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.


  1. Awesome! Always have had a great time out there. Hit up Sonny's (cheesesteaks) and then Paddy's! Love Paddy's! :D