Monday, June 27, 2016

6 facts about Alaska that have almost nothing to do with bars

1. The state’s nickname is “The Last Frontier,” which you may have known. I’ll bet you didn’t know that the motto is “North to the Future,” and the state flower is the forget-me-not. You knew, though, that the state dog was the Alaskan Malamute, right?

2. Alaska is the largest US state by area: 2,261 miles wide and 1,420 miles long (more than twice the size of Texas), but it has the lowest population density (1.26 people per square mile). Almost half the population lives in the Anchorage metropolitan area.

3. Oddly, it’s the northernmost, westernmost, and easternmost state (a few of the Aleutian Islands extend into the Eastern hemisphere. An island further north is only six miles from a Russian island.). However, the highest and lowest temperatures in Alaska occur near Fairbanks. Summer temperatures there range from over 90F in the summer to below -60F in the winter, and hours of sunlight range from around 4 at the winter solstice to more than 21 at the summer solstice in June.

4. The coastline is longer than the coastlines of all the other states combined; including islands, Alaska has more than 33,000 miles of shoreline. The word Alaska is derived from an Native idiom (either Aleut or Urrangam) meaning “object to which the action of the sea is directed.” From the same root, another name, “Alyeska,” means “great land.”

5. The discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay in 1968 and the 1977 completion of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline led to an oil boom in the state. (In Fairbanks, we heard repeated references to “Pipeline days” when things were apparently quite lively.)

6. According to the 2010 census, the state race and ethnicity makeup is quite diverse (64% non-Hispanic white, 15% American Indian and Alaskan Native, 7% two or more races, 6% Latino or Hispanic, 5% Asian, 3% Black, 1% Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders, 2% other. As of 2011, around 51% of the Alaskan population under 1 year old had two non-white parents.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

We walk into a bar in Alaska

Mecca Bar, Fairbanks
I noticed a man at the bar pull out a cigarette and lighter. Several signs on the walls declared the end of smoking in the Mecca Bar on June 19, 2016, which was four days before we got there. He lit up. Serena the bartender quickly moved down the bar to politely tell the man he would have to smoke outside. The man just as politely complied.

“It’s a big deal,” Serena said about the change in policy to make the Mecca smoke-free for the first time in its seventy year history. Patrons had been asked to vote on the issue, and scores voted for the ban. Only two votes were cast against. A state senator came behind the bar to ring in the new policy. “It could get really bad in here,” Serena said, “Especially on the days when it was forty below outside [when the doors are closed against the cold].”

Keeping the bar smoke free will certainly be a challenge for smokers when winter comes -- as opposed to the summer night we visited. The sun was shining brightly and the temperature was in the low seventies when we arrived at 10:00 pm.

We heard that there used to be many bars on 2nd Ave in downtown Fairbanks, but most have closed. The Mecca itself has changed some through the years. There used to be a Chinese restaurant called the Tiki Cove in the basement beneath the bar, but it’s gone, and the door leading downstairs has been covered. But some things in the place harken back to another time. They still have a pay phone. One portion of the front wall is still covered by the original wallpaper. Mirrors on the ceiling and the wall behind the bar add a touch of 1960’s glamour. And in spite of the smoking ban, cigarettes are still for sale on the counter behind the bar.

The Mecca has had its moments of pop culture attention. The 1979 film Spirit of the Wind, the true story of dog sledder George Attla, features the bar (Attla did frequent the Mecca, we were told). Another film about a true story, Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, featured Chris McCandless visiting the bar before he went into the wilderness.

For people coming to Fairbanks from villages and towns further north, the bar is a gathering place. It is a meeting place after memorial services and weddings, and has been used as the location for fundraisers for the larger community of the north.

The bar was fairly busy when we arrived. Half a dozen people or so were sitting at the bar, while others surrounded the pool table. There was no menu, but Serena had some suggestions for us. Mindy ordered vodka and cranberry juice, and I had an Alaskan Kicker Session IPA.

I struck up a conversation with Merritt, who was sitting at the bar. He told me he was from Homer, Alaska, but he was working in Fairbanks for a couple of months. He said he was a boilermaker, but most people don’t know the definition of the word. “It’s not just a drink,” he said. He explained he was a welder who worked on a variety of energy projects. He said that he did this job part of the year and the rest of the year he was a crab fisherman. He claimed to have worked on the Cape Caution before it became famous on the television show, The Deadliest Catch.

