Saturday, September 24, 2016

We Walk into a Bar in Wisconsin

Tom's Old Bogies bar, Holcombe, Wisconsin
Tom's Old Bogies, Holcombe

“Eva, good day or bad day?”

“Good day!”

“All right, just wanted to know how to make your drink!”

Penny the bartender greeted almost everyone cheerfully as they entered Tom’s Old Bogies bar on the Chippewa River.

We came on the recommendation of my niece, Sarah. Her dad (my brother) has a cabin in the area, and Sarah stayed there recently while she finished a writing project. She went to Bogie’s for a change of scenery. She told us about Tom the owner and his wife the school teacher and some of the staff and customers at the bar. She said the people were friendly and kind. (She also told us about another place where the people weren’t friendly and kind.) She assured us that Bogie’s should be our bar for Wisconsin.

The place looks like a log cabin in the woods, because it is a log cabin in the woods. We were pleased to see the parking lot was fairly full when we pulled in late on a Wednesday afternoon. I went to the street to take pictures, and Mindy went to the door. A woman who’d just come out asked Mindy where we were staying in the area, and Mindy was embarrassed to admit she wasn’t sure of the exact name of the neighborhood. I told the woman, Margie, that we were “near Holcombe Lake”. “Lake Holcombe”, she corrected me. (As back in California at my hotel job I endlessly gave the correct pronunciation of “Healdsburg.”)

The inside of the bar looks like the interior of a hunting cabin. There’s even a large knife hanging from the ceiling. A sign on the wall read, “Caution: Fishing and hunting stories in progress. Protective boots may be required,” and we did talk to some folks about fishing. A shoebox with several squash (perhaps for the taking?) was on a bench by the door, and, of course, there was a cow skull on one of the walls. There were maps available for ATV trails in the area. The news was playing on television screens mounted on either end of the bar.

When the NBC nightly news ran a story about allegations of fraud in the Trump campaign, someone said. “That’s a crock of [deleted for the kids]. This is just the Democrat News Network.”

Someone else said, “Half the movie stars in California say they’ll move to Canada if Trump is elected.”

“Do we need them?” someone else asked.

“Nope,” several people responded.  

Someone else mentioned she'd seen a homemade sign hanging over road kill deer which read, “He was going to vote for Hilary, but we took care of it.”

Before Margie left, I asked her our two questions, “What makes for a good bar?” and “What makes for a good church?”I asked our two questions to Margie, the woman who asked where we were from, our two questions.  She said that for a bar, “It’s the people. In a small community like this one, everyone has to work together. Even if you’re a stranger. Last year there was a couple from Illinois, and he had an accident cutting a tree. He had a broken pelvis and was in the hospital for four weeks. People got together and cut them enough firewood to get them through the winter.” When I asked about what made for a good church, she gave me detailed directions to St. Francis Catholic church.

This led Penny the bartender to ask what we were up to, “The owner was in a minute ago. He wanted to know.” We told her about our project to visit a bar and a church in every state and that we were there upon the recommendation of our niece. “Oh, I remember her. She worked quietly on a table in the back there.”

I talked to the man next to me at the bar, Derk. He’s worked for the railroad for the last twenty one years and has been coming to Bogie’s for the last twenty. He said there’s only been two owners during that time, Tom for the last twelve and Dave Thatcher before that. I asked if the place changed at all when Tom took over. Derk said, “It’s cleaner now.”

I asked him what makes for a good bar, and he said, “Service. Somebody who’s not playing on their phone or talking to just one person but keeps everyone happy.” I asked if that was true of the staff at Bogie’s and he said, “That’s why I keep coming back.”

I asked what would make for a good church, “I have no idea. It’s not my thing.” I pressed him a bit on what might make it a good church for others, and he said, “It does a lot for a lot of people but not for me.”

Meanwhile, Mindy was asking the three men at her end of the bar about what makes for a good bar and church. Ken said the answer was the same for both places. “Good people. Like we’re doing here, talking. People can communicate.”

Another man added, “It’s something to do on a rainy day.”

And it was a rainy day. While we were there, someone called Penny the bartender to let her know that a tree was hanging perilously over the highway nearby, and she let the customers know. (We were glad the damage wasn’t on the road we’d be taking. The next day we heard that the storm had dropped record amounts of rain in several nearby areas.)

Finally, we were able to ask Penny the bartender about what makes for a good bar. “There should be a welcome feeling when you come in, camaraderie. And for us, we’re all close family. Coming here is like coming home. Bogie’s doesn’t feel like a typical bar, it’s cozy. I keep telling Tom we need easy chairs in here.”

Penny isn’t a church goer, so she didn’t give an answer for what would make for a good church. But when she heard what Ken had to say, she added, “Man made both buildings. I’ll pray in a bar.”

We’ finished our drinks* so we headed back into the rain and the beauty of the Wisconsin woods. (Thanks, Sarah, for sending us to Tom’s Old Bogies.)

*We stopped in Dixon, Illinois, last week, where we met two women with Wisconsin roots. One of them told us we had to have the Wisconsin version of a Bloody Mary, so that’s what Mindy ordered. Sure enough, instead of celery, her drink had an olive and a whole dill pickle on one toothpick with a strip of jerky and a straw. Dean had a rum and coke.

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