Saturday, March 26, 2016

We walk into a bar in Georgia

joystick atlanta entrance
Joystick Gamebar, Atlanta

During my college years, Donkey Kong took untold numbers of quarters that should have gone to laundry. At the Joystick Gamebar in Atlanta, Georgia, it claimed another. In addition to Donkey Kong, there were plenty of other games available from back in the day: Space Invaders, Gauntlet, Defender, Terminator 2 pinball, among many. And also Dolly Parton pinball. I don't recall ever seeing, and certainly not playing, Dolly Parton pinball. (We overheard one guy saying to another, with great sincerity, "It's not just any pinball. It's Dolly Parton pinball.") I heard that other old school gaming opportunities are coming, including a wall mounted flat screen TV that will serve as a Gameboy monitor.

bar at joystick
The bar, two rooms (one with the bar and lots of games, the other with barstool height tables, foosball, pinball, along with chairs and couches), was comfortably full when we arrived around 9:00 pm on Wednesday night. When I asked a young woman named Brittney what made for a good bar, she said there should be something besides drinks, and Joystick certainly does. Besides the video games, there was a collection of nostalgic board games including one that allowed you to take a spin as Alex P. Keaton. We saw a couple playing Chutes and Ladders (and anyone who has raised small children knows that this game, though not as bad as Candyland, is also located in one of the midlevels of Dante's Inferno).

back room at joystick
They have nights with bands and comedy nights. We saw information about a nerdy girl meet-up (illustrated with Tina Fey, who I doubt will actually be there). And people make their own entertainment: a guy name Ben was taking on all comers for thumb wrestling. So I foolishly volunteered and was ignominiously defeated.

1-2-3-4 I declare a thumb war
But I enjoyed talking to Ben and his friend, Ross. Ben was leaving one job to move to another, and so this was a bit of a going away party for him (complete with chugging contest). We asked Ben and Ross our two questions, "What makes for a good bar?" and "What makes for a good church?"

What's important to Ben is that a bar be a place where people can communicate, where good conversations can happen. Ross agreed and added that the bartenders in that place set an atmosphere for talk by being friendly and not condescending. Ben pointed out that you can get beer almost anywhere, but people might get more choosy with cocktails (but that doesn't matter to him). He told us about another bar that has cutting edge, state of the art games, but since my game interest doesn't go much past Sonic the Hedgehog I think I'd be happier at Joystick. (By the way, we ordered from their drink specialties menu. I ordered Cowboys and Indians (whiskey and house made chai soda), and Mindy ordered Ginger Snap, a boozy slushy with house-made ginger beer).

drinks and foosball
As for what they look for in a church, Ben said he appreciates good architecture, especially if it's gothic with parapets. Ross appreciates old school music with organs and hymns rather than worship bands and choruses.

family ties game
I saw a guy wearing a Jabba the Hutt with slave costume Leia tshirt, so I needed to talk to him. He was obviously one of my people. He said his name was Taylor, and before getting to our two questions, I had to ask him what he thought of The Force Awakens (he found it lazy and formulaic, but better than the prequels... but arguably there are episodes of Family Ties better than the prequels). Eventually we did get to the standard questions. For a bar, he likes it dingy with cheap beer; for a church he likes it to be pretty with lovely stained glass. So... kind of opposites for bar and church.

We met a very fun couple, Mary and Courtney, who told us about their dating life, the good, the bad and the ugly of it. We don't have time to tell that story, but it did involve stalking and a car being keyed. We asked our questions, and Courtney said he likes good company in a bar and strong drinks with a heavy pour. Mary likes a bar that has decent seats and tables, where you can sit comfortably and have a place to put your purse as well as your drink.

hotly contested foosball game
There was a break before they could answer our second question, because they needed to play some foosball versus another couple, but after awhile, we got back together for our church question. Mary likes the music to be upbeat. She likes Kirk Franklin's music, and she likes it to be sanctified and Pentecostal, and she likes a choir. Courtney looks for entertainment. He likes to watch that strange person who is clapping off beat and whose singing is off. He likes to make babies cry if he can. He went forward for communion one time at a church where the priest puts a wafer on his tongue. He asked for a second wafer. He got a strange look, a shrug, and a second wafer.

