Saturday, April 30, 2016

We walk into a bar in West Virginia

bar at Domestic near Shepherd University
Shepherdstown, West Virginia
I'd like to take a moment to discuss our methodology for these bar posts. We consider them primarily as bits of journalism rather than essays. We go into a place, write about what we observe, and record responses to questions we ask. You may have noticed that we ask two main questions: "What makes for a good bar?" and "What makes for a good church?"

captains chair
Because people are so kind as to let us interrupt their evenings when we ask our questions, we are certainly not looking to judge or criticize their responses. For instance, if someone said they thought that a My Little Pony theme would make for a great bar, we wouldn't mock or shame them in our post for that simply horrendous idea, either in person or in print. We also will not take space in a bar post to write about what we think would make for a good bar (or church). Like, even if I had a great idea for a Star Trek themed bar with bar stools like command chairs and wait staff dressed like aliens and drinks called Klingon Blood Wine and Saurian Brandy.... Well, we don't have time for such foolishness here. We're just reporting on what we see and hear. So on to that:

entrance to Domestic with Becky's purse
We walked the main streets of Shepherdstown and found several options for our evening's bar. This wasn't too surprising, as it's a college town (Shepherd University), which usually means there will be a place to drink. But one place had an event going on (poetry slam?) that made conversation unlikely. Another place had one patron (who had perhaps been over served) emitting deafening decibels.

we've only been to bars in a few of these places
Now I'm not taking back my Trek idea, but the design work in Domestic, the place we finally chose, was great. An owner of the place, who also helped design it, happened to be at the bar that night. He said they designed a very long bar, so many people could gather around and there'd be plenty of space behind the bar for the staff to work.

Domestic Shana
Domestic is a restaurant with a farm to table philosophy. They strive to present iconic dishes from childhood along with new and different creations. However, we were just interested in their full bar with a selection of domestic craft beers and designer cocktails. We happened to be there on the night of their $5 martini specials, so Mindy ordered a Cocoa Puff and I ordered a Mai Dye. (Both were very good, but I think Mindy made a better call.)

Shortly after we arrived, there was discussion of a in-house bathroom drama. There has been a great deal in the news lately about who can use what bathroom, but apparently a woman had wandered into the men's room. (The rooms are not clearly marked Women or Men but rather have small paintings to differentiate them.) A man then went in to use the room. Fortunately, aside from a small bit of gossip, no great damage occurred because of the incident.

The man sitting next to Mindy asked to borrow the TV remote to made an (unsuccessful) search for the NHL playoffs. This led to Mindy chatting with Travis and the woman sitting next to him, Becky, and she was able to ask them what makes for a good bar. Becky said, "Understanding," apparently meaning that the staff understands the customers and each other.

Travis said the number one thing he wanted was good food and drink, and that "good drink is number one." Travis also said it was important to have the kind of people you want there, along with surprises. He also values good music which he said creates a bond between people.

Mindy then asked what makes for a good church. Becky said "Understanding" again, adding, "total open mindedness and no judgment, that's the biggest."

Travis said, "There shouldn't be any doubt, they should absolutely know what they believe and have no doubt. People go to church for an elevated feelings, but I've never experienced that."

Mindy also talked to Shana the bartender about what made for a good bar. Like many bartenders we've talked to before, she stressed the importance of a good bartender. "Any bar can work if you have the right person behind it." As for what makes for a good church, she said the important thing was acceptance -- of race, gender, LGBT, everything. She said it was important that a church had events to prove that acceptance. She said the local Presbyterian Church has an annual LGBT meet and greet event. They've also has meetings with Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians where they talk about their similarities rather than their differences. But she also felt it was very important that a minister be knowledgeable about the faith he believes.

We heard a lot about that local Presbyterian Church (across the street from the post office) at the bar. The chef of Domestic, Josh, got married there, and most of the people we talked to had gone to the wedding. Ken, the owner I mentioned earlier, remembers when Pastor Randy of the Presbyterian Church came thirty years ago. "He's the real deal, I don't know how else to describe him but a California Jesus." Ken said the Presbyterian Church was THE place to go. But he said that in recent years, his own work has been very demanding, so he hasn't attended as frequently.
Ken said their bar, like the church and really like the town of Shepherdstown, is a very accepting place. "No one cares if you're white, black, straight or gay. No one cares about your sexuality. Everyone gets along." Ken said Shepherdstown is one of the greatest small towns in America, "this is a town of destiny."

