July 30
I'm a lawyer in my past life, who got the kids through college and decided to try something different and a little more fun. A used book store sounded like a good idea, so that's where I am for now. I just hadn't counted on a recession or E-readers and am a little afraid there's going to be a third act. In the meantime, I have plenty to read and a little time to write. Not a bad way to spend a day.


Jlsathre's Links

MAY 8, 2012 10:03AM

Ice In My Wine

Rate: 25 Flag


Small towns are often thought of as bucolic places with wide open spaces and a slow pace of life that brings one closer to nature and nurtures down to earth values. And to a certain extent, that's true. But the flip side of the slow pace and open spaces is that there's not a whole lot to do. High school football games end at 9:00. Parades need an occasion. And finding pictures in clouds only takes you so far. There's still a whole lot of time to fill. With no movie theaters, limited restaurant choices and no work out gyms, what's a person to do?

In my small hometown, the answer was easy--taverns. Tucked along Main Street between the Public Library, State Farm and Dr. Geroge's office, taverns were just about as common as chewing tobacco.

 Which is why I was surprised to read on Facebook a while back that, for the first time anyone can remember, there were no taverns in my homeotwn.

I couldn't believe it. I remember when we had more taverns than churches. It seemed like a perfectly okay balance all the years I was growing up. One that worked and that no one seemed upset about. 

Although I do remember as a kid being a little intimidated by them. I would always peek inside when I was walking to the dime store or the library, and they were dark, mysterious, and a little loud. And occasionally a man, slightly tipsy, would walk out just as I walked by and I would run. But overall, they were fine. Because I was a fast runner.

The taverns were a part of our landscape. Almost as much as the corn fields. And certainly as much as the porch lights that the town liked to brag about. We were known as the town "where the highways cross and the porch lights burn all night." In my mind, this was a tag line unlikely to bring people running. Why not add, "where taverns outnumber churches." I thought it would set us apart. Although maybe it wouldn't. Maybe it wasn't an uncommon ratio in small town U.S.A.

Because taverns are fun, which I discovered when I got old enough to go in, or at least to have a fake ID. Not near as dingy as I thought. Better yet, beer was cheap and it was kind of fun to chug them down next to my high school teachers and the county judge. It didn't even bother me that they always put ice in my wine.

I don't understand what happened to them. The town hadn't much liked the adult bookstore that set up shop and ran it right out of town. But the taverns seemed safe. The town left them alone. It's hard to believe that the whole town might have quit drinking or found something better to do.

And in all fairness, I guess I should note that the American Legion and the VFW are still there and still serving drinks. Maybe even bringing out those illegal slot machines from the back room on occasion. I'm guessing they're both going strong these days. Maybe even thriving. It's probably not a bad idea to get there early, because the competition from taverns is apparently gone.

Times they are a changin, Dylan sang. And I guess he's right. Still, it all has me a little worried about what's happening in my little town. What's going to go next? Could we lose the State Farm office? Is Jerry's Cafe going to quit serving biscuits and gravy? 

Last year a winery opened up on the outskirts of town, right in the heart of corn fields, and, as far as I know, not having grown any grapes. Wal-Mart moved across the highway and supersized, leaving their old building vacant. I hear the empty building is going to be turned into a mega-church. A get saved at aisle three type of place, I guess.  

I can't help but rue the loss of charm of my old hometown. Although there may be reason for hope. I read on Facebook last week about a new place that's opening up on Main Street right where the Corner Tavern used to be. I'm thinking it might actually be a tavern.

Even though it's called a Bistro.