ceiling fan and wall decorations at joystick
And then we met a group of friends that was out to celebrate Lindsey's 30th birthday. Lindsey's husband, Dylan, likes a clean bar with no smoking. Joystick has a small town atmosphere that's comfortable, but it's quite different on crowded weekends. That's not when he wants to be there. Their friend, Karen, has worked in a bar, and she likes a place where the employees are warm and kind. (Brittney, mentioned above, was part of this group as well.)

As for a church, Lindsey looks for a place where the Gospel is preached (by which she meant that we are sinners who need Christ to die for our sins). But she appreciates that in Atlanta, a city is ethnically diverse, her church values bringing the races together.

Dylan's friend, Daniel, grew up in a very conservative church with a pastor dad. When he was sixteen, his dad said he could worship where he wanted, and he chose a less conservative Baptist church. He said Jesus wasn't judgmental, and churches should not be either. Not being judgmental was the first quality Daniel's girlfriend, Karen, mentioned as being important for a church. She said that the church seems to be changing, becoming "more modern" and not judging people for, say, drinking in a bar. She said she thinks things are changing in the city and that "Atlanta is making me want to go to church again." And this group of people made us want to go back to Joystick again, but we're on our way to South Carolina next week.

Total time spent in bar: 1 hour 45 minutes
Our rough count: 47
Music: there was a jukebox, and fairly loud music was playing. 
Snacks: a variety of hotdogs were available for sale. I didn't notice anybody ordering any while we were there.
Visitor Treatment: we were carded as we entered. Bartenders were busy but helpful. Most of the people we talked to were more-or-less regulars (Joystick was among the bars they went to most often, though some went to bars more often than others).
so many ghosts (in the restroom at joystick)

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Dean and Mindy walk into a bar in Florida

Mickey Quinn's Irish Pub, Seminole, FL

Mickey Quinn's the morning after
"A leprechaun," was the answer not once, but twice, when I asked the question, "Who was Saint Patrick?" at Mickey Quinn's Irish Pub. Thursday is usually the day we go to a bar on this trek to visit a bar and a church in every state, and since this past Thursday was Saint Patrick's Day, we came up with the novel idea of going to an Irish themed pub. Apparently several hundred people in the Seminole area came up with the same idea.

the outside crowd
Now to be fair, both people who claimed the saint was a leprechaun were obviously joking.  And to be even more (or less) fair, both had already had more than a few drinks. I took a poll of a dozen people or so, and the majority of people I talked to at Mickey Quinn's had no idea who Saint Patrick was; even though Saint Patrick himself (or someone who looked like him; St. Pat has been dead for centuries) made an appearance at the pub that night.

the crowd inside
There were some at the pub who did associate Saint Patrick with the church. There was a guy named Brendan who said, "He's a saint, like Saint Brendan, the patron saint of sailors."  And Brendan's friend Nicky knew the legend that Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland (though the fossil record doesn't jibe with that story).

sign in the window
I did find it interesting that there were a number of people who associate Saint Patrick with the church but associate the day with beer and parties. It is very likely that Saint Patrick was familiar with beer, but the real Saint Patrick may have felt out of place at this celebration of his day.

Mickey Quinn's on St Patrick's Day
The story goes that Patrick was a fifth century Brit who, as a teenager, was kidnapped by Irish pirates (and really now, why aren't pirates a part of the celebration?) and made a slave in Ireland. Patrick became a Christian as a slave, escaped, and returned to Britain. He became a priest and then, of his own free will, returned to bring the Gospel to Ireland. How this story resulted in a day where the goal for many is to get wasted as quickly as possible is rather baffling.

There were other responses to the importance of the day besides beer. Some people talked about celebrating Irish culture and family. And a man named Billy said the day was about freedom ("It's about when the Irish freed themselves from.... It's about the freedom to express yourself".)

