Saturday, March 11, 2017

We Walk into a Tavern in Old Town Clovis

Outlaw Tavern, Old Town Clovis, California
Outlaw Tavern, Clovis, California
People greeted each other with an abundance of “Sweetheart”s, “Honey”s, and “Dear”s. At Outlaw Tavern, people had obviously known each other for years and enjoyed each other's’ company. Just as obviously, we were not part of the crowd.

This month, our project is visiting the bars near the hotel where I work. There’s a twofold purpose to this. I’d like to be able to answer guests’ questions about local Old Town Clovis drinking establishments, and we want to continue visiting a new bar every week, as we’ve been doing for over a year now.

typos in Old Town Clovis
But continuing this project has challenges, and this is as good a time as any to tell you about them. Last year, we visited a new bar in a new state every week. When we went into a bar and talked to people, there was often a kind of shared excitement. We might be talking to a personat the bar, and they’d tell the bartender, “Our bar is going to represent the whole state!” People wanted to tell us about other bars (and occasionally churches), and to ask about where we’d been and where we still needed to go. (“So are you even going to Alaska and Hawaii?”)

We were pleased and surprised at how often people would go out of their way to make us feel welcome, and for that night we felt like we’d become part of their community and even part of their lives. We’re still in contact with people we met in bars on the trip. (Thanks, Facebook!)

What shouldn't surprise us is that this year, people don't express the same excitement when we explain, “We live here, so we’re writing about bars in the area.” This is especially true when we’re in a bar that’s full of regulars seeing their friends. Hanging out with friends is one of the reasons people go to bars.

Outlaw Tavern is a dive bar -- and we don’t say that as an insult. It’s just a very casual bar without any pretense of being what it’s not. We visited late on Wednesday afternoon, and the place was fairly full. A few people were sitting at a table in the outside patio area. There was a baseball game on one TV, and country music on the jukebox. I noticed a couple at the far end of the bar cuddling and smooching. I noticed one TV screen was devoted to the surveillance camera facing the parking lot.

Some nights the bar hosts events with live bands or DJs, and there’s usually a cover charge those nights. Judging by the sounds I can hear from the hotel during my night audit shifts (which begin at 10:30 pm) Outlaw Tavern can be a very lively place. We get a number of guests who walk across the parking lot from the bar after wisely deciding not to try to drive home.

After we sat at the end of the bar (the only spot with two seats together) and ordered our ciders, the woman working on a tablet next to us struck up a conversation. After we told her about our project, she told us she was a writer, too. She said she likes writing about the people and events that happen in Clovis, where she’s lived for most of her life. She told us she enjoys writing about people she knows, and she enjoys disguising their names. When we asked her whether we could know her name for the post she said, “No, no, no. I’m going to have to be jamming soon.” But she didn’t jam. She finished her drink and ordered another.

She stayed and we talked about a variety of things. She likes movies -- Gidget films with Sandra Dee, and Doris Day films like Calamity Jane, Pillow Talk, and Send Me No Flowers. She doesn’t like horror films, she said, but she does like period films, mentioning Shining Through and Dangerous Liasons. She gave us her recipe for the meatloaf she made for her dad, and said she’s trying to figure out a recipe from Like Water for Chocolate.

She still didn’t want to answer any questions, and we always need to ask our two questions, “What makes for a good bar?” and “Whether you go or not, what would make for a good church?”

So we asked Sherry the bartender, and she told us, “a lot of different things” make for a good bar. “The atmosphere, the people, and everything has to be at the right balance. You could always drink at home. People come for the social aspect. The bartender sets the tone.”

As for what makes for a good church, she said, “The same thing, the people. The minister has to set the tone. If the pastor isn’t friendly, the people aren’t friendly… You go to a church for inspiration. Everyone’s looking for a higher power, comfort. Just like people go to a bar for the social.”

We didn’t really talk to anyone else. They were all busy in their conversations, and we had another appointment to get to. That’s another way this year is different from last. Last year, we would usually have an evening free for our bar night. If we wanted to stay late talking to folks we could. We didn’t have a job to go to the next day.

Mindy remarked that how she was dressed maybe didn’t fit with the way other people were dressed at Outlaw Tavern. People were mostly wearing sweatshirts and work clothes, and she was wearing what she'd worn to work in an office. Who knows? No place is going to feel like home to everyone. But we definitely enjoyed being with the people finding their place at Outlaw Tavern.

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