What’s going on?
Not much, just looking at pictures of the September 11–themed bar in Fort Worth that’s going viral right now.
Looking at pictures of the what now?
There’s a place called Bar9Eleven in Fort Worth, just off Interstate 20 in the Cityview Centre strip mall. A fella named Jesse Tyler was driving by, saw the sign, and decided to stop and take some photos. He posted them on Twitter, and the internet took it from there.
Is this a joke? It seems like maybe it’s a Nathan for You gag.
Oh no, this is real.
Okay, I’ll choose to believe you. Is this place really named in reference to the tragic events of September 11, 2001?
It sure is. The bar’s owner, Brent Johnson, told Texas Monthly that he chose the name after hearing about a survey one September that supposedly found “eighty percent of Americans” didn’t know that the anniversary of the event was approaching. Though there’s no evidence that this is true, and Johnson admits that he wasn’t sure about the details of the survey, it still didn’t sit well with him. By coincidence, September 11, 2001, was also the day Johnson opened his first restaurant, a Tex-Mex joint called Rio Mambo that now has four North Texas locations (including one next door to Bar9Eleven). “I don’t want anyone who comes into my restaurant to forget that day,” he said, recalling the way it felt to watch the towers fall on his television as he prepared for his first day of business.
This seems like it’s in bad taste, right?
Well, taste is subjective. Johnson is quite proud of Bar9Eleven, and he believes that he is doing his part to honor the memory of those who died that day.
How does the rest of the internet feel about it?
Based on the handful of one-star reviews that the bar is receiving online right now—as well as the comments on social media—the internet is less certain that this is a great way to commemorate those who lost their lives. (By the way, pro tip to some of those social media commenters: It’s not okay to leave a one-star review of a business you’ve never visited.)
When did this place open?
Here’s the weird thing: Bar9Eleven has been operating in that location, under that name, for years now. Johnson wasn’t certain precisely when he opened the business, but he says it was sometime between 2012 and 2014. There’s been a little bit of controversy locally—here’s a 2016 write-up from Fort Worth Weekly about the name—but it’s largely escaped notice from the wider world. (The paper’s verdict on the question of taste: “If it’s possible to tastefully theme a bar after a national catastrophe, Bar9Eleven’s owners have done it.”) The internet, in one of its regular fits of boredom, piled on to this place today, because Tyler wrote a good tweet framing the weirdness of this whole thing. But this place has been doing business for the better part of a decade. Fort Worth drinkers have assessed whether they have a problem with a 9/11-themed bar, and enough of them aren’t bothered that the place has stayed in business.
Is anything else at Rio Mambo, uh, national tragedy–themed?
Nope. Rio Mambo has another bar attached to its Colleyville location, club w, that’s named after journeyman pitcher Bobby Witt, who spent much of the nineties on the Texas Rangers, and who calls the city home. The bar at the Weatherford location is named RMW4, which the company describes as the “perfect spot for sports watching and spreading rumors (LOL!).” Before Bar9Eleven was remodeled and rebranded, Johnson says it was called “Charlie Bar,” after a former employee.
This has to be the most bizarre 9/11 tribute in Texas in the twenty years since that tragic day, right?
Not even close. Bar9Eleven maybe cracks the top three, but that’s it. In 2016, the San Antonio mattress store Miracle Mattress released an ad in which employees stacked mattresses into two towers, and then crashed into them, announcing a “Twin Towers” sale. It didn’t go over well. The store closed temporarily amid the bad PR, before issuing a sincere apology and reopening. The year before that, the Lumberton High School cheerleading squad made headlines around the nation for its 9/11-themed routine, in which teens tumbled, lunged, and basket-tossed their way through a rather abstract tribute. (One member of the squad, in response to critics, declared on social media, “F— you, I’m going viral,” which didn’t exactly help matters.) After you get past those, we can talk about Bar9Eleven.
But clumsy remembrances of 9/11 are also just part of American culture. The event occupies an unusual place in our collective psyche. For Americans of one generation, it’s an active memory of one of the more frightening and world-changing days of their lives. For others, it’s just an event that happened before they were born, something they learn about in history class. The members of the cheer squad in Lumberton were babies when the towers fell, so their idea of how to appropriately remember that day is going to be different from that of someone who called their friends in New York on the phone that morning to make sure they were safe. Some of these tributes are absurd and off-base (such as the San Diego hotel that marked the day with free mini-muffins, or the Garfield cartoon in which the cat stares reverently at a flag), but that’s perhaps to be expected.
Johnson seems sincere in his belief that his bar is a way to ensure that patrons keep the events of 9/11 in their thoughts; Jim Davis presumably felt something similar when he drew Garfield standing in front of the flag. We still haven’t really agreed as a nation how to remember that day, so everyone is trying to figure it out for themselves. For one restaurateur in Fort Worth, that means running a 9/11-themed bar, where patrons can order 99-cent Nachos Gringos and three-cheese quesadillas at happy hour and never forget.