The tent truck moving out
Mickey Quinn's goes to a special effort for the holiday, roping off a large section of the parking lot, bringing in a rented tent, live Irish music, no cover charge, and green beer. Customers come early and are served until 3:00 am.

Most people were wearing green but some people added other costume touches. I talked with young woman named Michelle who was wearing an orange beard. She, like many others, didn't seem to have a clue who Saint Patrick was, but she did have opinions on our standard questions of what makes for a good bar and a good church. She said for both it was important to have people with interesting personalities (but the bar needed good beer as well).

Billy (who associated Saint Patrick's Day with freedom) spoke of the importance of good leadership. He was taking management classes, and believed it was important that managers treated their employees well, in an ethical manner, as they would like to be treated themselves. He attends St. Mary's, a Catholic church.

morning after at Mickey Quinn's
His friend Greg said he was raised Catholic but now attends a nondenominational church, Pathways, and mentioned that Pastor Bill is awesome.

Brendan and Nicky, who had some of the better answers to the Saint Patrick questions, also had unique answers to the question what makes for a good bar. Brendan said it should be "civilized. That's a good word," while Nicky loved that the bar -- that night, anyway -- had "cute little birdies to watch."

busy bartenders at Mickey Quinn's on St Patrick's night
Their friend Denise had an answer for what makes for a good church, "It's where God knows your name."

We met a couple a little older than us, Lou and Linda, who love to travel, so they appreciated our journey and told us about some of their adventures driving through Europe. They associated Saint Patrick with the cathedral named for him. For them, music is important for a good bar; top forty, rock, dance music, Linda said. Lou added (and Linda agreed),"But not rap."

For a church they said it's good to have a priest or pastor that's a good speaker who's down to earth, and it doesn't hurt if he has a good sense of humor.

security was having a quiet night
We must admit that the evening was a bit more challenging for conversation than our usual bar nights, due to the large crowd, loud volume, and more people that were... um... sobriety challenged.

Often we like to talk with a bartender but with the crowd three deep at the inside bar and a line at the outside one - - there was no way that was going to happen. So we stopped to talk with someone in security, Ryan the Bouncer. He's a full time waiter now, but he'd worked as a bouncer for a decade previously. Now he just works as a bouncer for special events (and he assured us he's well paid for his services). I asked for a bouncer story and he told us about the time he had to break up a fight between thirteen people "Someone punched my beautiful face."

St Patrick's night crowd at Mickey Quinn's
We asked what makes for a good bar. He said the atmosphere is important, and that's set by the General Manager. He said the GM there, Ronan , is amazing. "He does literally everything even when it is slow."  He added that everyone should be good at their jobs, knowing what to do and doing it. "This is a nice bar."

In answer to what makes for a good church, Ryan assured us he was the person to ask. He was raised a Catholic back in Michigan, but says that, while it's fine for his parents, it's too old school for him. "I'm about the energy," he said, adding, " I know God's got my back... I can feel the Holy Spirit." He assured us he's not opposed to the Catholic church (his brother is studying to be a priest), but he feels the Catholic church needs to get updated. "It's a new age." He said he has a friend running a church in Michigan. "He's the man. He uses the internet to promote programs and youth events. It's exciting." He also mentioned that God's rescued him "a number of times."

We talked to one more person before we left. Nicky, who we'd talked to earlier, walked past us as we were heading back to our car. He shook our hands again and told us without prelude, "Thailand! That's the place you should go! Thailand! I'm going there next month." Now if we weren't already planning on going to South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee, we might have taken him up on that.

samples and sign at Sam's Club on St Patrick's Day
(In fairness to the patrons of Mickey Quinn's, I should note that the first ten people I asked at church Wednesday night had no idea who Saint Patrick was either. It was a Baptist church, but still...)

