Last Wake-up Call

At 6 am on Sunday, while I was lying in bed reviewing in a dream a class I had taught the day before, dozens of old friends were actually enjoying their lives about 4,500 miles west. The pub where we had all worked and where we had all met and became friends has become another victim in the current trend of sky-high rents. And so, another little guy bites the dust. But to us, a living landmark and this place with so much history is disappearing, her space on Oakland Avenue no doubt to be quickly filled with a Costa Coffee or a Sbarro.

Friday night, however, many generations of its employees – current, former and former former – got together to send her off. With booze. So it was a wake, but it was an Irish wake.

At 6 am, my phone sprang to life. And whoever chose the ringtone for Facebook Messenger should be forced to enjoy it as his alarm for two decades. Once my heart stopped palpitating, I ran in the bedroom, Burke pretending to be asleep lest she be pressed into service to walk the dog, the dog awake and wondering what all this noise was at 6 am and whether it meant food.

It was the gang from the bar. It was midnight there, so they were not only in a different time zone, they had been drinking for 8 hours so they were on a different planet of existence. The conversation was fast and loud and I got a little dizzy from the phone being spun around and different cherry-red faces of old friends saying hi. There was nudity and there were epithets. I loved it all. When they got off a few minutes later, I was sent sprawling down a rabbit hole of nostalgia. And I tortured Burke with it for the rest of the day.

The pub in all its forms – the corner pub, the local pub, the dive – are such important places for a local culture. People meet and talk, they socialize, they make new friends, they lose friends, they move on, they bring out hairbrained ideas in the only place they’d find an audience for it. Doctor Alexander Hamilton travelled through the colonies that would become the United States in 1744 and found the pub and the inn and tavern to be the place where ideas bounded and meetings of the mind bloomed over rum and game pies. In taverns he found a microcosm of America – charming, interesting folks, great conversationalists, and buffoonish, boorish drunks (I paraphrase his summary: the colonies are a great place, all people here are the same everywhere and awesome, except for Boston, which is full of assholes.)

So what happens when we care more about milking every penny we can from small business owners and stop caring about the character of our cities and the cultural health of its people? Well, exactly what’s happening now. A walk around central Prague tells you the same story. Where once stood a unique pub with character there is now a DM or a Starbucks. Czech pubs had always been an experience for me. Yes, they more or less looked the same, you got one of six different beers and around the same tablecloths and set up. The windows hadn’t been opened since Gerald Ford was president. But they were all their own place. The waitresses were always their own brand of grumpy, they’d have reservation signs on all the tables in case they didn’t feel like serving customers that afternoon. Now, not so much. Many of the pubs are chains (I’m looking at you, Potrefená Husa) and though you can be guaranteed some uniformity to the waiters and service and fare, it’s not as fun or annoyingly exciting as it was when a bartender would take a liking to you and pour you a shot out of his personal stash of domace slivovice.

So my friends celebrating on Saturday night were seeing off more than a pub, they were seeing off a way of life that’s disappearing in lieu of the almighty dollar. So go to your local pub tonight and enjoy the hell out of it. Look around and see what’s happening. Talk to some people you don’t know. Pretty soon it could be a Costa Coffee and those places aren’t so much fun to be drunk in.

  1. No comments yet.
(will not be published)