Saturday, June 24, 2017

We Walk into a Sports Bar and Leave a Little Sad

Field House, Fresno, California
Mindy outside Field House, Fresno, California for game four
All right, let’s get the ugliness out of the way. This month, we decided this to devote our bar visits to the NBA finals, rooting the Warriors on to victory. We went to the Field House to watch Game Four, and the Warriors lost, rather ignominiously. The Cleveland Cavaliers set a Finals record in the first quarter by scoring 49 points, following that by setting the record for most points in a half (86), and most three pointers in a Finals game with 24. Golden State never managed to get a lead.

Field House was a busy, crowded place that night, and most people were obviously there to watch the game. At the previous three bars we visited this month, we arrived after the game began -- but not this night. We found two seats at the bar. The national anthem started, so I stood. No one else did.

Eighteen screens were playing the game. There were cars with Warriors paraphernalia in the parking lot, and people wearing Warriors gear inside, but the fans never had much of a chance to get excited. At one point when Kevin Durant dunked and cut the Cavaliers lead to seven, someone called “Here we go!” That was about it.

We each ordered The Classic Mustard Dog; Mindy ordered fries, and I got the onion rings. After we ate, I ordered an Angry Orchard for cheapness’ sake, and Mindy ordered a coffee/vodka drink, Snow Cap. (It was a busy night. I got my drink right away, but Mindy’s was a long time coming. The bartender forgot about it, which happens -- especially when the drink requires a fresh pot o decaf. The bartender kindly comped it when she realized she’d forgotten it, so all is swell.)

It was a good night to ask our two questions of people, “What makes for a good bar?” and “What makes for a good church?” It was a good night to ask, because Warriors fans wanted to talk about anything but the game.

Mindy talked to Gisele to her right. Gisele used many of the same words we often hear, “atmosphere,” “friendliness,” and “ambience” to describe a good bar. And “obviously, customer service, too,” she added. As for what make for a good church, she said, “I’ve been to many churches. Acceptance of parishioners coming in, not being judgemental. Seeing different points of view.” She gave another great quote about what can go wrong in churches:  “A lot of people follow the cloth and not the Scriptures.”

I talked to the couple to my left, Alan and Muriel. They are originally from England, and married there in a beautiful Church of England church. But they’ve lived in the States for the last twenty-five years. Alan works in the wheelchair business. He mentioned that his company has made donations to a Christian organization that works with special needs, Joni and Friends.

I asked Alan about bars, and he said what he appreciates is “atmosphere.” I asked him to be more specific, and he said, “It’s the ambience of the bar, not too bright, bartenders that notice you. Not too much noise, though a night like this is different.” (We would have liked a lot of noise from cheering Warriors fans, but there wasn’t so much.) “I like to be able to get to know people.”

When I first asked what makes for a good church, Alan shrugged. “I like singing. I’m not so much into the sermon. I like old style churches.”  

Muriel interrupted, “Come on, tell him you’re an atheist.” Alan seemed to want to deny that, “I believe in the Golden Rule.”

Muriel became a Christian when she was 21, back in England in a Pentecostal Church, and she still values the Pentecostal worship experience. When she came to the States, she was very excited to hear Billy Graham speak.

We left Field House with a quarter still to go before the game ended. We thought, of course, that if the Warriors made a really amazing, historic come from behind win and took the championship that night, we’d feel pretty stupid. Sadly, we didn’t feel stupid that night. At least not for that.

Postscript: We watched Game Five, the game when the Warriors won the Finals, at our son’s apartment because he has cable. My brother Dale came over as well. Our dad had taken us both to see the Warriors back in the Seventies, the last decade they were World Champs. Sometimes it’s nice to experience Big Events with Big Crowds. Sometimes it’s nice to just be with family.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

We Walk into a Game Bar for a Big Game

happy hour at Dave and Buster's, Fresno
Dave and Buster's, Fresno, California
"Green Ghost" sounds more like a Scooby Doo villain than a beverage, but it was the drink I ordered at Dave and Buster’s. The menu says it’s a blend of apple whisky, green apple vodka, Granny Smith apple syrup, sweet ‘n’ sour, and Sprite -- which leaves out the key component that makes the drink special. It has a light-up “ice cube” that changes colors, which is what makes the drink “ghoulish” (as the menu describes it). You can also order drinks with sea monsters.

Obviously, this is not a bar for “serious” drinkers.

If you haven’t been to a Dave and Buster’s (a national chain -- international really, with Canadian locations), it is primarily a game arcade. Most of the floor space is taken up with video games, skee ball and one of the most awesome games I have ever seen, a full size Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots.

It also is a restaurant. This location has a couple of dining sections, and then there’s the GameBar. We waited a few minutes before space at the bar opened, and we took it. It was still happy hour so our drinks, including Mindy’s Chocolatini, were half price.

Many times when we’ve talked with people about what makes for a good bar, we hear, “It depends what you’re looking for, sometimes you’re looking for a party and sometimes you want to chill.”

