Monday, September 24, 2007

Writer Bars

I like drinking. Not drinking drinking--it didn't take many nights of that to convince me to swear it off for eternity, and besides, I can never stay up late enough to accomplish it--but the kind of drinking that is generally euphemized "social drinking," which I think means doing it with a bunch of other people and yukking it up.

Today a student of mine turned in a poem about my favorite bar in town, and as inspiration for his revision I offered him Richard Hugo's poem "The Only Bar In Dixon," which contains the great passage

This is home because some people
go to Perma and come back
from Perma saying Perma
is no fun.

Back in the day, Rhian and I and a few other people made the pilgrimage to Dixon--in fact, out to Perma and then back to Dixon--and enjoyed a can of some swill or other at the Dixon Bar. The story went that Hugo, James Welch, and J. D. Reed all went on an ice fishing trip, and stopped in Dixon on the way home, and visited the bar; each of them wrote a poem, and they were all published together in the New Yorker in 1970.

We didn't dig the only bar in Dixon, mostly because they didn't dig us there. The regulars knew why we were there and seemed eager to return to the slow work of killing themselves. Better was Al's and Vic's in Missoula, which, at the time we lived there, always seemed to contain mostly writers and football players. Not sure how that happened. We have fond memories of playing video poker, talking to our friends Fran and Lila who worked behind the bar, dodging the crazy dude who tried to bite that one guy's nose off that one time, and the dissipated remains of Miss Minnesota 1964. By the time we returned to Missoula for a visit in 2002, the writers seemed to have moved to The Union Club, four blocks away--a gentler place, with better food.

Ithaca doesn't really have a writer bar, maybe because most of the writers aren't really drinkers. It's kind of not in vogue. I am not sure where my students go, when they go out.

The thing I really fear is that the coffee shop has replaced the writers' bar. Yes, it's healthier (though only marginally, here, ever since New York state put the kibosh on smoking in bars), and more cheerful, and there are plenty of places to plug in your Macbook. And here in Ithaca we get to have the glorious Gimme to congregate at, in addition to The Great Satan--and far be it from me to denigrate the drink I most adore, the mighty joe.

BUT. Give me a double of Maker's, a grubby notebook, dim lighting, and a bunch of drunks humiliating themselves all around me, and I will give you a short story by closing time. Give me instead a cappuccino, a scone, and broad daylight, and I got nothin' but a shaky hand, a mild headache, and a need to pee.


bigscarygiraffe said...

Hallelujah, amen sir.

Just so you know, you're completely wrong ("Ithaca doesn't really have a writer bar.") We writers take over all bars for all purposes: Pretension loves Stellas. The hip writers who like popcornbeer go to Chapter House, the physical writers who like loud things and big shots go to Level B, the grown up writers who like being grown up (read: car) go to the Commons, and everybody goes to Dunbars because it's cheap. Or maybe, when it comes down to it, we're all just about the booze.

Anonymous said...

Awww, Stella's is for undergrads. ;-) For his tenth birthday, Owen wanted nothing more than to walk to Stella's on his own and buy a rice krispie treat...mission accomplished.

I think what you're saying is that every bar is a writer bar.

bigscarygiraffe said...

bingo...and the rice krispies are better right from the pan, at least that's what my mom says.

rmellis said...

You're such a liar. You wrote a whole novel in a coffee shop, and as far as I know, nothing more ambitious than a dirty haiku in a bar.

bigscarygiraffe said...

oh snap. And here I was planning on writing my next brillant sestina at the Chapter House

ed said...

The Honor Roll

New Orleans: Markey's Bar, Buffa's, Carousel Bar, Snake and Jake's Christmas Club Lounge, The Saint, The Columns, The Why Not?, The Saturn Bar

Missoula: Al & Vic's ("Where the Elite Meet"), Charlie's, Union Bar, Trixie's in Ovando

Seattle: The Cloud Room (R.I.P.), The Viking.

Manhattan (KS): The Hibachi Hut, Auntie Mae's

Cholula: Bar Reforma

Idyllwild: our porch

Anonymous said...

"You're such a liar. You wrote a whole novel in a coffee shop, and as far as I know, nothing more ambitious than a dirty haiku in a bar."

Shh! You're knackering my cred!

It's true though, I always forget the details that undermine my thesis. That's why I'm not a literary critic.

Anonymous said...

And by the way it wasn't a haiku, it was a limerick:

A randy young journ'list from Sanders
Couldn't tell gooses from ganders.
He wanted to fill
The **** of George Will
And **** on the **** of Ann Landers.

5 Red Pandas said...

Hah. I had a feeling that JRL was protesting against coffee houses just a little bit too much. I never get much work done in a coffee place because of the music and people watching, but give me a good library any day.

Oh the libraries I have typed away in! Now I use the library at Pratt while going to library school. The librarian dresses like a bat with these long flowing kimono-like robes in shades of black, silver and gray.

Perhaps there was some autobiography with JRL's Mailman character and his being banned from the library Hmmm? *raises eyebrow*