I asked Merritt what made for a good bar, and he said, “Socialism. But not the kind like communism. But the kind where people are sociable.” He also said, “Good food is important. But this place doesn’t have that.” (There were a few bags of chips for sale, but there is no kitchen at the Mecca.) “But this place is just a couple of blocks from where I’m staying, so that’s why I come here. The ambiance is important.” And he said the staff was important. He praised Serena, the on duty bartender, saying she had an intuition of what a guest would need next. I asked what made for a good church and he said, “The force of the people”. If there are good people in a church, it will be a good church.

Then our conversation was interrupted as an alarm went off. Serena rushed to the emergency door at the back of the bar and shut the alarm off. Someone had tried to open the door. Though there are signs on the door that say it is the emergency door and not the men’s room door, the larger sign says “Pull” and apparently men mistakenly pull the door on a regular basis.

Another fellow named Andrew had briefer answers to my questions. As for what made for a good bar, he said, “Alcohol helps.” He had no answer for what makes for a good church, “Because I’m an agnostic.” (Merritt said Andrew wasn’t really an agnostic. I can’t judge.)

I also talked to Gary, a California native who has lived in Alaska for many years. In response to what made for a good bar, he said the bartender was important, and he too heaped praise on Sarena. He said some bartenders “try to run the natives out and make bars into a place just for the tourists.” He said, “it’s their land, and they have more right to be in the bars than anyone.” In response to what made for a good church, he said he was Catholic and had only been to the Catholic Church in town (“but not as much as I should”). He said he liked that the Catholic Church in town had meals for the poor.

Serena told Mindy that she could find out more about the bar from Eileen, who knew the place well. After Eileen was done with her pool game (she won), Mindy was able to talk to her. Eileen has a fulltime job, but tends bar at the Mecca on weekends. She’s lived in Alaska for the past seventeen years after spending about that long out of state (she lived in and out of Alaska before that as well). She said a comfortable atmosphere and a good bartender make for a good bar. The atmosphere, she said, should be friendly, and the bartender should be friendly, and a good bartender will keep people under control.

When asked what makes for a good church Eileen said, “Oh, I think it’s the same thing. If the members of the congregation are welcoming.” She said she wasn’ a Catholic, but Episcopalian --”Not that I go that often.” She said that she liked when the preacher talks in a way people can relate to, and added, “I like it when they fit the Bible to what’s happening now, and how it relates even now.” Later, she mentioned that she didn’t think perfunctory worship was good, and that she felt that, based on her experience, the Episcopal church, especially in Alaska, is more relaxed than the Roman Catholic church.

Mindy was also able to ask Serena the bartender our questions. As for what makes for a bar, she said, “I think it’s more the community. I work at two completely different bars. A bar can’t function without people willing to come back. The Mecca’s survived because of the community.” (Earlier, when recommending that Mindy talk to Eileen, she’d told us, “Man, there’s some really cool people here.”) She said the same basics apply to a church as to a bar. “At church you leave all your problems at the door. It’s the same at a bar.” She felt that both bars and churches function as places of escape and support.

We were getting ready to pay our tab when Serena said, “Somebody bought you a shot. Do you want it? It’s a Duck Fart.” We accepted and were glad we had. It turned out that Andrew (the agnostic) had bought a round of shots for everybody at the bar. Serena passed the glasses, and Andrew raised his glass to toast, “To Alaska!” Everyone drank, we paid up, and we went off into the sunny Alaska night.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

We walk into a bar in New York

Afternoones, Staten Island, NY bar
Afternoones Restaurant and Bar
Staten Island

A couple of elderly women were sitting at the bar. I approached them the way I usually approach strangers at the bar, by saying my wife and I are going to a bar in every state, and we usually ask people three questions. I asked if I could ask them our questions, and one of the women nodded, the other did not. I asked for first names, and the woman who had nodded gave her first name. The other woman did not. Then I asked what makes for a good bar. The woman who hadn’t nodded or given her name said, “YOUR NOT BEING HERE!”

Will the bartender overheard this and said, “Welcome to Staten Island!”

We have been a little surprised by how rarely people refuse to talk to us. We, of course, don’t approach people deep in conversation or reading a book, and people in bars have (as a rule) been friendly and welcoming. We have been warned that people in the next state down the road won’t been friendly like the state we’re in at the time. In Kansas, we were told that people in bars in the South might not talk to us. In the South, we were told that people in Washington, D.C., would be aloof. And in various places we were warned that people in New York City might be hostile, but aside from this one woman, people at Afternoones in Staten Island were quite friendly.

