By Dom Cioffi
There’s a little bar a mile up the road from where I live. It’s part of a strip mall that houses the prerequisite pizza joint, nail salon, drug store, and karate center. There’s also a grocery store sitting on the end that acts as the anchor for the property.
The couple who owns the bar live on our road, albeit the other end. I know of them because they have a son close to my son’s age, but I don’t “know” them. From what I can gather, they are a nice couple just trying to make a living. He obviously runs the show, while she acts as an occasional waitress, likely filling in when the staff is thin.
The bar serves typical fare for a small kitchen establishment: burgers, a few hot and cold sandwiches, and a salad or two. It’s not great food, but if you’re hungry while having a beer, it serves the purpose.
I’ve been to this bar on a few rare occasions. My wife and I tried it out when it first opened, hoping it might be a culinary diamond in the rough, but that wasn’t the case. Other than that, I think I’ve been there two other times, both because friends insisted that we meet them for a drink.
But don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad. The little bar’s claim to fame is its buoyant selection of craft brewed beers, of which it claims to have over 100 different varieties. This unique feature attracts a sizable crowd at happy hour throughout the week. They also make the effort to bring in an occasional solo guitarist on Fridays or Saturdays for added ambiance.
I’ve never seen anyone perform there, but I often hear the muffled music when I’m stopping next door to grab a take-out pizza. I’m a sucker for any acoustic guitarist who stands in the corner of a bar and sings old rock standards at a less-than-deafening level.
They also did a fantastic job with the décor. The owner is obviously a sports buff or at least chose to market his bar that way. The inside is littered with paraphernalia from every major sport. There are football helmets, golf clubs, hockey jerseys, and several autographed baseballs. There’s also one entire wall that features license plates from around the country with sports teams’ names spelled out in creative combinations of letters and numbers.
And as you might guess, there are multiple big screen televisions scattered throughout the premises. From any seat, you are guaranteed a view of at least three different sporting events.
Personally, I’ve never been someone who heads out to the bar alone for a drink. I’ve got several friends that enjoy the camaraderie during a football game, but I’ve always preferred my quiet living room to a noisy bar.
However, last weekend an odd convergence of events compelled me to visit that little neighborhood bar.
It was Saturday afternoon and my wife had left town to visit her mother while my son had made plans to sleep over at a friend’s house. I was completely alone, but while I normally covet those moments and fill them with any number of solo activities, I found myself pacing around the house bored.
Admittedly, I’ve also been suffering from a bit of pandemic overload. I’m exhausted from the last two years both physically and mentally and for some reason it was coming to a head last weekend.
Nothing sounded appealing so I hopped in my truck with the sole intention of just driving around, which is exactly what I did for an hour, listening to music and taking in the sights. And when I got tired of that, I headed home. However, while stopped at the traffic light near the strip mall, I made the rash decision to pull in and have a beer.
I walked into the bar, which was half full due to the weekend football games, ordered a draft beer, and found a seat off to the side where I basically had a whole tv to myself. Before long, a middle-aged couple sidled up next to me and we started a conversation that lasted a good hour. I even ordered some chicken fingers just to round out the experience.
In the end, I had a great time and appreciated the change of scenery and pleasant banter with strangers. It also made me realize the importance of socialization and how we’ve all lacked that during these last two years.
In this week’s feature, “The Tender Bar,” starring Ben Affleck and directed by George Clooney, we meet a middle-aged man who has realized that his ship has sailed. But rather than wallow in resentment about his own life, he’s decided to invest his energy into his nephew who is desperately in need of a father figure.
Check this one out if you’re in the mood for a well-made, well-acted drama that shows how humanity can be found in the most unlikely of places.
A dingy “B” for “The Tender Bar,” available for streaming on Amazon Prime.
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected]