McHale's Irish Pub in Rock Hill, SC
It was a quiet night at McHale's, at least in comparison to the day of Wallace-palooza (an awesome event that I will get around to discussing later in this very post). Our friends John and Kathie had suggested the place; they live in the area and McHale's is near his work. They also suggested we have dinner there first.
This leads to an ongoing ontological debate Mindy and I have struggled with through the year: what is the essential nature and definition of a "bar?" We set out to visit a bar and a church in every state this year, but at times, it's tricky figuring out what a "bar" is. (It can also be tricky at times figuring out what a church is, but that's a question for a different blog.) After all, Applebee's sells alcohol; they have "bars," but really, we're talking about a restaurant when we talk about Ap's or Chili's or Olive Garden.
A restaurant is a different thing than a bar, but they're on a continuum. How important is the food in the place, and how important is the drink? So we were concerned that McHale's, even though it's called a "pub," might be really an eatery. Still, after we enjoyed our meal, we went from our booth to the bar. And it is a bar; because you know a bar when you meet it. (It's like the old Supreme Court definition of pornography; you know it when you see it.)
I asked Katy the bartender what mixed drink she made well, and she asked me what I wanted it to be made from. I said bourbon; she suggested a Manhattan or an Old-Fashioned. I went with an Old-Fashioned with Maker's Mark. Mindy hadn't ordered wine for a while (since Sonoma County?) and went with the house wine, an Estrada Creek Cabernet Sauvignon.
While we were deciding, I noticed the woman next to us at the bar was just reading the last page of a novel. She finished, shut the book, and said, "That was awful." I asked Caroline the reader why she went to the end if she didn't like it. "I'm a reader and I don't like to quit a book once I start." (I asked Caroline what books she does like, and if you are one of those poor souls who got lost on the web and came here in search of book recommendations, she likes The Alchemist and East of Eden.)
From the world of literature to the world of art, we met Ashley, who teaches high school art. The night before, across the street from McHale's, she'd taught a pet painting class. And no, that did not mean pooches had water colors applied to their fur. People painted portraits of their canine and/or feline companions.
As people who regularly read this blog know (as opposed to those who are here for book tips-- y'all should really move on to Goodreads), we always ask two questions, "What makes for a good bar?" and "What makes for a good church?" Ashley said she was the person ask about bars. She said that a good bar is where people are nice to each other. She likes to go to a bar and find friends, but sometimes it's nice to meet strangers. She admitted that even, at times, she'll come to this bar and not find people she knows or interesting strangers, so it will be one drink and out. The night before, she'd come to McHale's after her class but before cleaning up from it.
Among Ashley's friends at McHale's last night (in addition to her fiance, Brandon) were Ginny and Chris. I asked them what they appreciated in a bar. Ginny said the atmosphere was important; a good bar makes you feel welcome when you walk in. I asked Chris what he thought. Ginny explained that though Chris had a lot of thoughts on the matter, he couldn't always express them in words. He had suffered a stroke (though Ginny and Chris are relatively young people), and had communication challenges.
The couple had met at a karaoke bar, but their first date, the next night, had been upstairs at McHale's. She met him as "Chris" at the karaoke bar, but at McHale's every one greeted the guy as "Wallace." She quickly realized that some people called him by his last name (rather than using different aliases at different bars). They visited McHale's often for food and drinks throughout their dating life and into their early married life. Shortly after they got married, Ginny came home to find Chris had suffered a stroke. (They were thankful though, because if he'd had the stroke while he was single, he might not have been found until much later than it took her to find married Chris after his stroke.)
It was then that Wallace-palooza came to be. Obviously, the couple had great medical expenses and other financial needs, so some of their friends got together at McHale's and talked about how they could help. A daylong event was held at the bar with new and reunited musical acts, drinks, and food specials all geared to fundraising for the couple. One man sold raffle tickets for the right to decide if he would keep his beard or shave. Another man took a hat to ask for money from all the other bars in town. The group marveled at how the community had gathered together to support the Wallaces.
When we asked what makes for a good church, Ashley had a negative example. She said that years ago, when she was in college, she visited a boyfriend's Baptist church. In the Sunday School class, the teacher lectured them that if they weren't sharing Christ, they were going to Hell. She said that was not what she heard growing up going to a different church. She said that the feeling of being lectured and threatened continued during the whole visit to that church.
A couple of people said that there wasn't a church in the area that made them feel welcome. Ashley said that someone in front of the church would say, "Welcome", but you didn't feel welcomed.
We were able to ask Katy the bartender our questions as well. She said the most important thing is a good group of regulars who make other people feel welcome. She said next in importance is a good staff. I asked what made for good staff, and she said, "Attitude. When people get tipsy and out of line, you can't be a sissy. They'll respect you and come back." I asked about drinks and she said, "Quality over quantity. It's more important to have the best brands than diversity."
I asked what she would like in a church. She admitted she didn't go to church, but if she did, she'd like a diverse group of people. She likes meeting different people, and she said that was a reason she liked her job. She meets people with new stories every day. That's something we like about our "job." We meet new people with new stories every week.
Total time spent in bar: 2 hours 25 minutes (about an hour for dinner)
Our rough count: more than 12 in the bar area and about the same in the dining room portion of the pub
Music: Adele, oldies from this century (for the most part)
Snacks: full menu, plus happy hour snacks
Followup: Katy the bartender asked for Mindy's instagram tag*
Visitor Treatment: We stood outside taking pictures before entering the pub, joking with our friends about how conspicuous we felt doing it. Sure enough, the hostess asked us about it. When we explained that we were visiting a bar in every state, she said to take all the pictures we wanted and that she'd let the manager know that's what we were doing. Holly the waitress and Katy the bartender were friendly and helpful with suggestions and information about the food and the drinks.
*Mindy's on instagram as @mldate . Dean's on twitter @dean_min_travel We post about all kinds of random things there, and we'd love you to ride along!