I’m not saying there aren’t different attitudes and social norms in different places. Our daughter who lives in Brooklyn and has adapted to NYC norms is noticeably embarrassed by her mother’s tendency to smile at strangers she passes on the street. The Gotham norm tends more toward staring straight ahead as one walks, ignoring the magnificent architecture and humanity in its glorious variety that passes by. Perhaps it’s a bit like Victorian England when people would not speak to one another without formal introductions.

But bars aren’t like that. They’re places you can meet people and start conversations, and we depend upon that every week.

The first man I spoke to at Afternoones was quite friendly. Doug was eating at the bar next to us, and we found out he’s worked in Staten Island as a hairdresser for the last thirty years. When I asked him what made for a good bar, he didn’t say it was the absence of me. He likes “a comfortable atmosphere and good food.”  I asked what made the atmosphere comfortable, and he said “not too much noise, not too much activity. A little bit of peace.” He said he doesn’t like “a huge panorama of noise,” and he wanted to eat tonight. I asked Doug if when he said good food he partially meant comfort food, and he said the pork chops he had that night would fit that category.

When I asked Doug about what made for a good church, he talked about his church, Salem Evangelical Free Church. He said he was introduced to the church almost two years ago when some men excercising in a park across the street from the church invited him to join them. He was invited to the church as well, and he went. After attending for three weeks, he found that people already knew him. They knew his name and seemed to genuinely care about him. Doug said that after 9/11/01, he’d attended a large Episcopal church for a couple of years, but after attending for a few years, he realized that no one there knew him at all. He said, “It changed the way I felt about going there.”

His experience at Salem was a stark contrast, and he invited us to come to Salem on Sunday. He even gave us a church pen which had the church’s web address.

I ordered a West Brighton Sweet Tea from Will the bartender and Mindy ordered Afternoones’ special white wine sangria. While I talked with Doug, Mindy talked with Will. He had been working at Afternoones for a year, but he had been drinking there for four. He said that a combination of things make for a good bar: good service, good food, good atmosphere, and even some live entertainment. He said it was increasingly important to have a wide selection of beer as more people were into craft brews.

Michael, one of the waiters, made his way into the conversation to affirm the importance of a variety of beers. He mentioned the importance of a good bartender (adding some kind words for Will). “If the bartender has zero personality, I won’t be coming back, even if you do have the beer I want.” He said he’d been coming to Afternoones since he was a child, but working there for the past five years.

When asked what made for a good church, Will said, “church is not really my thing,” but he gave a shot at an answer nonetheless. “I would say -- especially in a small place like this -- most people who go to church want to be familiar with each other, so a sense of community.” He added, “I think it’s the people. If there’s good people, it’s a good place.”

MIchael said, “It’s been a very long time since I was in a church.” When Mindy asked what he thought might make a good church, he said, “Having the doors open always makes for a good church.”

Before leaving, we decided to talk to a couple sitting at the end of the bar. I asked if we could ask them a few questions for our blog. The woman said, “It’s not about religion, is it?” I told her that one of the questions was about religion, but we just wanted to hear what they had to say, and we weren’t there to give our opinions on religion. They seemed relieved by that assurance, and after that they were quite open and kind. Jose and Stacy are married, and were out to celebrate Stacy’s birthday.

Jose said he likes a place that is clean with a nice environment and, “of course, service that’s friendly and comfortable.” He likes a place where you can “hear yourself talk.” He also likes a place where you can meet new people. “If a bar is like Cheers, you don’t get to meet new people.”

Stacy likes a cool environment with “my age crowd.” (Afternoones’ crowd that night was an older demographic) She likes top shelf liquor and good music. Neither Jose or Stacy is a fan of dive bars.

When I asked what made for a good church, Stacy said she was Jewish. So I asked what made for a good temple. She said a good rabbi with “stories that are up to date, not the same old stories.”  She doesn’t like the Orthodox practice of separating men and women for worship, but prefers the Reformed tradition.

Jose is Catholic and said it is important that a priest knows his parishioners. “The church should do what they can for people in need,”, he said, whether that be financial help or help with a troubled marriage. He said a church should be a comfortable community where people can meet and get to know each other.

We were thankful for the people we met at Afternoones, even (perhaps especially) the woman who didn’t want to talk to me because she gave me a good opening for this post.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Wonder where we've been this year?

