My evolving love affair with bars*

I can’t remember my first time at a bar alone.  It was most likely in London as that was where I discovered the wonderful sense of freedom and excitement that came with going out by myself; whether it be to a show, a movie, a restaurant, or my local.

As I lived abroad before smartphones became so popular, I was usually only equipped with my regular mobile and perhaps a book.  When saddled up to the bar on my own I usually kept to myself, still a bit lost in this foreign land; but while it was my accent that I was often very conscious of, it never seemed like an odd thing to be alone at the bar there.

When I moved back to the States in 2009, I found myself with a summer fairly free to do whatever I’d like before starting graduate school in the Fall.  While I did manage to fill up my time a great deal with volunteering, weddings, and catching up with friends, I snuck in quite a bit of time at a local bar in Western Mass where my parents live and where I was spending the summer.  It was at this cozy bar (including huge barrels of peanuts in the shell for the taking)  that I began my great beer education.  It was here that I felt comfortable asking for different tastes of beer and it was here that I finally discovered that I didn’t really hate beer.  I just didn’t love beers that were super hoppy.  And a love of beer was born.  And a love for bartenders that were friendly and educated me and helped me find what I liked to drink; not what I thought I should drink.

Moving to Brookline for graduate school, as I tried to get out of the post-London funk I was in, I continued to take myself out.  And continued to explore.  But I was anxious to find a bar to call home again, as I had during the summer.  Luckily for me, American Craft** was that home.  It was just about a 15 min walk from my apartment and besides having great comfort food, it had an amazing beer list.  And again, helpful knowledgeable bartenders who were more than happy to continue my beerducation (and later my bourbonucation).

But I think what I really took away from American Craft was that it became the first bar where I felt entirely comfortable going in on a weekday by myself, sitting at the bar with my book, and enjoying a burger, a beer, and a chat with the bartender.  There was something freeing about it all.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love going out with friends.  But there is something about having no obligation to talk to anyone or to stay for a certain amount of time.  And there is the conversation that sparks with the bartender in a way that would not happen if I wasn’t on my own.

When I finally started feeling a bit more settled in Boston, I began dating again.  And one of the many questions that came up for me was, “Do I bring them to my favorite local?”  As much as I didn’t want to share this space with men I hardly knew, I also knew that I felt so comfortable there.  That the bartenders had my back.  That if the date was a bust, I could stay on and have a drink on my own.  When I chose not to meet at one of my regular spots, I often find myself waiting at a new bar for a date.  I’m always early so I usually  size up the bar and try to seat myself at an idea location.  This means I can see the door a bit, but not too close as to get a chill, and ideally am at the corner of the bar so we can have a decent face to face conversation.  Once I’ve situated myself, I usually have some time to chat with the bartender, and often, that is the best conversation of the night!

When I moved to Cambridge I was anxious to find another local spot I could call home.  One night, with my book in hand, I headed down the street to  Cambridge Common hoping to catch one of the Presidential debates on the TV and to settle into the bar.  I left later that night knowing I had found my new local.  The bartenders were friendly and quickly introduced themselves,  guests around me were just chatty enough, and curly fries were on the menu in addition to an amazing rotating draft list.  Oh and the debate was on and others were there to watch it as well.  Hello home.

Fast forward a few months and I feel that I am coming into what feels like the jackpot of my barducation.  Through the magic of the Internet I found a kindred spirit, R.  And she has brought my love affairs with bars to a new level by introducing me to some of the kindest and most awesome bartenders and bars.  It is through her that I found a new home on Saturday nights (and others) at Trina’s  Starlite Lounge.  But it’s not just the space.  It’s the people.  And most importantly, those behind the bar.  I feel I have been welcomed with open arms and a perfectly concocted drink.  And it has helped to continue to remind me that Cambridge is exactly where I need to be right now.

I recently was having just one of those weeks.  We all have those weeks.  In an attempt to get out of that funk I thought I’d treat myself to dinner. I have a whole list of restaurants I want to try. I keep it on my phone (ask me about it). Several of them, though, I feel like are “special date” spots. But I was reminded that sometimes you need to take YOURSELF out and that is just what I did. I ended up at Giulia. While seated at the bar, of course,  the chef’s mother, visiting from Indiana, sat next to me. Over the next two hours, over a shared plate of olives and many other amazing dishes, we discussed life, choices, love found, love lost, and of course, food. This entire evening would not have happened if I hadn’t gone out on my own and sat down at the bar.  You can wait for that perfect moment and that perfect partner. Or  you can go out on a random night in Cambridge to a spot down the street and you can make that perfection for yourself.

I know I’m not discovering the holy grail here.  People have gone to bars by themselves for years.  They have made friends in bars.  They have found bars to be their home. But it’s really two-fold for me.  Not only is it incredibly empowering to feel comfortable in a bar on your own, especially as a woman, and to be able to say to a bartender that you like bourbon to be the sweetest thing in the drink or that you just want to be surprised, but it is about the community that you make, about the people you meet, about the “Cheers” of it all.  It’s about creating the life you want, not waiting for the one you think you should have.  It’s about finding that place where you don’t have to explain yourself and you can come as you are.

*This post is inspired by the most lovely memoir, Drinking With Men, by Rosie Schaap as well as this great piece on ‘girly drinks’ in The Phoenix.

**Sadly American Craft is no more.

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7 responses to “My evolving love affair with bars*

  1. Love this! And I miss our American Craft night so much!!

  2. Ah, I LOVE this. My spot is Charlie’s Kitchen in Harvard and I’ve thought many times about whether or not I would ever bring a first, second, or third date there (I haven’t. I wouldn’t.)

  3. Awesome Nik!

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