Usually when we look for a bar, we’re looking for a place where we can talk to people. So it can’t be empty, but ideally it isn’t too crowded. If there’s a loud, party atmosphere, it’s difficult to talk to people.

This month, we’re using the bar visits as opportunities to watch the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. We knew there would be at least four games (and only four games in the case of a sweep), so we knew we could visit enough sports bars to cover our posts for the month. And the GameBar at Dave and Buster’s seemed like a sports bar to us.

Even before we entered the place, we could hear the play by play for the third game of the NBA Finals on the outside speakers. Most of the dozens of screens inside were playing the game. (I saw a lonely screen playing the Giants game. It changed to basketball when the baseball game was done.)

The noise from the arcade games keep Dave and Buster’s GameBar from being an ideal place for quiet conversation. But the Game made it impossible. The volume for the broadcast was loud, and people were cheering loudly as well. When the Cavaliers were ahead, the minority of Cleveland fans cheered lustily at every move Sir James made. When the Warriors pulled ahead, they quieted down.

As the fourth quarter began, Cleveland was leading, and I was beginning to think we wouldn’t need to go to our third bar for the week. (We went out for the first game on a Thursday, the second on Sunday, and this was Wednesday night.) If the Cavs won, it wouldn’t be necessary to go to a bar on Friday night, because there would be a game five the next week. Our bar visit could wait.

But Curry, Durant, Thompson, and the rest of the Dubs had other plans for our weekend, coming back for an exciting win. It was great to be with a big crowd sharing the anxiety and the excitement. The majority cheered wildly at the conclusion as the the Warriors overcame double digit deficits to win by five.

We usually ask people at a bar, “What makes for a good bar?” and “Whether you go or not, what makes for a good church?” We didn’t ask anyone our questions on Wednesday night because most people were too into the game or wouldn’t have been able to hear us anyway. And our servers, Bryan and Red, were much too busy for conversation. (But they did provide cheerful and competent service.)

Most people answer that church question by saying they like to go to a place where they’ll be welcomed and accepted, but occasionally people say they like going to a big place where they can be anonymous and just enjoy the music and teaching and celebration. Sometimes it’s nice to celebrate anonymously in a bar as well.

For video of the Green Goblin (and the end of the game), check out Mindy's instagram.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

We Walk into a Sports Grill

PressBox Sports Grill in Clovis, California -- deanandmindywalkintoabar
PressBox Sports Grill, Clovis, California
The play by play continued in the restroom. Since this month’s bar choices are all about the NBA Finals, this is no little thing. It was still preferable, of course, to time restroom breaks with commercials, but that doesn’t always work out. So it’s nice to know one won’t miss any of the action.

Usually music plays over the speakers at this PressBox Sports Grill location, but for the big games, the audio of the game trumps music.The majority of the screens are assigned to that game. For game two of this year’s NBA Finals, 16 of the 22 screens, including the giant indoor theater screen, played the Warriors vs the Cavaliers. (One screen near us had ESPN drag racing followed by Ultimate Fighting -- which did get rather bloody.)

Dean at PressBox, Clovis, California
There are three locations of the PressBox Sports Grill, all opened in the past few years. We decided on the Clovis location, as opposed to either of the Fresno locations. We wondered, as often happens when we’re deciding about a place to visit, would PressBox really be a bar or more of a restaurant? Going inside, we were happy to see the bar with bottles on the shelves behind it.

But PressBox is also a restaurant. The evening we were there, several families with children (and maybe a couple of youth sports teams) were eating in house -- so it wasn’t the kind of place where we expected to be carded at the door. We didn’t even have to show our I.D.s when we ordered our drinks. The bartender was confident, one would guess, we were of age. I ordered “The Press” (Pinnacle Cherry Vodka with soda and Sprite) and Mindy ordered a Dirty Root Beer (Pinnacle Whipped Vodka, Amaretto, whipped cream and Barq’s root beer).

While the bartender, Sarah, was preparing Mindy’s drink, some whipped cream splashed up on her face. Wiping it away, she said,  “Not the first time that’s happened. I go home smelling like booze.”  About the drink she said, “It’s dangerous.  You want to drink it like root beer, but it’s not.” (When we mentioned we like cider, Sarah gave us a sample of a ginger cider, Ginja Ninja, from Oregon.)

Through the evening, we had opportunities to talk with Sarah.  She manages the bar. In fact, she works at all three PressBox locations, working as many as sixty hours a week. She started a few months ago, and is working hard to shape up the bars and their staffs.

She thinks of much of the staff as kids, since they’re mostly a decade or so younger than she is. She has been amazed at what they don’t know about popular culture. It was one thing, she told us, when one of her co-workers didn’t know the TV show The Facts of Life, but when another co-worker didn’t recognize Bruce Springsteen, she realized there had been a failure of parenting somewhere down the line. She believes it may be her job to teach the history of pop culture along with the essentials of service. (She thought she might start with Tom Petty.) We encouraged this work of philanthropy.  