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Corporations and this upscaling thing are ruining this country. Wonder where the drinkers are going to drink in that town. Getting drunk and going on facebook?
I stopped going to any bar when they banned smoking.
Nice wistful piece, Jl.
I'm with fernsy. It's sad to see mostly Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts and other fast food/coffee mega-chains and so few old taverns and mom and pop stores. The times they are a-changin, indeed.
As one who comes from a city and state known for its tavern culture (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), I so liked this story. It's true a lot of drinking that went beyond social or right went on (and still does go on) in so many taverns. But they also are, as you wrote, places of fun. And community. And belonging. And having something to do in a small town.
Sounds like the retired boomers are moving in. At least your town is surviving. The one I live in is still struggling but at least our volunteer fire department is something to be proud of again.
My daughters both worked in small town Alaskan bars growing up and wow did they learn alot. They learned about fun and community and also about what abuse of alcohol looks like. Interesting post.
We still have a corner tap in our little burg - hope it doesn't go away - even though I don't frequent it - it needs to stay put. And I hate it when Wal-Mart supersizes and the old shell becomes a church - a non-property tax paying entity that further makes it possible for small towns to lose things like taverns and cafes and all of those places that keep the place vibrant and alive - stepping off soap box now - great post.
fernsy--There's probably still a lot of drinking in cars, country roads, etc. The taverns were safer.
Erica--We were way too little for a Starbucks or Dunking Donuts. Got a McDonald's and a Subway out by the interstate though.
Mary--Everybody's an equal in a tavern--kind of a nice feeling.
phyllis--Surviving and changing. I'm ust not sure it's for the better, although it's probably necessary.
I grew up in a small city where the neighborhoods were like small towns with a tavern on every corner. My dad (among many others) would carry his porcelain beer container up to the pub, have a few with the boys, and bring his filled container home where he, my mom, and grandmother would drink it. I have searched every antique show for years looking for a similar container, but have never found one. I think the pubs in small towns are dying because they served a social function which no longer exists. People would go there to relax, have a few, and socialize with the neighbors. Now they are home watching "Dancing With the Stars." R
If its a bistro, they charge too much. I love taverns. Yup..Olde Ande enjoys bellying up to the bar. Met the best people there. Even my now husband of 19 years. Irish and English pubs are the best. There is one particular in Yorkshire...the highest pub in England. Amazing and haunted. We even go to the VFW in FL and the Moose on Bradenton Beach. $30 for membership...same sunset as the fancy shmancy clubs on Long Boat. Best martini ever? Was the Ritz in Boston....not exactly a tavern and not as much fun. Pubs and Taverns are social clubs. And damned good fun. As long as you know when to leave.
Nothing wrong with a white wine spritzer on the rocks... even if it's served at a Bistro.
Great piece. A true slice of life from small town America where issues big and small are as important as what happens in NYC. R
My brother owns a little bar in my hometown and it's really thriving. He gets a lot of bikers. But I love the old-school ambience of the place. ... I was never a "tavern" person per se, but I still remember a couple of times going into taverns with my granny. She worked as a cook at an orphanage, and sometimes I 'd go with her because my mother needed help. On the way home, we'd take the bus to downtown and stop by a tavern to eat big greasy hamburgers. My granny would drink an ice-cold beer and I'd have a Coke. Those places were dark, cool, smelled of cigarettes, and had a slightly forbidden feel to them. I still remember staring up at the animal heads on the wall and shivering. ... R for the memories.
I have to admit, I'm not a big fan of the small town taverns (having grown up in them as a child~~). However, I will say that nothing makes me more sad to hear people saying they are "going out to the bar," which translates into Applebees or TGI Fridays-- that's just wrong!!!
Zannelle--You're right. All those lessons are taught there. A little pool too, usually.
LammChops--It's a good soap box to be on.
Gerald--I'm going to be on the lookout for one of those containers when I troll garage sales.
Ande--It's hard to imagine a Bistro in my home town, so I'm really hoping for a tavern with 75 cent beers.
jmac--We had one that served lunch specials and I'm pretty sure chicken fried steak was every Monday.
Rita--Thank you. They weren't Taverns on the Green, but they were important.
Deborah--Your brother is probably living an interesting life. If you ever run out of story ideas, I bet he has some.
On some level, I want my hometown to stay the same and not change so I can go back and not be jolted into the 21st century but folks gotta live there and they need Wal-Mart because Woolworth's closed.

But I also like to see small businesses open and grow too. My old soda joint turned into a second hand store for years after the owner died, but I was just there a few months ago and it's a new soda joint. I talked to the new owner who said all her friends missed the old place so much, she thought she'd give it a try. We got coffee. It was good.
This made me smile. I live in a "dry" town; no taverns or bars by law. But my great aunt owned a -- gasp -- liquor store in the Big City, an establishment that also poured, though I'm not sure it was legal. The American Legion and VFW were popular haunts, which I thought was all about patriotism or something noble. I'm afraid it was the liquor, now that you mention it. :D

A "tavern". ...I have heard that word before...
it is "a place where liquors are sold to be consumed on the premises. "
aha! It is a bar!
Now those, I know about.
Just as I was getting really good at going to my hometown ones,
they all banned smoking, and I have a difficult time drinking
while not smoking...it breaks up my rhythm of bar, uh,
tavern, talk to have to go outside, without my beer,
suck a smoke, and come back inside.

I live in a suburb of Hartford, CT. We call ourselves
the City of Village Charm. 27, yes, 27 of our churches
got together into an Area Council of Churches.
Our ba.. , huh, taverns, outnumber our churches.
Our liquor stores outnumber our bars.
We got a big fat walmart squatting on our northern border.
A fine village.