We spent Saturday night updating the road map so you could see how we got to the bars we walked into this year.

Any suggestions for Kapa'a, Hawaii, or Connecticut?

Saturday, June 11, 2016

We walk into a bar in New Jersey

Darby Road Pub
Scotch Plains

This wasn’t our first choice bar for the evening. We googled bars in the area and found a place that looked interesting, perhaps more of a nightclub than a bar, but different from places we’d been to before. We got a late start, after 10:00 pm, and we drove to a neighborhood that looked a little seedy. As we were looking for parking, we noticed pedestrians that seemed to be making business transactions with people in vehicles. Mindy said that maybe this wasn’t the place to be, having a preference for being safe. So we turned around and went to a place our hosts had suggested, Darby Road Public House and Restaurant.

At that hour, the restaurant part of Darby’s was in little evidence. A decent sized crowd of people was gathered around the bar for drinks. There were banners all about for various sports franchises. There were at least seven TVs playing, and when we came in I saw soccer and New York baseball on the screens. I was quite pleased when a couple of the TVs went from commercials to the Stanley Cup Finals: Sharks vs. Penguins. I’ve never been a big NHL fan, but a little home town pride (“home Bay Area pride?”) kicks when you’ve been on the road for months.

We seated ourselves at the bar and were soon greeted by Ryan the bartender. He gave us water and the bar menu. Frankly, we were looking for cheap drinks, and the menu supplied some relatively inexpensive options. Mindy ordered Youngs Double Chocolate Stout, and I order Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Things seemed to be slowing down a bit for Ryan, so we asked if we could ask him some questions. (Questions in addition to, “Can we ask you some questions?”)

In response to our first question, “What makes for a good bar?”, Ryan did not answer with the word 90% of bartenders seem to respond with, “bartender.” He said what he thought was important was a combination of atmosphere and service. I asked him to be more specific about atmosphere, and he said a good atmosphere meant “you walk in and forget what you walked in from.” He likes a place that is nice and lively, a friendly meeting place where you can start a conversation. He isn’t a fan of a dingy, dive environment. Still, he prefers a place that is not too loud as a club or a “young person bar.” (“I had four years of that,” he said.)

After thinking about it for a bit longer, he said he’d give an edge to the importance of service over atmosphere. “It can be a really cool place, but if you wait fifteen minutes and no one takes your drink order, you’ll leave.” He said that service needs to be good across the board, not just the bartender but also the wait staff and the barbacks.

But he said that service involved more than just taking orders and making drinks correctly. A bartender has social obligations. He didn’t say it, but he certainly would have considered politely answering our questions as part of his job. “If you’re backed up with a big  crowd, you don’t have time to talk with customers, but if it’s slow, it’s part of the job.” He told a story about training a young woman behind the bar. A group of guys came in, and he asked her to take their order because, he told her, “They’d rather order from you than me.” She came back a little upset because she felt the guys had been hitting on her. Ryan told her that’s part of the job. You don’t give out your phone number or go home with a guest, but flirting can be part of the job. (This reminded me of the time a woman bartender friend of mine was told by her supervisor she should fasten her blouse a couple of buttons higher. She did what she was told, but she knew it would cost her in tips.)

“A person might not be a great bartender as far as drinks go, but if they’re friendly and make you feel welcome, they’ll do okay,” Ryan said.

We then asked Ryan our other question, “What makes for a good church?”

He answered, “I guess I would say, as odd as it sounds, about the same thing as a bar.” (Which didn’t sound odd to us at all.) He’d look for a place that was comfortable, felt safe, and where you can have a good conversation. “It has some parallels.”

We approached a guy who was sitting alone, Jeremy. He seemed friendly enough, but was slow to answer our questions. When his friend, Melissa, returned, we realized this was because English was not his first language. He was from Paraguay. Melissa, a local, was able to help with translation between English and Spanish.

In answer to our bar question, Jeremy said it depends on what a person liked. He liked that there was soccer playing on some of the TVs. He said bars are different in Paraguay than the U.S. because the people are different (“People are more educated here”).  Melissa said she likes a unique environment, and as an example, added, “this place has a soccer thing going.”

As for what makes for a good church, Jeremy said it is a pastor that gives good sermons. Melissa said it is a sense of community.

