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.

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