But you wouldn’t know by the way I’m treated in them.
I remember my first dive bar, when I had no clue how to navigate through the crowd, or belly up to the bar. I was in my mid-twenties and newly divorced, about as green as you can get.
It took practice and hanging out with some bar people to learn the ropes. My husband had been in Seminary, and I had been a teacher. Not exactly bar people. We got married my first year of college. There were no drunken frat parties for me. So I needed an education.
One of my first boyfriends, at that time, taught me most of what I know, and still practice forty years later. If people are buying rounds, offer to buy one. Move through the crowd with your hands close to you and held up in front. That way if someone backs up, they will feel your gentle touch, and stop. Get out of the way of the wait staff, and don’t stand in front of their station. Learn how to talk a drunk challenge down, and don’t start any altercations yourself. His exact words were, “Don’t start a bar fight that I’ll have to finish.”
Bellying up to the bar to order requires the same approach. Catching the bartenders eye is a talent you can acquire. Slipping to the front without pissing anybody off is a true skill.
Maybe learning bar etiquette and survival doesn’t seem like much of a goal.
But for me, at the time, It was a sense of accomplishment I needed after leading a sheltered life. I made friends with bar tenders and door men, and felt safe in spaces where I could dance and let loose.
I learned to take care of myself in what could be a volatile situation. I gained a sense of mastery over myself and my environment. Plus, I heard a lot of good music and made new friends. All necessary to me in surviving my divorce.
As a result, I feel at home in dive bars everywhere. From hipster bars, to island, seaside bars. From country bars (especially), to New Orleans jazz bars. From Beale Street blues bars, to techno clubs in San Miguel de Allende. Dive bar etiquette is the same everywhere.
Fast forward to today.
In Austin, there’s music everywhere, so I don’t even have to darken the door of dive bars, unless I want to. Sometimes I want to. When I do, I still feel the same sense of coming home. Until, someone decides to “help” me. Mind you, I am not in need of this “help.” I promised myself many years ago that I would never be the alcohol soaked, rode hard and put up wet, older woman in the bar. Maybe that’s the problem. I don’t look like I know my way around any dive bar I enter.
Sometimes that’s nice. Taller people offer to open a way for me. Ocassionally, I’m offered a seat in a crowded bar. But that’s all the help I need, thank you.
No, if it’s your first time in one of my local restaurant bars or dive bar, you can’t yell at the bartender to take my drink order. He or she knows me, I don’t want to pressure them, and they might even bring my usual red wine or perfect margarita without your interference.
Last night, I made my way through the Continental Club to the front of the stage. It’s a mecca in Austin for Texans and tourists. One lady from Seattle asked me if I had been here before. After I said I had, numerous times, she proceeded to tell us all about the local band about to play. That was fine. Most people don’t really listen to one another in bars.
But what happened next was a bit of a shock. She grabbed me from behind and moved me out of the way. The waitress was coming through. Never mind the fact that I stay aware of people trying to get around me, especially wait staff. I would have moved in time.
More than that, though, YOU DON’T GRAB SOMEBODY IN A BAR. For so many reasons. Not back in my twenties, and not now. Maybe especially not now.
And then, it HAPPENED AGAIN. Another woman, my age, was behind me while we were dancing. I was holding my jacket. This, I have to assume, overly nurturing woman, who had never learned bar etiquette, grabbed me in exactly the same way. Both hands on my arms from behind. I turned, and she said, “You can put your jacket there by the stage.”
Seriously? First, I could clearly see that my friend had put her jacket there. Second, what the hell? Do I look so feeble-minded as to not know where to put my jacket, should I actually want to do so? Third, YOU DON’T GRAB SOMEBODY IN A BAR.
What if I had been a rode hard, put up wet, alcohol soaked bar fly? Luckily, I have a lot of compassion, and tolerance. Plus, I now only have one or two drinks a night. Someone else might have turned around and cold-cocked them. It happens. I didn’t even try to teach them better bar manners. But maybe I should have. Someone taught me. Perhaps it’s time to pay it forward.