Total time spent in bar: 1 hour
Our rough count: lots and lots -- people were swarming inside and out (although there were plenty of seats still available at tables in the tented area)
Music: a live band in part of the parking lot area
Snacks: none we saw
Followup: none
Visitor Treatment: a woman standing at the bar, who seemed to know all the bartenders, helped Mindy come up with a second green drink. Most people we talked to were friendly (Brendan tried to call others over to talk to us), and the bartender was patient when Mindy had to decide (quickly) on a replacement drink when her first request wasn't available.

cider and appletini
Drinks of the week: Dean had an appletini; Mindy had Magner's Irish Cider when the bartender told her he was out of ingredients for a grasshopper.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

We walk into a bar in Alabama

The Collins Bar, Birmingham, AL

"I'll have an Alabama Slammer."

As the words left my mouth, I noticed a slightly pained expression on Mike the bartender's face that quickly disappeared. "It's just that this is my first time to be in the state, so I might as well have one while we're here," I said. "Not one of your favorite drinks?"

"It's a very sweet drink."

"Well, maybe you can make mine a little less sweet."

"Whatever you'd like."

Mike's disappointment was understandable. After all, if I'd wanted a bar with drink names on a menu, I could have gone there. The Collins Bar is a different kind of place. 

Mindy's order was more what he was expecting. After she said she didn't know what she wanted, he said, "Tell me what you usually order."

"I don't like beer. I like chocolate and sour. And citrus."

And off he went to mix our drinks.

There were many interesting decorative touches to observe in the bar. There were dart boards in the back, boot umbrella holders in the front, interesting lamps, and what look like paper airplanes hanging from the ceiling, but best of all was the Alabama Periodic Table on the wall behind the bar. Elements included such things as Ribs and the Crimson Tide and Condoleezza (element 55 on the table, with the symbol CZ).

I heard another customer explaining to a first timer how things worked at the bar. She explained to her friend that you are to express your taste, and the bartender will try to make a drink to suit you. Mike approached and asked the first timer what she usually liked to drink. "I sometimes order margaritas socially." He asked more specific questions about her taste preference and was off to make her drink.

Three women came in together and sat next to us at the bar. I asked if they'd mind answering a few questions. We told them about our project, a church and a bar in every state, and they cheerfully offered to talk to us.

Rylee told us we'd come to the right bar, the best in the city. She and Santina said this was their friend MK's first time visiting The Collins. We asked what we always ask, "What makes for a good bar?"

Santina said it the personality of the bartender was important. I asked her to be more specific; she said the bartender should provide good customer service, be truly creative, and know customers by name. At The Collins, she said, "They are truly experts at what they do." Another plus for Collins for Santina (and Rylee) was that the bar is next door to her work. "I don't even like bars," she said, "but I like this bar."

MK said she likes a place that has a relaxed atmosphere, where people know you.

Rylee felt the vibe of the place is important, that she likes a chill, casual, comfortable place. Music was important to her, a variety of good stuff from different genres. She likes the crowd, like the vibe, to be casual, people not there to see and be seen, but just to hang out and meet people.

I asked if she preferred to sit at the bar (where we were) or at the tables. She said she didn't care; she'd probably sat at every seat in the place. She said she was so comfortable with the staff there that she didn't mind coming in by herself and ordering a drink.

Rylee said it was too bad Andy Collins, the owner, wasn't in. She told us that he was a great guy. He owned a hot dog stand for twenty seven years, she said, and when that closed down he'd opened this place.

We asked, "Whether you go to church or not, what do you think makes for a good church?" In responses, Santina, Rylee, and MK all said they were church goers.

Santina said she only started going to church the last couple of years. She recently joined a church with a number of service times and locations, including an online option. She appreciates the convenience, she said. She likes that they have many diverse activities, even though she hasn't participated in most of them.

Rylee said she goes to the same church as Santina, but not as often. She said she would answer the question much differently now than she would have answered when she was younger. The sixteen year old her would have wanted a church with lots of people her own age and a lot of fun activities. Ten years later, she said she's more concerned about the quality of the people and the chance to be real and open. She appreciates teaching that is practical, applying the Word of God to every area of life, such as family and marriage. As compared to the church she attended as a teen, now "for me, I want to hear less about rules, more about relationships."

