Saturday, June 24, 2017

We Walk into a Sports Bar and Leave a Little Sad

Field House, Fresno, California
Mindy outside Field House, Fresno, California for game four
All right, let’s get the ugliness out of the way. This month, we decided this to devote our bar visits to the NBA finals, rooting the Warriors on to victory. We went to the Field House to watch Game Four, and the Warriors lost, rather ignominiously. The Cleveland Cavaliers set a Finals record in the first quarter by scoring 49 points, following that by setting the record for most points in a half (86), and most three pointers in a Finals game with 24. Golden State never managed to get a lead.

Field House was a busy, crowded place that night, and most people were obviously there to watch the game. At the previous three bars we visited this month, we arrived after the game began -- but not this night. We found two seats at the bar. The national anthem started, so I stood. No one else did.

Eighteen screens were playing the game. There were cars with Warriors paraphernalia in the parking lot, and people wearing Warriors gear inside, but the fans never had much of a chance to get excited. At one point when Kevin Durant dunked and cut the Cavaliers lead to seven, someone called “Here we go!” That was about it.

We each ordered The Classic Mustard Dog; Mindy ordered fries, and I got the onion rings. After we ate, I ordered an Angry Orchard for cheapness’ sake, and Mindy ordered a coffee/vodka drink, Snow Cap. (It was a busy night. I got my drink right away, but Mindy’s was a long time coming. The bartender forgot about it, which happens -- especially when the drink requires a fresh pot o decaf. The bartender kindly comped it when she realized she’d forgotten it, so all is swell.)

It was a good night to ask our two questions of people, “What makes for a good bar?” and “What makes for a good church?” It was a good night to ask, because Warriors fans wanted to talk about anything but the game.

Mindy talked to Gisele to her right. Gisele used many of the same words we often hear, “atmosphere,” “friendliness,” and “ambience” to describe a good bar. And “obviously, customer service, too,” she added. As for what make for a good church, she said, “I’ve been to many churches. Acceptance of parishioners coming in, not being judgemental. Seeing different points of view.” She gave another great quote about what can go wrong in churches:  “A lot of people follow the cloth and not the Scriptures.”

I talked to the couple to my left, Alan and Muriel. They are originally from England, and married there in a beautiful Church of England church. But they’ve lived in the States for the last twenty-five years. Alan works in the wheelchair business. He mentioned that his company has made donations to a Christian organization that works with special needs, Joni and Friends.

I asked Alan about bars, and he said what he appreciates is “atmosphere.” I asked him to be more specific, and he said, “It’s the ambience of the bar, not too bright, bartenders that notice you. Not too much noise, though a night like this is different.” (We would have liked a lot of noise from cheering Warriors fans, but there wasn’t so much.) “I like to be able to get to know people.”

When I first asked what makes for a good church, Alan shrugged. “I like singing. I’m not so much into the sermon. I like old style churches.”  

Muriel interrupted, “Come on, tell him you’re an atheist.” Alan seemed to want to deny that, “I believe in the Golden Rule.”

Muriel became a Christian when she was 21, back in England in a Pentecostal Church, and she still values the Pentecostal worship experience. When she came to the States, she was very excited to hear Billy Graham speak.

We left Field House with a quarter still to go before the game ended. We thought, of course, that if the Warriors made a really amazing, historic come from behind win and took the championship that night, we’d feel pretty stupid. Sadly, we didn’t feel stupid that night. At least not for that.

Postscript: We watched Game Five, the game when the Warriors won the Finals, at our son’s apartment because he has cable. My brother Dale came over as well. Our dad had taken us both to see the Warriors back in the Seventies, the last decade they were World Champs. Sometimes it’s nice to experience Big Events with Big Crowds. Sometimes it’s nice to just be with family.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

We Walk into a Game Bar for a Big Game

happy hour at Dave and Buster's, Fresno
Dave and Buster's, Fresno, California
"Green Ghost" sounds more like a Scooby Doo villain than a beverage, but it was the drink I ordered at Dave and Buster’s. The menu says it’s a blend of apple whisky, green apple vodka, Granny Smith apple syrup, sweet ‘n’ sour, and Sprite -- which leaves out the key component that makes the drink special. It has a light-up “ice cube” that changes colors, which is what makes the drink “ghoulish” (as the menu describes it). You can also order drinks with sea monsters.

Obviously, this is not a bar for “serious” drinkers.

If you haven’t been to a Dave and Buster’s (a national chain -- international really, with Canadian locations), it is primarily a game arcade. Most of the floor space is taken up with video games, skee ball and one of the most awesome games I have ever seen, a full size Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots.

It also is a restaurant. This location has a couple of dining sections, and then there’s the GameBar. We waited a few minutes before space at the bar opened, and we took it. It was still happy hour so our drinks, including Mindy’s Chocolatini, were half price.

Many times when we’ve talked with people about what makes for a good bar, we hear, “It depends what you’re looking for, sometimes you’re looking for a party and sometimes you want to chill.”

Usually when we look for a bar, we’re looking for a place where we can talk to people. So it can’t be empty, but ideally it isn’t too crowded. If there’s a loud, party atmosphere, it’s difficult to talk to people.

This month, we’re using the bar visits as opportunities to watch the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. We knew there would be at least four games (and only four games in the case of a sweep), so we knew we could visit enough sports bars to cover our posts for the month. And the GameBar at Dave and Buster’s seemed like a sports bar to us.

Even before we entered the place, we could hear the play by play for the third game of the NBA Finals on the outside speakers. Most of the dozens of screens inside were playing the game. (I saw a lonely screen playing the Giants game. It changed to basketball when the baseball game was done.)

The noise from the arcade games keep Dave and Buster’s GameBar from being an ideal place for quiet conversation. But the Game made it impossible. The volume for the broadcast was loud, and people were cheering loudly as well. When the Cavaliers were ahead, the minority of Cleveland fans cheered lustily at every move Sir James made. When the Warriors pulled ahead, they quieted down.

As the fourth quarter began, Cleveland was leading, and I was beginning to think we wouldn’t need to go to our third bar for the week. (We went out for the first game on a Thursday, the second on Sunday, and this was Wednesday night.) If the Cavs won, it wouldn’t be necessary to go to a bar on Friday night, because there would be a game five the next week. Our bar visit could wait.

But Curry, Durant, Thompson, and the rest of the Dubs had other plans for our weekend, coming back for an exciting win. It was great to be with a big crowd sharing the anxiety and the excitement. The majority cheered wildly at the conclusion as the the Warriors overcame double digit deficits to win by five.

We usually ask people at a bar, “What makes for a good bar?” and “Whether you go or not, what makes for a good church?” We didn’t ask anyone our questions on Wednesday night because most people were too into the game or wouldn’t have been able to hear us anyway. And our servers, Bryan and Red, were much too busy for conversation. (But they did provide cheerful and competent service.)

Most people answer that church question by saying they like to go to a place where they’ll be welcomed and accepted, but occasionally people say they like going to a big place where they can be anonymous and just enjoy the music and teaching and celebration. Sometimes it’s nice to celebrate anonymously in a bar as well.

For video of the Green Goblin (and the end of the game), check out Mindy's instagram.