Good evening, friends and neighbors.
Sometimes, I love being lost.
As I write this, I’m tucked in the back corner of a cavernous bar called Rontoms on East Burnside. I’d been here maybe twice before, but never on a Friday night. Twilight fills the giant room, and it’s almost as hard to see into the myriad corners as it is to find a free one to sit in. Raucous groups all over the place, and it’s warm enough to be just BARELY uncomfortable- as though enough ice cold drinks will keep you at the right temperature and you won’t need to go outside.
If that’s by design, it’s brilliant- most bars jack up drink sales by offering salty snacks and spicy food.
I’ve found the corner of a vintage vinyl couch to crash out on. Two couples are chatting in the same corner (I’m kind of envying one girls claim on a black arm chair.) My wife is eventually going to be joining me, and she’ll want to find another spot where we can both write and relax in peace. Possibly another bar- in which case the tiny $9 tab I’ve opened will close with an eyeroll from the bartender.
Ah well- the cocktail’s good. He’ll get a good tip anyway.
This bar, and many of the other haunts I’m familiar with in this city, were found on boring afternoons where I was pounding the pavement. I may have been job hunting, or out doing errands. More than once, I was just following Google Maps around to a certain store I NEEDED to go to- and looked up from my phone at the exact right moment.
While I know Rontoms has decent food (and a more than decent Chicken Caesar Salad,) I’ve already eaten. Emily has given her blessing to meet her as well- she’s only feeling a snack.
The crowd increases as the clock inches toward 10. I was initially looking for somewhere quiet, maybe with jazz in the background, and dark corners illuminated only by table candles. A place where I could nurture my own silly fantasy of nursing a bourbon, while silently expounding on the nature of reality while gorgeous women eyed me coyly from the bar, curious and aroused by my mere presence.
Instead, I joyously resign myself to people-watching- losing myself in the ever-rising layers of conversation and drunken din until it becomes as inaudible as a television static. Wrapping myself in obscurity instead of mystery, I await the company of only one woman, rather than the distant affection of many.
This, maybe, is being an adult. This is the difference between being a film noir fanboy, and instead living an urban slice-of-life.
My wife arrives, and- against all odds- looks at the menu, the time, her feet (in that order) and decides she just wants to go home. $9 tabs and quick glower from the bartender it is.
This is part of being an adult too, I’m told- your schedule does not supersede your wife’s tired feet after work, nor should it.
The noise and heat was getting bothersome anyway.
A week later, on my own on a cloudy afternoon. Been stomping down the street half the day looking for a place to crash and write. A weird place pops to mind, Roadside Attraction- lots of dark corners and weird surroundings I can get lost in.
Clearly, as far as writing bars go, I’ve got a type.
Got walking directions going on my phone this time- once again, I’ve got a destination in mind. It’s pinging my wrist every few minutes to remind me when to cross the street- gotta change the settings later. It really doesn’t need to nag.
Silencing it for the umpteenth time, I look up- fortuitously. “NEAT BAR” in big bulb letters right across the street. I haven’t seen it before, though I swear I’d been on this corner more than a few times. Ah hell, I’ll stick my head in.
10 minutes and a chat with the bartender/owner later, I’m a fine scotch and a pretzel stick in. Plenty of space on the copper-top bar for happy hour, and the owner proudly remarks on the fast internet. Roadside Attraction will be there later- now, I’ve got a new whiskey bar, and writing to do. We chat about our first martinis, and how I loved mine but he got his first because it felt grown up and mature. I don’t tell him mine was a vodka martini, dry and dirty- and that I loved it because I REALLY love olives.
The room is small, intimate. The bar is cool on my forearms in the humid afternoon, and the deep wooden interior embraces the heart.A pool table dominated by three friends and a friendly mash of stools, high-tops, coffeetables, low sofas and easy chairs completely the feel of the joint. Rontoms was hip- Neat Bar is easy and homey. I can be cozy here- I can write here. A quick stop-in turns into 2 hours, where I chat about comics and names with a burlesque dancer whose day job is distributing liquor, learn why an old-fashioned in Wisconsin is weird and sweet compared to everything else, and how differences in a mash bill will change a whiskey.
Oh yes- and I wrote this too.
Sometimes, I love being lost.
I find the greatest things.