MK said her grandfather was a Baptist reacher who'd founded a church, but she attended Episcopal, Catholic, Baptist, and nondenominational schools -- so she's had a variety of experiences. She said she prefers a smaller, more intimate kind of church. She had a time in life when she was struggling, and the pastor of her church met with her on a weekly basis, which she appreciated. She didn't feel that could happen in a mega-church. She said she "respects the faith, but would rather not get caught up in doctrine."

Rylee noticed the owner, Andy Collins, had come into the bar, so she brought him over to introduce us. We told him he and his place were much admired by the people we'd spoken to. He was appreciative, but he clarified that the "hot dog stand" he'd run was a brick and mortar institution that seated 45 people and was really a restaurant.

We asked him what made for a good bar, and he said a good blend of customers and staff. He was obviously quite proud of his bartenders, who are creative and have a good sense of what makes a good cocktail. I asked if he ever makes drinks. He said he makes himself a gin and tonic at home. At the bar, he'll perhaps shake a cocktail if the bartender had three to make, but he doesn't mix them. He said he had a good staff, and he tries to compensate them well.

We asked what makes for a good church, and he said he was born into his Greek Orthodox church. He said he appreciates that at his church they've brought in more English to go with the Greek in the service. He talked about the food festival the church holds every year, and Mindy mentioned the Greek tradition of hospitality. He agreed with her that was a thing. It might be the thing that makes The Collins Bar a quite popular place in Birmingham.

Total time spent in bar: 55 minutes        
Our rough count: 33
Music: eclectic
Snacks: There's a menu for bar food like sandwiches and various nibbles. We didn't notice anybody eating, but we arrived around 4:30 pm
Followup: none
Visitor Treatment: We'd checked the website and were somewhat prepared to order by flavors rather than drink name. Still, the bartenders were happy to ask questions in order to mix us drinks we'd be happy with. Most people in the bar seemed to be regulars, by the way they greeted (and were greeted by) the bartenders.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Bars we saw in Mobile

We found ourselves in Mobile on Monday afternoon, surrounded by bars (and a couple churches). Here's a selection from our walk along Dauphin Street.
OK Bicycle Shop with Mardi Gras beads still hanging around
OK Bicycle Shop inside
Checking ALL the fluids

Ok, it's mainly an oyster bar

Rock on

What about the horses?

They seem to celebrate St. Pat's early & Mardi Gras late

Sometimes you need to get down to the basics when choosing a name

Saturday, March 5, 2016

We walk into a bar in Mississippi

QuarterDeck Bar, Long Beach

outside the quarterdeck
People sometimes ask us how we decide we decide which bar in a state to write about. Needless to say, it is a complex and studious process designed with scientific precision. For instance, this week the deciding factor was that we found ourselves in Long Beach, Mississippi, and we wanted to watch the Golden State Warriors play. (The Warriors were attempting to tie the Chicago Bulls' record for consecutive home wins.) We noticed there was a sports bar in town, so that's where we went.

tv at quarterdeck
They have eight TVs at the QuarterDeck; the largest, center screen was playing the Republican debate. (We enjoyed the bar's peanut gallery commentary: "They're arguing like two year olds -- it's great." "Don't change the channel, they might break out in a fist fight.")  I asked the bartender if he would change the channel on another TV from a college hoops game to the Warriors. John Paul the bartender happily made the change and launched into laudatory praise of the wonders of Stephen Curry's shooting skills.

After we ordered, we asked John Paul (J.P.) to tell us about himself. He said he'd been in the bar industry for seventeen years. He seemed young for that, but he explained he started working in restaurants when he was sixteen. He's worked most of those years in the Gulf Coast area, but he's been at the QuarterDeck eight months. He's also working on his Master's in Business Administration.

