The Bar, Fresno
“You turned off the jukebox!” one of the patrons complained to Nicole the bartender.
“I didn’t turn it off,” she responded, “You’ve got to put money in it!” Nonetheless, Nicole started up the machine again. (When we arrived, Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” was playing. When Nicole started the music again, it was pretty much hip hop and rap for the rest of the evening.)
We came to this particular bar because it’s close to our apartment and we were looking for something basic to end the month. What could be more basic than The Bar?
Last week, we didn’t go to a bar. We just wrote a photo post about this bar and its sister bars, The Next Bar and The Other Bar. (Last year we heard about a bar in Baltimore called Bar. The story there was that the owner didn’t really want to be found, so she used a name as nondescript as possible.)
The Bar in Fresno is, in many ways, what one expects from an average neighborhood bar. Inside, the bar looked a little like Cheers, with a rectangular bar that surrounds the bartender and the beverages. Beer and spirit ads decorate the walls. One more innovative design element was in the restrooms, where the wall were chalkboards -- one supposes so graffitti can changed on a regular basis.
As we came in, Nicole the bartender immediately noticed us, welcomed us, and asked what we wanted to drink. I asked about ciders, and she apologized that they only had Angry Orchard. I said that would be fine. (I later saw her apologize to someone who asked for tap beer option, and she had to tell him they only had bottles.) Mindy apologized for not knowing what she wanted, but Nicole assured her that was all right. Later, Nicole told us that 90% of people coming in don’t know what they want.
After she took care of us, she returned to a pool game. She was back quickly, and we asked who won. She smiled, saying that she had, and that she’d been playing her boyfriend. In spite of the game, she greeted each person as they came in and tended to customer needs.
I noticed a popcorn machine and went to fill up a paper bowl. Some guys at my end of the bar were having an animated discussion about a “ball peen hammer holster” and about where they could get one or how they would make one.
We overheard Mike’s name as he chatted with another patron. After she left, he moved down one stool to chat with us. We told him about our bar and church visiting project, and he asked about the process of working on a book about our year of travel. We told him we were writing a proposal that will go to an agent, who will present it to publishers. A physical (or even virtual) book has a ways to go in the process.
He agreed to answer the questions that we always ask in bars, but it was difficult to get the answers -- he kept wanting to ask questions about our project (not that we mind talking about ourselves). But we kept asking.
As for what makes for a good bar, Mike said, “It’s too easy. Your heard it all from too many other people.” But we insisted we wanted his answer. The music was playing quite loudly, making talking more of a challenge. He said, “There should be background music, but not overpowering. And you should be with people you know. How difficult is that?”
He wasn’t as comfortable with the question of what makes for a good church. “I’m more of a Jon Stewart guy; I’m an atheist. I’m not comfortable with churches. They think they know God, but they don’t. I’ve been to Presbyterian churches, Episcopalian churches, and Christian churches. I’ve been to places that you can tell have money, and they ask me for money. I haven’t been to a Unitarian church. Maybe I should try that.”
We asked our questions of Nicole the bartender, too. She said the bartender makes for a good bar (as many bartenders do). She’s been at the job (though not just in this place) for ten years. She likes that it is never dull, and she meets new people all the time. Some of her best friends she met first while working in a bar. But she insisted that the bartender “is the biggest thing” for what makes for a good bar.
Mike said he wanted to add to his answer. “A good bartender makes for a good bar. If you have a good bartender, you’ll come back.”
As for what makes for a good church, she insisted she didn’t have anything to say, “I’m not religious.”
When I said that many people had the same answers for bar and church: “like Cheers, where everyone knows your name,” she agreed that was important.
“Everyone wants to be somewhere welcoming and inviting,” she said. (Mike agreed with that sentiment as well.)
For the rest of the year, we hope to be doing themes for bars, with a different theme every month. (For instance, in February we plan to go only to Applebee’s bars. Really. We’ll explain later.) But sometimes, it’s nice to keep things simple, with people and with The Bar.