Saturday, May 27, 2017

We Walk into a College Bar (during summer vacation)

Red Wave, Fresno, California
Red Wave, Fresno
Fresno does love its Bulldogs. The 'dog logo and the school color (red) are seen throughout the city, but (of course) even more near the Fresno State University campus. There’s a bar across the street from the school, next door to a store selling textbooks and Bulldog paraphernalia. The bar is called Red Wave.

The entrance isn’t clearly marked. We weren’t sure we were even on the right side of the building until we saw the bouncer, a uniformed security guard, at the door. We showed our I.D.s and went in to find the bar quite busy and noisy, with many people watching either (or both) of the two games on a number of screens. One of the games turned out to be the last game of the Celtics/Cavaliers playoff series, and the other was a soccer game on Univision that was viewed with much more enthusiasm.

We found two seats at the bar and asked about ciders, because as we’ve mentioned more than once, we are not beer fans. I had an apple cider, Mindy had a pineapple cider.  From what we could see, though, most people were drinking beer -- particularly red beer, beer with Clamato juice.

In fact, the first person we asked our bar questions (“What makes for a good bar?” and “What makes for a good church?”) was drinking red beer. Kinte, who was sitting next to Mindy, said that’s one of the things he likes about Red Wave. His first answer about what makes a good bar was “the environment.” I asked him what he meant by that, and he said he liked the crowds, the people, the different kinds of music. And watching sports was another attraction. And in general, at a bar, he likes having  “some kind of food.” Just about then, he got his plate of tacos -- it was Taco Thursday.

We asked Kinte what made for a good church, and he admitted he hadn’t gone to church for a long time. But he said he liked churches better in the South. “It seems more social in the South. In the South, I mostly go to Baptist churches. I think the choirs are better. I like the bands, you know. It seems like it’s more meaningful.”

bin of empty Clamato cans at Red Wave, Fresno
Shortly after we arrived, we’d noticed Sam, who was wearing a cross, as he talked to various people about the games playing. He quizzed the guys to one side of us about the soccer game, asking who was playing and who the guys were cheering. He also talked about the upcoming NBA finals (“It’s on now, baby! June 1st!”), admitting that since he was from Ohio, he’d be rooting for the Cavaliers. (Kinte is also a Cavaliers fan. I guess it shouldn’t be that surprising finding Cleveland fans at a place with “Red” in its name.)

After awhile, I went to talk to Sam, telling him I was a Golden State fan. He said that it was all good, sports was just fun. We talked basketball a bit, and then I asked him our two standard questions.

As for what makes for a good bar, he said, “A family atmosphere. I’ve been coming to this place 25 years. It was a little place, a hut, but they built it up. I know the family that runs the place; I’ve watched the kids grow up here and then start working here. The mother, Maria, is a wonderful woman. I heard a story about how she went to a butcher, and the butcher asked her why she didn’t get cheaper meat. If she bought something with more fat, she could stretch it out more and make a bigger profit. But she said, “I’m not serving that to my patrons. I know’em all. And my family eats that food.”

As for what makes for a good church, Sam said, “I was raised in the church. I’d go back to where I started. A family atmosphere, with love, trust, those values. It’s what I get here as well.”

I told him we’d been visiting churches and bars; he was quite enthusiastic about the project. “We need to link people in the two together. There are spiritual people in bars, and there are people in churches that don’t drink but would understand the people in bars. If we could find a way to pull the two together, be on the same page, we’d have a better world.”

He said, “God is good,” and I answered, “all the time.” So he responded “All the time…” and I finished it with “God is good.” He said God had brought us together and that if Mindy and I are ever at Red Wave again, we should come over and talk with him.

On the way out, we stopped to talk to the security guy, Greg.  We asked him what would makes a good bar, and he said a good environment, “not a rowdy place, safety and good prices.” He had just started working at Red Wave again after three years of working at other places. I asked it there were places he’d worked that weren’t so safe. and he said he’d ended up in a hospital after an incident at another place he’d worked.

As for what would make for a good church, he said he hadn’t gone to church since he was 17.  Still, he said, “Not so much pressure, just easy, laid back church sounds nice.”