JP tending bar at QuarterDeck
J.P. seemed a bit apologetic about the small crowd at the bar that night, explaining that when Thursday night football was going they always had a good group, and that on Friday and Saturday nights they usually have one to two hundred people. Since he wasn't too busy, though, we asked him our two questions, "What makes for a good bar?" and "What makes for a good church?"

cucumber martini as mixed by JP
For a good bar, J.P. argued for the importance of the staff knowing their customers. He finds it important to not only know the faces and names of his guests, but also their drinks. He takes pride in anticipating what his customers will order before they order it. (A number of other guests assured us that J.P. and the rest of the bartender staff of QuarterDeck do remember their customers.) "My people 200 people are my 200 people. No one could buy them," J.P. said.

sign on quarterdeck
He also argued for the importance of quality and consistency in service. J.P. said he could be a "bonehead" outside of work but when he was at work, he takes his work seriously. Bartenders are often offered to be treated to a drink by a customer, but J.P. always refuses because he wants to be able to give 100 %. The bar is also consistent in its hours. The sign says they close at 2:00 am, and they stay open until 2:00 am, even if the people are sparse and the weather is harsh. Often, J.P. said, bartenders from other places will come to QD after their bars close.

When we asked J.P. what made for a good church, he first said what he didn't like in a church: hypocrites. "I went to a youth group, and kids would make pledges to remain a virgin and say they wouldn't drink, and during the week I'd see and hear about them breaking their word." But he had nothing but kind words for the Baptist Church in Mississippi. Beginning at the age of five, J.P. lived in an orphanage, the Baptist Children's Village, where he remained until he was on his own. His parents were abusive, and he appreciated the safety he found at the Children's Village. "I'm the product of donations. Where I am today is because of the generosity of random people who made donations; of time and money and goods."

every night's special at QuarterDeck
The customers we talked to were all enthusiastic about the bar and especially the staff at Quarter Deck.

Retired Petty Officer First Class Gibson appreciates the many special nights: Taco Tuesdays, W whiskey and wings on Wednesdays, free pool on Thursdays and karaoke on various nights. There's always stuff to attract people. He said, "When I walk in here, I don't have to request a drink -- everyone knows I'm having a Bud Light."

His fiancée Stacy added, "Everybody's welcome here. It's almost like family. Almost like Cheers."

As for a good church, Gibson said he thinks the church should be "open to everybody whether Baptist, gay, lesbian, I don't care. God accepts all of us. I'm sure when we get to St. Peter's gate and ask forgiveness if we do what we think was right, he'll let us in."

night at QuarterDeck
Aaron of the Air Force likes a bar where he can hear himself think. And meet women. He calls himself a "checkbook Catholic," attending four times a year. He appreciates it when the church speaks English, having once or twice found himself in Mass where only Spanish -- or Latin -- was used. When he was in Basic he appreciated the Catholic Church having alcohol.

We met Julie and Paul, a married couple who look forward to embarking on an adventure. They plan to fix up their sailboat to explore the world. Paul is a writer, and Julie is a photographer, so they anticipate recording their adventures. For some reason, Mindy and I really liked Julie and Paul.

nobody playing pool just now
In the bar, Julie appreciates when the staff seems happy to have you there. In the church, she appreciates when people help each other. She said that in this area, people will pitch in to babysit or help someone move when needed.

I didn't ask Paul and Julie what they'd do out on the ocean without any bars or churches. I guess I'll have to find out how they manage when they start writing about it.

Total time spent in bar: 2 hours 15 minutes (until the end of the Warriors game)
Our rough count: 12
Our drinks: Stella Artois Cidre (Mindy), Johnny Appleseed (Dean), Cucumber Martini (shared; J.P. said it's his specialty)
Music: it was a karaoke night, but nobody was singing while we were there; the DJ was playing oldies from the 90's and early 2000s, I think.
Snacks: It was possible to order food, which J.P. cooked when it was requested.
Followup: none
Visitor Treatment: J.P. greeted us when we arrived, helping us with our selection (there's no menu). Everyone sitting at the bar felt free to join in any conversation around them. Most were regulars