One of those young co-workers is a barback named Tommano. He’s only been working there for about a month, but he appreciates the new job, especially the tips (which are better than at his previous work). We asked him our two standard questions, “What makes for a good bar?” and “What makes for a good church?”

He said he looks for atmosphere -- the people who come to the bar, and the conversations that happen there. “On top of that, good service always,” he said with a smile. As for a church, Tommano said he attends The Well (a church we visited recently). A good church depends on the pastor, he thinks. He says that a good church is “more for the message for me.” He said that it’s good for some people to have a supportive group. The Well has lIfe groups that he said his girlfriend’s parents appreciate, but for him, “I go for the pastor.”

When Sarah had a chance to chat, we told her we visit bars and churches. She said, “Those are the best two places to socialize on the planet.” Which is, of course, part of the point of our travels. As for what makes for a good bar, she said, “There’s a lot of things; good staff, fun, good sports, a little bit of everything.” She added, “You could have the best food, but if the service is bad, it won’t matter.”

As for what makes for a good church, she said, “A sense of community. A church that isn’t favorable to the members who donate the most money. A church that isn’t run like a corporation. A lot of churches are like, ‘We need this and this, so donate, donate, donate.’ The people they’re getting money from have less, and the pastor lives in a million dollar house. A lot of churches are nicer than the schools, you know? That’s ludicrous.”

Because we were taking up bar space for a long time so we could watch the game, we ordered food along with our drinks. The chicken wings and garlic tots didn’t disappoint, and thankfuly, the Warriors didn’t either.

Neither did the staff at PressBox, who made it a very pleasant evening.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

We Walk into a Sports Bar for Some Basketball

Mindy walks into Yosemite Falls in Granite Park in Fresno
Yosemite Falls Cafe and Sports Bar, Granite Park (Fresno)
Stephen Curry hit another beautiful three point shot, and the man next to me let out a big, high pitched whoop. “Sorry,” he said, “I thought I was at home.”

We, on the other hand, were quite aware we weren’t at home. At home, we couldn’t watch the NBA Finals because we don’t have cable or satellite. To be honest, this month we’re going to schedule our bar visits to coincide with the basketball games -- there will be at least four games, so we can visit a different bar to watch each game for our four posts this month. (As of this posting, the series could be a four game Warriors sweep, which would be fine with us.)

On Thursday night, we walked into Yosemite Falls Cafe and Sports Bar on Cedar Avenue in Fresno -- for the sports bar side of things. Yosemite National Park is a hour’s drive away, and that provides the restaurant's theme and decor. Both the tables and the bar were about half full, and we found two seats at the bar with a good view of one of the screens.

Mindy ordered Menage a Trois red wine (she couldn’t remember what varietal the bartender mentioned) and I ordered a rum and Coke. (I overheard a man discussing beers with the bartender, Ravyn. She was describing sour beer to the man, “It’s like you swallowed a bunch of warhead candies, but it’s very good.”) After a we’d been at the bar for awhile, we ordered some tasty Blue Steak Bites on focaccia bread (as Ravyn recommended).

Though there was a framed LeBron James jersey above the bar, the crowd was quite obviously cheering for the Warriors. The man next to me was encouraging them with shouts of “Good team! Good team!” and “Yes! Oh, yes!”

Someone called out, “There will be a whole lot of LeBron crying tonight!” There was much to cheer on the Warriors’ sidet, as they held a twenty point lead over the Cavaliers through most of the second half, eventually taking the game 113 - 91.

When the game was over, we asked a couple of people our standard two questions (“What makes for a good bar?” and “Whether you go or not, what makes for a good church?”)

Blue Steak Bites at Yosemite Falls Cafe and Sports Bar in Fresno
Charles, the hearty cheerer next to me, gave his opinion on good bars: “It’s actually the spirit of the bar, the vibe of the place when you go in. Actually, it’s the people. The waitresses and the bartenders that make the place.” He continued into the answer for the second question, “For the church it’s the same thing. What makes it special is the people inside it. I’ve been a contractor and the sheetrock and bricks and wood are all the same. It’s the people that make a difference. It’s like the spirit in the (Oakland) Coliseum tonight.” That would be quite the place to be.

Mindy asked Ravyn the bartender our questions as well. “This is the best bar I’ve worked in. It’s long and spacious, and you have access to everything you need except lemons. You have to go into the kitchen for them. This is my favorite job because of the good management.” She praised the way management treated the staff.

She said she didn’t feel qualified to answer our church question. “I’m not sure. My views have changed. I used to be a Christian, but now I’ve come to believe in that everything is connected. But before then, when I was still a Christian, I came to see you didn’t have to go to church; you could worship by yourself.”

Ravyn thanked us for coming, and we thanked her for a very pleasant evening. The Warriors also had a big part in making it a pleasant evening, and I guess we can thank them here. Thanks, Dubs, for a great game that helped us have a great time at the bar, and thanks again, Yosemite Falls, for providing a place for us to watch the game!