We can't speak for the whole town, but we can say we were made to feel accepted at Domestic.

Friday, April 29, 2016

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood...

Just thought readers of this blog might enjoy the signage in the West Virginia neighborhood we're staying in this week:

Of course, not every sign is beverage related:

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Dean and Mindy walk into a bar in Kentucky

the wrigley taproom and eatery in Corbin, KY
The Wrigley Taproom and Eatery, Corbin, Kentucky
Corbin is new to the bar thing. It's not new to the drinking thing, of course. I talked to a woman who remembered bootleggers selling to twelve year olds when she was a kid, so the drinking got done even back when the county was "dry." Corbin has only been "wet" for the last two years. (There are also "moist" counties that allow the sale of alcohol, but it can't be consumed on the premises.) The political battles of prohibition continue county by county to this day. (We came across something similar when we walked into a bar in Dodge City.)

we also ate cinnamon pretzel tots at the wrigley
Mindy and I had a hard time deciding which bar to go to. Usually, our preference is to go to a place that is mostclearly a bar and not a restaurant. If you go into a place, and all they sell is alcohol in glasses, you are certainly in a bar. But if they sell food and drink, is it a bar?

Frankly, when we first got to town, we were looking for food and drink, because we were more than ready for supper. Stumbling upon Sanders Park and realizing that Corbin is the home of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Sanders' original cafe became the place we had to eat (they had a KFC museum as well). But where to drink? (Like most KFCs, the mothership just has a soda machine.)

we could hear community happening from across the street
After we ate, we parked the car and took a walk down Main Street. On this particular night (a Tuesday), the wine bar was closed (open Thursday, Friday and Saturday only). Another place had a bar area separate from the eating area, but those stools were empty. We kept walking, and soon, even from across the street, we could hear misic and conversation: The Wrigley Taproom and Brewery was hopping. Still, there was that dilemma. Not only were there many people eating dinner, there were many families with little children eating dinner. Still, it seemed our best option in town, and we weren't sure what other opportunities we'd have during the rest of the week, since we'd be far from towns the rest of the week.

So we went to the bar in the restaurant and took our stools. And there were beers, shots, and mixed drinks available without ordering food -- so we hereby declare it a bar. Even though we were sitting between people eating food, they also had drinks. 

It took a bit of time to order our drinks because the staff was short for the crowd, and because all food is ordered from one end of the bar. Jerry, part of the waitstaff, asked if we were visiting. When Mindy explained that we were visiting a church and bar in every state, he told her, "There's a church in Manchester where they still handle snakes." When he wasn't too busy, she asked what he thought made for a good bar, and he said the variety of drinks and the atmosphere (for example, if you want a dive bar, you'll be looking for a dark place with bad juke box music). For a church, though he doesn't go, he said he'd look for kindness and acceptance.

I ordered a Whiskey Sour because in Kentucky it seemed I should have something with bourbon, and Mindy ordered a Cucumber Refresher because she was told it would be tasty (which she found it to be) and because she had an old fashioned last week (in Tennessee).

When I asked the two women next to me at the bar if I could ask them about churches and bars, one of them, Ruth, laughed that she went to church with one of the owners of this bar. And Marsha said that she wasn't the one to ask because she wasn't a bar person, she's an old woman. (She probably wasn't older than me, so, um, never mind.) They were both glad that there were finally bars in town.

Ruth said she likes some of the same things in this bar that she likes in her church. She likes that both are relatively small with friendly people. She likes a small church, though there weren't as many programs for her kids. She also appreciates that her church doesn't consider things like drinking a sin (again, something in common with The Wrigley). She also likes that her church does outreach projects, like packing backpacks of food for those in need.