We then talked to two women at the bar, Andrea and Dari, who were watching the hockey game. They were none too pleased that the Sharks had a 3-2 lead in the third period, but they were still willing to talk. As soon as we mentioned that we are visiting a church and a bar in every state, Andrea advocated for a visit to her church, the Mountainside campus of Liquid Church. She told us that it’s not like a traditional church, and that it’s young and loud. She said it had recently been mentioned on the Today show when the pastor used Star Wars as an introduction to the nativity story. We enjoyed her enthusiasm. Both women let us know they are Christians.

We went on with our what makes for a good bar question. Andrea said, “Personally, I like mine a little divy. I like the people down to earth and the drinks inexpensive.” She went on to explain how her history led to this preference. When she was a little girl, her grandparents in West Virginia would take her and her sister to the local dive bar. The girls were always fussed over by other patrons and given snacks. She said there’s a local wine bar in town this is lovely. But it’s very formal, and it’s not for her. She doesn’t feel at home there.

Dari, on the other hand, likes a bar that is friendly, with an attentive staff that is customer oriented.

For what makes for a good church, Dari said it doesn’t judge people. She said that people in a church shouldn’t judge whether someone goes to heaven based on their religion, because the Bible doesn’t teach that. A good church teaches God’s Word. She also talked about the importance of holding the leadership of a church accountable. People need to build each other up and hold each other up.

Andrea said that her church practices being the hands and feet of Christ and reaches out to people. They recently sent a missions team to Rwanda, and they bought a drill for water wells. She appreciates the slogan of Liquid, that they are their to minister to “The Last, the Lost and the Least.” She said, “Jesus got his hands dirty.”

Dari added that she can’t stand a church that is based on religion rather than faith in Christ. “A dead church worries about religion. I don’t like religion.” She can’t stand people calling each other “Brother” and “Sister” and using religious language. “I detest churchiness. In my ideal church, I want to see tattoos, I want to see piercings, and I want to see people of different colors and races. It should be like heaven.”

Off topic from bar and church, Andrea wanted to talk to us about blogging. She likes to write and thinks someday she’ll have a book in her. For now, she’s considering using her knack for storytelling for a blog, but a fear of failure has been keeping her back. Her husband told her that shouldn’t keep her back. We told her we agreed with him and encouraged her to give it a shot. So all of you in internet-land, keep an eye out for this fine blog of the future. We’re thankful for this blog that let us meet the good people at Darby Road.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

We walk into a bar in Pennsylvania

Paddy's Pub
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

"I prefer my pretzels with an echo of smoke," Alex said. She and Casey were visiting from Baltimore, and she said she grew up going to dives. Casey said he grew up going to dives as well. "We both have daddy issues," Alex laughed.

"This is our first stop when we come to Philadelphia," Casey said -- but then they both remembered that the first stop was for a cheesesteak sandwich, and then they go to Paddy's.

Casey had first visited Paddy's because it's said to be the basis for the TV show, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. He says he was afraid it would be a gimmicky place filled with tourists. He was surprised and delighted to find that it wasn't that, or maybe I should write it wasn't just that. There are t-shirts for sale. There are pictures on the wall of Frank, the bar's owner, with actors from the TV show. Jess the bartender said that tourists visit on most days, but locals make up the majority of their cliental.

Mindy and I also decided to visit this bar because of the television show, which certainly isn't a show for everyone. It' about a group of five "friends" that "run" a bar in Philadelphia. Each member of "The Gang" (Frank the Owner, Charlie, Mac, Dennis and Sweet Dee) are without any moral compass whatsoever, but fortunately have such a high level of incompetence, ignorance and laziness that they're unable to successfully follow through with their unending series of scams and cons. Topics of comedy include cannibalism, mental illness, drug addiction, and some less pleasant matters. When we talked to some Philadelphia locals, they say the show captures the spirit of the city. I find it (and this may say something very bad about me) very funny.

The show took the name of their bar from this bar, we heard, and the name of owner in the show is taken from the owner of Paddy's, Frank. I asked Jess if Frank in real life was anything like Frank (played by Danny DeVito) on the show. She said he is crazy, but he's a good guy. I asked if he was as short as the Frank on the show, and she said, "He's short, but he's not DeVito short."

But the bar is not like bar on the show in any way that matters. The real Paddy's has a wide variety of drinks available that are competently made. The real bar doesn't seem to violate the sanitation laws. The bartender who served us was quite pleasant, and she didn't at all seem like a sociopath. This is a bar we were quite happy to be inside, whereas the bar on the show is one that can only be safely enjoyed virtually.