We may take Sam up on his invite to return Red Wave, maybe when Fresno State is playing. As they say in these parts, “Go ‘Dogs!”

Saturday, May 20, 2017

We Walk into a Silent Movie (in a bar)

Full Circle Brewing Company, Fresno
The ringmaster didn’t promote beer. He brought out the bag of popcorn to juggle itself, the bun that trained the hot dog and the dancing drinks. But none of the circus acts featured beer or tacos.

Perhaps you’ve seen the snack bar promotional movie that provides a ten minute countdown between features at drive-ins? This time, it provided intermission entertainment during Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger at Full Circle Brewing Company in Fresno. The Lodger was one of three silent films at Full Circle during May; The Battleship Potemkin was shown the previous week, and The Man Who Laughs is scheduled next week.

Though The Lodger is only an hour and ten minutes long, there was an intermission. And even though that “Let’s All Go to the Lobby” commercial said nothing about beer, people seemed to find their way to the bar to buy their beers, ales, and custom brews made on the property. Outside, a man had set up a taco stand. But as I said, that intermission promo had popcorn, hot drinks, candy, and soft drinks, but none of it was sold there at the brewery. (Okay, there is one soft drink available at the bar, root beer, but that’s it.)

We were attracted to the place by the movie. I’ve been a Hitchcock fan from way back, and this film was the first thriller that brought the director to prominence. It also just so happens that at one of our other blogs, Movie Churches, we’re watching silent movies this month -- so Full Circle was definitely the place to be.

When we entered the brewery, cartoons were already playing on the screen: “Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land” to be specific (followed by several Warner Brothers cartoons). We sat at the bar, and I ordered a Cluster Fuggle Cream Ale. Mindy ordered a Bush League Barley Wine. Mindy had asked about the mead listed on the website, but the bartender said they didn’t have any.

We sat and sipped (you may recall, we aren't beer fans) while several people with bicycles came in, ordered, drank, and left. Then Cathy and Chelsea sat next to Mindy. We asked them the questions we always ask, “What makes for a good bar?” and “Whether you go or not, what would make for a good church?”

Cathy was closest, and she first took the question about what makes for a good bar. “The environment. If it looks and feels comfy and cozy and the people who pour your beers are friendly, that’s number one for what makes a good bar.”

Chelsea added, “Good drinks or beer. They have to have not too many people around. Not too crowded. They should have plenty of places to sit.”

They also talked about the importance of good music (“kind of like church, if there’s no good music…” Cathy said.) There wasn’t music playing at the time, though, because the cartoons were on the movie screen, and TVs at low volume were playing the first game of the Cavaliers and Celtics series.)

They talked about liking the atmosphere of Full Circle, with cozy urban feel of brick and wood. Along with the brick and wood, there are kitschy decorations, some reminiscent of other places we’ve been recently. There was a skeleton as there was at Goldstein’s and Ms. Pacman as there was at Spokeasy. And there were twinkle lights strung overhead, adding to the cozy vibe.

As for what makes for a good church, Cathy said, “First, welcoming. How is it when you first come in?” She said later that she thinks “people should be friendly, but not like makeup counter employees.”

And, she said, “I don’t like it all flashy and showy.”  She went to a church recently that had a fog machine. That was just too much. She also thinks about  the pastor. “Is he funny, engaging?” But more important was the pastor’s (and by extension, the church’s) theology. “Do I agree with it or not?” She doesn’t like pastors asking for money. “I’m just a poor college student.”

Cathy also said she looks for people her age, but “that’s not make or break.”

Chelsea said, “They should keep the message on God, not ‘please give so we can build a big building.’” She thinks that it’s okay to keep the property up and pay pastors and staff reasonably, but a good part of a church’s income should go to helping the community and to missions. Both agreed that a church’s money shouldn’t go to fancy decor. “Like taxes, I don’t want my money going to what I don’t want it to go to.” She said she thinks it’d be good if a couple times a month, a church would do projects in the community.

baby Hitchcock
But our conversation ended with an an announcement by Nate Butler, the sponsor of the event, that the film was beginning. Before the film proper began, he’d put together excerpts from a documentary about Hitchcock. He also played the piano to accompany the film (as frequently happens when silent films are shown publicly). His score included bits from a variety of sources; we noticed Cabaret, Fiddler on the Roof, The Wizard of Oz, Pink Floyd, and the Eurythmics along with a snippet of “Putting on the Ritz” as well as “Hushaby Mountain” from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

During the intermission, as the screen played the ten minute snack bar countdown, Mindy asked Jeff the bartender our two questions. (We’d talked to Jeff before the movie, and he’d given us a bit of the history of Full Circle. New owners took over in August, and that’s when he began working behind the bar. The previous owners, we heard, had treated the company more like a hobby, keeping sporadic hours. The new owners treat the brewery as a business.)