Marsha, in spite of not being a bar person, is currently more of a bar fan than she is a church fan. She quit attending church regularly because of a variety of things. When her teenage daughter was asked to leave the worship team at their church after other teens were asked to join. Marsha said she tried to talk to the pastor about the matter, but he refused. That happened at least a decade ago, but the church has done other things she hasn't cared for since then, like selling the parsonage and buying the pastor a house.

Marsha's husband, Otis, had more to say about what makes for a good bar. He likes a place that is relaxed and not pretentious. He's walked into bars in DC and NYC. where he says he sensed pretension, so he turned right around and walked out. I asked him where he'd gone to bars when Corbin was dry, and he said he and his friends would drive to Lexington or Knoxville.

When asked what would make for a good church, Otis said that, like a good bar, a good church should lack pretension. He said a church shouldn't be political, but he's never been to a church that wasn't. He said he was more able to worship God in his car or his living room than in a church.

While I was talking to customers, Mindy was talking to one of the owners, Kristin, who said something that makes a bar successful and fun is creating intentional community. In making The Wrigley, the owners designed for this, making a "family table" which runs the length of the room and is narrower than usual, where people are naturally encouraged to talk to each other. The only menu is on the wall behind the bar, where people stand together to order. The Wrigley is a community hub; Bible studies are held there, wedding rehearsal dinners are held there. Kristin said if you can create community, "people will run to it."

Mindy asked her what makes for a good church, and she answered again with community. "I go to a church where I might not agree with all their core beliefs, but they're family. The church is supposed to be a family in the community."

So we're glad we decided on The Wrigley, and for the evening, we were part of its community. (By the way, while we were talking, Ruth invited Marsha to come to her church.)

Saturday, April 16, 2016

We walk into a bar in Tennessee

Embers Ski Lodge, Nashville, TN

After a day of t-shirt and shorts weather, one obviously feels the need to cozy up at the fireplace of a ski lodge. At least that's how things worked for us in Nashville, TN. Embers Ski Lodge is a bar in the 12South Neighborhood (quite the trendy place), and it's committed to the alpine theme. The servers wear ski patrol shirts as does the welcome bear. The lights are snowballs. The drinks have thematic names like the award winning "Cool Runnings."

What really won us over though was when Willa the bartender asked for our IDs before she'd take our drink orders. (A little tip for getting tips to bartenders out there: of course you need to get ID for people who might be underage. But the people who really appreciate being asked for ID are the people who are parents of people who need to be IDed.)  We both ordered Old Fashioned variations, Rudolph's Vacation for me and a Sun Drop for Mindy.

I noticed a Steph Curry jersey and a more generic Golden State Warriors shirt, and I knew I would need to talk with the people wearing them. When I went to their table, I met three friends who were waiting for the Dubs to make history as the team with the most wins in a regular season*. Shawn, Michael and Carson cheerily greeted me. They could tell by my Oakland A's shirt where my probable sports alliances lay.

We talked for a bit about a trip the guys had taken to see the Warriors play against the Grizzlies in Memphis and the team's prospects in the playoffs**  We had time before the game started to ask our two questions: What makes for a good bar? What makes for a good church?

Shawn and Carson agreed on the importance of good liquor. Shawn noted that being a native of this area means loving the whiskey. I suggested perhaps a wine and beer bar would be just as good, and both guys scoffed. Michael, on the other hand, doesn't drink, so he values different things. He likes a good cheese dip. (Jumping ahead to the next question, he said churches could use a good cheese dip.)

It just so happens that Carson does the financial books for Embers (and the pizza parlor next door), so he also considered what makes for a bar that does well financially. He said statistically, a bar that has a patio and the weather for it will do well -- both things Embers had that day. (We were inside in that night though. That's where the televisions are)

Shawn and Michael live in Clarksville, where there are plenty of bars -- country bars playing country music. They prefer a place like Embers that plays other music (I noticed Shawn singing along with Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," but there was also more contemporary stuff like Sheppard's "Geronimo.")

On to the church question. Not surprisingly (we were in Music City, after all), music remained the focus. Carson appreciates a church building having good acoustics. Michael grew up in a Church of Christ Church that had no musical instruments where singing was a capella, so he appreciates a good band. (Carson had a similar experience growing up, but his father would take the kids to a Church of Christ and also to a bonus church for music, being inclusive.)