As always, we asked people our two questions, "What makes for a good bar?" and "Whether you go or not, what would make for a good church?"

Casey said he prefers a dive bar, "I belong in a [excrementty] bar." In his hometown of Baltimore, smoking was banned in bars ten years ago, and he appreciates being in a place where he can light up. He said there have been times when he comes to a town and really wants a drink and he might go to a place like Applebee's. "And after I have one drink, I'll have another to try to forget that I'm drinking in an Applebee's."

Alex said the atmosphere of the bar is important to her. They both talked about their favorite bar in Baltimore,  a place called, "Bar" (which, of course, is a nightmare find online). The owner of Bar seems to genuinely dislike the customers and hires the most incompetent bartenders, Casey says. They don't write down people's tabs. Alex said there was a time when she'd had several shots and a few beers there, and when she asked for her bill she was told it was ten bucks, which seemed wildly off. She made an attempt to get a more accurate accounting, but she was okay with the lower tab. Bar doesn't have soda guns, but rather gets two litter bottles from the market. (Bar also, according to Casey and Alex, goes to the liquor store next door to buy beer in cans...perhaps they don't want to share their address with any distributors). Alex and Casey love the place.

I asked Alex and Casey about church. Casey said he went to Catholic Church when he was a kid. His mom would drag him and his sister to Sunday School, but he got tired of it and told his mom he'd rather stay home and watch cartoons. His mom said, "Thank God!" because she was tired of going to church as well. He also told a story about his uncle, a devoted Catholic, who's been married thrice and has come out as gay. Nine years ago, when the uncle moved to Birmingham, Alabama, a neighbor brought a basket of treats to his door along with a list of nearby Baptist churches. When the uncle told his neighbor he didn't need the list because he's Catholic, the woman snatched back the basket, went home and hasn't talked to him since.

Alex said she went to church once, but hasn't gone since. She joked that they had been to weddings in churches, but they were afraid they'd spontaneously combust upon walking through the door.

I talked to another former Catholic in the bar, Tom. He said his preference was a blue collar corner bar. He said he looked for a friendly place where you could get to know people. I asked why he specified, "blue collar," and he responded that even though he isn't technically blue collar himself (he works in real estate), he relates to people who are. He said he hadn't gone to church since his eighth grade confirmation, but if he went he'd be looking for the same thing he looks for in a bar: good people who are hospitable and friendly.

Mindy talked to two women at the other end of the bar, Cheryl and Rita, who told us they'd ridden their bike over the bridge from New Jersey. They were about to close up their tab when they realized that the minimum to use their credit card was twenty dollars, and their two beers weren't even close. They ordered another round of beers and a couple of hot dogs to take themselves over the minimum, and they were happy to answer our questions. Rita said she likes a bar with a bartender who has a friendly personality, who brings you in.

"The bartender makes it." Cheryl said. For her, what's important in a bar is the atmosphere, the people frequenting the place, and having interesting pictures on the wall.

For a church, Cheryl said she appreciates diversity, a place that's open and accepting to everyone's journey, "making people feel comfortable no matter how they come."  Rita also values acceptance, and mentioned that it was important where the "pastor, priest, whatever, gets their information from"  -- life experience is one source she thought was valid.

They were both very enthusiastic about the work that the Salvation Army does in their community, ministering to children and providing the poor. They regularly play basketball in the Salvation Army's Kroc Center.

When we asked Jess, the bartender, what makes for a good bar, we weren't surprised she said,  "the bartenders" (this is the response of most bartenders). She said a bartender should be friendly but stern. He or she should, obviously, know how to make and serve drinks quickly and should have "a little attitude." She said she also likes a good dive bar, where you can smoke, that are a little dirty, where you don't expect the servers to be nice. She said that most bars in Philadelphia are expensive, but you still could find some cheap ones in South Philly but "you've got to go deep." She said the bar's owners were also important. "All bar and restaurant owners are usually pretty crazy," she said, "but the good ones are still mentally stable." She classified the ownership of Paddy's as crazy but stable. She said she'd never worked for a better owner than Frank.

Dean's Coney Island hard root beer
Mindy's Crabby's ginger beer
When we asked what would make for a good church she said, "The architecture?"

"Anything else?" we asked.

"That's it."

For a variety of reasons, it seems that most of the people we talked to at Paddy's aren't interested in church. Maybe someone needs to make a really funny sitcom about hijinks in a parish.