern that have real charm still. And you can count on a writer to have lifted a glass or two himself. I bet he’ll be the only one there actually having a drink tonight. I’d buy him a whiskey shot if I went.”
“Maybe I don’t have a big enough title to get on the panel, I see there’s a Vice President of something who runs everything from college cafeterias to a steak house and some asian fusion place. But they ruined the place that used to be a neighborhood tavern, they went and threw most of the place dumpster when they gutted it and pretty much treated the customers who were regulars the same way. All those old clocks and nicknacks that gave the place character and charm, gone. What is a ‘bubble-up’ anyway?”
“I guess Applebee’s calls itself a ‘neighborhood bar and grill’ and I am sure they’ve got a bunch of vice presidents of such and such,” Big Jim chuckled as he drew Jack another beer.
Jack, who’s spent the first 25 years of his adult life, tending bars and working as a bouncer before opting for the more regular schedule and teamster benefits his delivery route job afforded him, wondered how often a vice president of an eighteen location food service operation even set foot in a neighborhood tavern, much less behind the bar of one.
“Some of these guy’s who are taking over the old time neighborhood tavern’s like the Tip Top Tavern have made them into some very nice restaurants….”
“…and that’s just it,” Big Jim started to complete the sentence, “they are too nice, too pricey. I keep my joint simple so that my regulars can come in and get their burger and beer after work every night. Larry comes after his mail route and those two brothers who have been stopping in after their bookkeeping jobs for years. Those guys have dinner here with their pals and only spend ten or twelve bucks if they don’t stay too late, but these new places, it’s twelve just for the damn ‘burger!”
“Jim, a few guys still do it right like you. Genna’s gets the downtown afterwork crowd who live nearby or stop on their way home and they give them a good happy hour deal to keep it cheap. The Harmony down the street shows you can have a variety of good food that’s still affordable for working guys. The ‘Bou and Slices…. but there aren’t many. I just hope a few of those places can make it a few more years as long as I do.”