Shawn's uncle played the organ and would travel from church to church -- and his uncle hated going to a church with an organ that hadn't been cared for, out of tune and in disrepair. So a church needs both a good organ and a good organist for Shawn.

More friends came to join the group to watch the game: a couple, Angie and Devyn, along with Kyle. They were roped in for the questions as well. Angie said that the music must not be country. "You don't find me at a honkytonk!" (We obviously did not come to the most typical of Tennesee bars. Of course, the snow sports theme might have been a clue to that already.) Devyn said a good bar needs to have lots of TVs for watching sports. "I could sit and drink at home. Sports and people to talk about sports is what brings me here."

Transitioning to the church question, Devyn said, "Put a bar in the church." More seriously, he said the speaker should be funny. He said that when he grew up in the Catholic Church and it really wasn't fun. I asked what Angie thought would make for a good church, and she agreed with Devyn that a bar in church would be prettygood.

Kyle answered the bar question by pointing to the importance of "the welcoming factor." He values being able to go into a bar in a new city and have a good conversation with a stranger. He comes from Boston, and he appreciates the friendliness of the South. For a good church, he appreciates a good choir and "unbiased opinion about sexuality."

We had an opportunity to chat with Willa the bartender (yes, the one who had won us over by IDing us) and ask our questions. She said a good bar, beyond the liquor, needs a sense of community. A lot of bartenders are focused on putting on show, but to her, it's more important to make a connection with the guest and have a good conversation.

We asked her what makes for a good church, and she repeated that a sense of community is important. When she was a kid, she said, she went to a Presbyterian Church and considered going to into youth ministry. But her parents became Jehovah's Witnesses and made her go with them. She felt continually judged. She said, "A church should be your safe haven, your support system." But that wasn't what she felt when she went with her parents.

I was glad to find that Embers on that night was a safe place for a Warriors fan, and I stayed until the end (Central Standard Time).

Total time spent in bar: Mindy 1 hour 15 minutes, Dean until the game ended (conveniently, we were staying a block or so away)
Our rough count: 25
Music: light rock with some eclectic choices
Snacks: there's a full food menu with a multitude of French fry options
Followup: none
Visitor Treatment: A sign at the entrance invited us to sit anywhere; Willa (the bartender) offered us a drink menu and brought us water as soon as we sat at the bar (and she'd checked our ID). The waitstaff were friendly and willing to pose for pictures near the antique skis.

*Yeah, they did it, 73 wins. Go Blue and Gold! 

**All the way, baby!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Dean and Mindy walk into a bar in North Carolina

"What are you rebelling against?" a man in the food line asked.

"Whadda ya got?" I replied, and the man was impressed that I recognized his reference to Marlon Brando's The Wild One.

We were not in a bar. A Fork in the Road is the food truck parked alongside the pub for the Lazy Hiker Brewery. Lazy Hiker doesn't sell food inside, but many people buy their food outside and bring it into the taproom.

We'd heard about the Lazy Hiker from a friend who's hiking the Appalachian Trail. (Kira also told us about the church we are visiting this week.) Both the brewery and the church are in Franklin, which is just over a hundred miles into the over two thousand mile hike.  Trail travelers often take an overnight stop here, enjoying the food, showers, and yes, beer, to be found herein.

Once we got our food and went inside the Lazy Hiker, the man who'd referred to the 1953 classic motorcycle film again, as he waited at the counter for a beer. I introduced myself and learned his name was Terry. He's a local who frequents the Fork and Lazy Hiker every couple of weeks or so.  We talked about the pub, and he told me that five years ago the town of Franklin was dying. The Lazy Hiker Brewery and other businesses appealing to tourists stepped in and turned things around.

Terry had ordered his food to go and was drinking his beer as he waited. I told him about our bar/church project , and he happily agreed to answer our questions. In answer to what makes for a good bar, he answered, "Avant-garde." (Terry seemed to like short answers.) I asked what he meant by that, and he said that this brewery brought new ideas to town, which is a good thing. He said that plans were in the works for another brewery in town that would perhaps be bringing even more business to town, and he was excited about the possibilities.