Jeff said, “To me, what makes a good bar is the service. The glass should never be empty. Nobody should have to wait. It should have a clean, happy environment. Patrons should feel comfortable and welcome.”

not Jeff at Full Circle Brewing Company in Fresno
Several customers came to the bar then, so he helped them while thinking about the church question. While pulling a beer, he looked over his shoulder and said, “Know what the answer to number three [the church question] is?  Same as for number two! I see the two places as very similar.”

Like Jeff, we see many similarities between bars and churches, and enjoy both. We also love movie theaters, so when that’s added to the mix as well, we’re happy campers.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

We Walk into a Bar as if we Weren't Blogging

Spokeasy Public House, Fresno, CA
Thursday night we went to the Spokeasy Public House in the Tower District of Fresno, and let’s get this out of the way right now: we didn’t ask our two questions. Usually when we visit a bar we talk to people and ask, “What makes for a good bar?” and “Whether you go or not, what do you think would make for a good church?” This week, we didn’t ask our questions because we really didn’t talk to anyone, which was okay on that night, at that place.

Perceptive viewers that you are, you probably have guessed there’s a cycling theme to this pub. There are model bikes and bicycle paraphernalia decorating the walls, but the devotion to brewing is also readily apparent.

We entered and found the bar was full, so we sat at a table -- which provided a bit of an obstacle for us. Sitting at the bar makes conversation easy. This time, though, while the people at the bar and the bartender all seemed quite friendly, we didn’t want to interrupt their pleasant conversations.

We decided to enjoy the other things the bar had to offer. It’s basically a beer bar, but two different ciders, one from California and one from Washington state, were listed on the board. Neither was Angry Orchard, and the when the bartender suggested a cider with ginger and lemongrass, Mindy thought she’d like to try it (she didn't love it, but was glad to have tried it).

We enjoyed the boards behind the bar. They didn’t just list the beer, but also high scores for video games. The high score for Galaga was from 2015, but there was no Galaga machine in the back room with the other arcade games. Ms. Pacman’s high score was also listed, and that game was in the back room and the machine was on. Mindy had brought quarters for me, since she’d noticed on the website that they had “classic arcade games,” but we didn’t need quarters; free games were loaded into the machine. I can’t promise those free games will be there if and when you go to Spokeasy, but I enjoyed seeing the bow-headed ball Ms. Pacman eat some ghosts and pretzels, though I came nowhere near breaking the high score record.

We also got to watch the Giants play the Reds on the various TVs around the bar. I’d always rather watch the Oakland A’s, but I’m getting a little pleasure from following San Francisco’s miserable season -- and they did lose again Thursday.

When we go to bars, we listen to the conversations around us -- we might hear something that makes a profound point for the philosophical arguments I construct in these posts.

From my notes at Spokeasy:

“She goes to the pub quiz over there, but she’s a theater geek.”

“I have a couple of weeks before the semester is over.”

A woman coming through the door, “I smell the aroma of the beer!”

Nope, these quotes don’t add up to much. No philosophy this week.

We thought there might be a chance to talk to that woman who'd come in the door when she sat down at the next table over, but after the bartender got her beer (he knew in advance what she would want), she put in earbuds. So chatting wasn’t going to happen.

So, no, we didn’t ask anyone what makes for a good bar. But on occasion, people have asked us that question, so here’s our answer this week: Spokeasy had a friendly bartender, people talking and enjoying each other, decent music, baseball on TV, and free video games. That’s pretty much what we’re looking for.

(And thanks to Ruth, who we met at a nearby bar a few weeks ago, for telling us about Spokeasy!)