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.