Bistro? wtf??
OH>>>"a small, modest, European-style restaurant or café.
a small nightclub or restaurant.
. . . dark, mysterious, and a little loud.

You forgot the smell! I can overlook that little omission, however, given the quality of the rest.
This rings of nostalgia, jl, not that I am personally familiar with taverns, but I've seen their demise over the years in favor of Pubs and Bistros in my city, which is also very different in being French/English. I had written about the old English pub culture a while ago and have a feeling that they were a place more for families to hang out. Nice piece!
I forgot to mention a really, really great memoir about a boy who grew up in bar, and went on to graduate from Yale and become a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. "The Tender Bar" by J.R. Moehringer is one of my favorite reads of all time. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. Talk about lush, gorgeous writing.
this is charming and reminds me a bit of the small town we lived in in the late '80s

Penisve--There's certainly sadness in taverns too. I'm sorry if you saw that side of them.
nilesite--I agree. It's nice to see some of the old stuff being able to hang on or come back.
Lezlie--There's certainly a fair share of patriotism, but alcohol's the real draw.
James--I think they become taverns in the wide open spaces of the West and Mid-west. Probably never in CT, although I would have thought you would have Bistros.
Brassawe--I was still standing on the outside for that description. You need to go inside for the full effect, which certainly includes the smell you refer to.
Deborah--I loved The Tender Bar. It's one of my absolute favorites. I agree that the writing is superb.
FusunA--The taverns aren't generally as nice as the Pubs or Bistros. And not usually kid friendly.
I am all for the old Mom and Pop Places. These others places just suck the life from your soul.
I am all for the old Mom and Pop Places. These others places just suck the life from your soul.
Ice in wine or fruit in beer is just wrong. In the Midwest, where I grew up, there seemed to be an equal number of taverns as there were churches. They often existed across the street from each other in most neighborhoods.
Algis--I agree. Mom and Pop's are the way to go.
beauty--Most of our taverns were on main street, but they seemed to cohabit with the churches just fine. Maybe because they closed on Sundays.
I love that they are called "taverns" in your neck of the woods. Sounds classy. Maybe you should open a tavern to go with your bookstore...
Very interesting. I never got to experience tavern culture - makes me think of how pubs have such an important role in the UK.
Back in my day, where I grew up (Calgary, Alberta), there were "beer parlours". They were divided into men's and men's-and-escorts. It was a thrill to reach legal age and go to a beer parlour and have a beer. No other kind of alcohol was served. Anything else you had to buy at a liquor store where nothing was on display. You picked from the list, made out a slip and got your purchase in a plain brown bag. Yes, things have changed ... A LOT! And, Walmarts aside, for the better...
Jennifer--My hometown taverns were about as far away from classy as you could get. Probably not a good match for a bookstore, although it could be fun.
Alysa--Probably not all that different from the lower end pubs.
Myriad--I've never heard of beer parlours or liquor stores with no displays. That's interesting. I agree that a lot of the change is good. But a small town needs at least a couple taverns.
Bistros are not taverns. But that seems to be the way things are going today. "Progress" often brings the loss of small-town charms, never to be replaced.
Lea--If it's coming into my hometown, I think it's better than even odds that it's a tavern posing under another name. I could be wrong, but we're talking farm country here.
I wonder if part of it isn't the tougher laws about drunken driving, with legislatures, pressured by lobby groups such as MADD, lowering the blood alcohol limit for determining drunkenness. That and the lawsuits that hold the establishment responsible for allowing patrons to drink to the extent they are legally drunk, which, in some states, would limit the patron to not much more than one beer or shot. I just read Fernsy's comment, and, yes, the proliferation of smoking bans must also hurt tavern business.

I love your title, btw. Was a guest on a houseboat once where the host served me a glass of beer with ice. First time for that, but it's how he drinks beer.
Matt--I think that all plays a part, along with a greater willingness to drive out of town for entertainment--which probably comes from more double income families with more cars.
Hark! I'm from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the same as the reader above. Jeez, there was a lot of drinking in that town. When I left and went other places and told typical stories of my high school days people looked shocked. A town needs a gathering place--kind of reminds me of one of my favorite books, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.
What's eerie is that my town looks pretty much exactly like yours.
The tavern my grandparents used to frequent after grocery shopping was called Bea's. I never knew who Bea was. The place was tiny about 600 square feet total. Small grill for hamburgers and etc. It may have only sold beer and wine. It had a bowling machine, a few tables with chairs and stools at the bar. Nice place with mom and pop ambiance. Could have done without the cigarette smoke, though.

I have no idea if it is still there. If it isn't then one more loss to be chalked up for making a change for nothing.