In answer to what made for a good church, Terry told me he was a churchgoer; he goes to the Unitarian church, which he said was great. I asked again what made for a good church, and he said, "Faith." (Again, short answer.) I asked whose faith, and he said that of the congregation.  He said fellowship is important in the church, especially one on one fellowship.

I asked him one other question, "What was the best Marlon Brando film?"

He answered On the Waterfront. (That is a perfectly acceptable answer. Also acceptable: The Godfather, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Freshman, Apocalypse Now, or even Superman. Not acceptable:  The Island of Dr. Moreau or The Formula.)

"God bless you," Terry said as he left.

We ate our food at a table, then took our drinks to the bar (we later realized it was National Beer Day -- Mindy had a Winter Porter and Dean had Trail Mate Golden Ale). We sat next to a couple who were locals but had through-hiked the trail (though not together). Therefore, they had trail names; Eddie and Karaoke the Bard. (Many people walking the trail adopt aliases as means of security and just for fun.)

Eddie has worked as a bartender in the past, and she considers the owners of the Lazy Hiker friends. She appreciates a bar where people are there to talk, not to get drunk. She thought Lazy Hiker was a bar that people who are authentic come to, where they want to build relationships with others. She said there are bars that just have a bad atmosphere. She also said there should be good beer and good service ("Lazy Hiker has the best bartenders on the planet!" she said within hearing of Kim the bartender.) She said that a good bartender will, even in the midst of being slammed, acknowledge a customer with a nod or a smile. She mentioned that this bar had an unusual, strictly followed method of ordering from one place at the bar, rather than the mass confusion found in some other bars.
The Bard said what makes for a good bar is the same thing that makes for a good trail: good people. People seek a bar with people of like minds. He said he appreciates a pub called Rathskeller which tourists don't tend to find, but where locals gather to discuss local events and politics. Conversation and community provide the heart of a good bar.

Speaking of church, Karaoke the Bard had been burned by a church. He said the church should have good people, but instead politics dominated. It was more about being seen with the right people than being good people. The Bard values what people do more than what they teach or believe. "If you've never given food to a man in need; you've missed out. You're the one suffering spiritually. What matters is what people do...Otherwise it's just semantics."

For Eddie, a priority for a good church is that God's Word is "rightly divided." People should be able to put aside their own opinions, she said, and find the true meaning. She believes the reason there are so many denominations and different churches is because people won't put aside their own opinions. But she appreciates anyone who is seeking God. People get burnt out, but then sometimes find "Trail Magic" (an unexpected blessing that renews your strength and resolution).

I talked to Stefan, a man walking the trail who was taking a break in town. Stefan hadn't been in a bar for years, so he didn't have a ready opinion of what makes for a good one. He appreciated that the place wasn't covered with in dirt, and there was a bathroom rather than a privy. In a church, he appreciates when the person in the front can communicate God's Word with stories, personal experience, common sense, and simplicity that people can relate to.  He said he was raised in the Catholic Church so he has "a strict understanding of what God is, not that I agree with it." He said all churches teach the same thing, even though they teach it differently.

Kim the bartender took time to talk to us even though she was trying to do her closing tasks. She's only been a bartender for a year and questioned whether the Lazy Hiker was really a bar, since it's more properly a brewery. (Mindy and I have been debating with ourselves about the definition of a bar for this whole year.) But as for a church, she said that she thought a good church is a community, and people will travel a long way to get to a good community. For instance, we've traveled about 10,000 miles for the good community found at the Lazy Hiker.

Total time spent in bar: 1 hour 20 minutes
Our rough count: about six in the outside seating area (it was spitting rain and chilly; hikers are tough. Also, they had a dog) and about 17 inside at tables and the bar
Music: light rock
Snacks: burgers, chicken tenders, quesadillas, etc., available for sale at the Fork in the Road food truck
Followup: none
Visitor Treatment: people were happy to chat with strangers, and we saw at least one person buying a drink for a hiker. Visitors were encouraged to sign a banner in the hallway.