By Paul Koch –
We ought to regularly thank our gracious giver God for the gift that is the neighborhood bar or pub. I’m not talking about Hooters or the Tilted Kilt. I’m not referring to the mega sports bar, the karaoke lounge, or the pool hall. I’m talking about that small dimly lit bar in your hometown where, if you go often enough, everyone will know your name. Sure it may have sports on the TV behind the bar and may have karaoke a few times a week. It may even have a pool table and a girl or two wearing far less clothing than you would expect on a Thursday night. But what it really has is a group of locals sitting along a bar drinking their “usual.” This is a blessing worth celebrating.
I absolutely love bars and I have certainly been to my fair share over the years. I’ve been to filthy little holes-in-the-wall along the St. John’s River in north Florida. These are places where you are glad you’re with a group of friends because the regulars don’t warm to quickly to outsiders. I’ve been to bars with dirt floors, and even one place that was carpeted with old cardboard boxes. Then again I’ve been to high-end bars from Chicago to Vegas to LA, where a well-made Manhattan not only is delicious but cost around $20. And I’ve certainly visited too many trendy little bars with their intricate and hip drink menus, young clientele, and live music. But none of these can compare with a neighborhood bar.
Now by “neighborhood bar” I’m referring to what is commonly known in older parts of our country as a pub. “Pub,” of course, is short for a public house: a place where the public was free to gather to drink, to celebrate, to argue, to persuade, to fight, to laugh and even cry if need be. Some of the most powerful theological conversations in which I’ve ever been involved did not occur in my “Pastor’s Study” but on a barstool with either old friends or complete strangers. Think of it, a bar is a place designed to sit and drink and talk – that’s it. As it turns out, these three things are a powerful tool for great conversation. To settle into a well-worn barstool with a glass of rye in my hands and a few folks talk with is a recipe for success.
In fact, the beauty of your neighborhood bar is that you never really know what you’ll be talking about. There is no set agenda for the conversation that will develop. It might be politics or religion or sports. You might find yourself playing the part of a marriage counselor or life coach or simply be the source of comic relief for those weighed down by the brutality of this world. Many, I suppose, might be tempted to think that those sitting at the bar are those who are running from their worries and struggles, choosing to drown out their sorrows in the bottle. I’m sure that happens; hell, I know it happens but that is not the usual person occupying the barstool next to you. Most of your neighbors at the bar are doing far more to engage their world than the countless masses who can’t stop looking at their phone or playing with their Apple Watch.
Obviously it is the blessing of alcohol that lies at the center of a bar’s power. It doesn’t matter if your drinking a fancy craft-brewed IPA or cracking open a PBR. I don’t care if you prefer single malt scotch or settle in to whatever whiskey they have in the well. The wonderful intoxication that is sure to come promotes conversation. A drink or two gives even the most unsuspecting patron the courage to engage the group. It doesn’t matter if you are a teacher, a lawyer, a welder or a pastor. It doesn’t even much matter what the topic is; if you have an opinion and you’re sitting at the bar, you are welcome to share it.
So, it is here that we find the real reason we should thank God for our neighborhood bar. It is one of the few places that continue to bring people together from all walks of life. A bar does more to actually get people to engage in face to face conversation, than perhaps any other place in your town. It is here that we learn about ourselves and our neighbors and the plight of our common humanity. It is here that we are given to see so clearly that the brutality of God’s Law and the proclamation of the Gospel are not just abstract concepts, but palpable forces at work in the lives of others.
It’s time now put down the phone. It’s time to step away from your computer. It’s time to settle into a barstool. It’s good for your humanity. It’s good for your faith.