The Bar Bar

What makes a bar a real bar.

Customer to bartender: Hey, if you-know-who calls, I’m not here.

Bartender to waitress: Hey, if you-know-who calls you-know-who, he’s not here.

Waitress to bartender: Sorry. I’m not here either.

—Conversation from a bar

This is not a story about fern bars, bistro bars, singles bars, jazz bars, disco bars, cafe bars, restaurant bars, or lounges or clubs or taverns. Nor is this a story about places named after fictional Irish guys, places that serve things like Harvey Wallbangers, or places that have those super-diesel hand-drying machines in their rest rooms. And while I’m on the subject of rest rooms—I’m not going to deal with places that have that little guy in the men’s room who turns on the hot water for you and then looks at you like he wants a tip or something. All of those kinds of establishments are fine in their place, so long as that place is Wichita Falls, where I once was, I think. But they are not the sort of bar I want to explore and celebrate here.

This story is about bar bars, which can best be described as places where you can go and engage in the sacred rite of public drinking and not be there. The principle is summed up in

Atkinson’s First Rule of Drinking: If someone knows where you are, you aren’t in a bar bar.

Etiology? Let’s start with my old friend Fred. Fred was one of the elder statesmen at the Dallas Times Herald when I was beginning to wet my whistle as both a reporter and a barfly. He was a shambling, avuncular sort who took an interest in younger reporters; he criticized and coddled our copy, offered sage advice on particularly difficult assignments, regaled us with tales of newspapering Back Then. He also took it upon himself to take a few of us out every payday and get us wasted.

One of Fred’s favorite haunts was a forlorn-looking cracker-box affair within easy staggering distance of the Times Herald building. Officially the place was named the Green Glass Bar or some such, but that had long since given way to the more economical name of Bar Bar, for as Fred once observed, “That other name is too damn hard to say when you’re drunk.” The nickname came from the most visible marking on the exterior of the building, a large neon treatment of the word “bar.” But as several paydays passed, I began to realize that the name had profound cultural implications.

There were a lot of things I grew to like about the Bar Bar, not

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