My dad and mom’s bakery in Columbus was right next door to a bar. When I was very little, the name of the bar was the B&B Lounge. Later, and for most of my time in Columbus, the bar was owned by a couple of brothers with a Polish last name ending in “ski” and the bar was cleverly named the Ski Lounge. Clever except that if you were “not from around these parts”, you might wonder why a bar in the middle of Nebraska was referred to as a ski lounge. Whatever.
Perhaps oddly, that bar was an important part of my life growing up. When we were very little, Mom and Dad would take Bec and I with them to the bar. (Jen and Dave weren’t yet the gleam in the eye that you hear about.) That might sound funny, but I assure you there was nothing odd about it whatsoever. We played with other kids that were there (mostly our cousins!). The bar was a family-friendly place. They had a popcorn
machine. You put a dime in the machine and out came popcorn into a little paper holder much like a coffee filter. I remember that we would eat the popcorn and then place the paper containers on our heads to wear as hats. Funny. It doesn’t sound like that much fun now.
The Ski Lounge also had a shuffleboard table. Bec and I learned to play shuffleboard at that very table. Now we go to Las Vegas and play high-stakes shuffleboard. Well, that last part’s not true, but we did love us some shuffleboard. I think Dad would even play with us once in a while. I can’t remember if I was any good. Probably not.
Because it was a family-friendly environment (or at least it was when I was young), they offered a variety of pop for our enjoyment. On Saturdays when we would eat our noon dinner at Grammie’s and Grampa’s, Grammie would give each of us kids a couple of quarters to go next door to the Ski Lounge and buy ourselves an orange Nehi. I’m pretty darn sure you wouldn’t find an orange Nehi at a bar today. And the Ski Lounge wasn’t even a restaurant, just a neighborhood bar.
I’ve been thinking about bars lately because I’m reading a book (which I will review tomorrow) where bartending is the central theme. The bar in the book is a neighborhood bar that sounds much like the one I have been describing. You know, with neon signs advertising the most popular brews. (In the case of the Ski Lounge, it was Pabst Blue Ribbon, Hamms, Falstaff, Schlitz, maybe Budweiser. No Coors in those days.)
I can even recall the way the neighborhood bars smell when you walk in. The strong smell of stale beer. Sounds yucky, but it definitely wasn’t. And no matter what time it was, there was always someone sitting at the bar, right next to the big jar of pickled eggs. Probably not someone we were allowed to talk to.
I sound so nostalgic, don’t I? About a bar? I don’t guess it’s really the bar that makes me feel nostalgic, but more about the simpleness of life back then. I don’t know what the equivalent today would be for such a family outing and resulting memory. Certainly not a bar. For one thing, I’m not sure there are more than a handful of actual bars left; instead, mostly there are bars combined with restaurants. The ones that remain are probably mostly the kind that you wouldn’t want to let your kids wander into, because likely you wouldn’t even go into such a place.
I will tell you something funny, however. To this day, I like to sit at a bar and watch a good bartender work. And I don’t just mean pouring the drinks. I also mean handling the people at the bar including engaging in interesting conversation. A good bartender doesn’t really talk much – mostly listens – but makes the person with whom he or she is engaged feel like they are talking to a best friend. I could watch a good bartender all day. Especially if they pour me an especially good martini.
One last random thought about a bar. Sometime within the last couple of years, Bill and I went back to Columbus for one of my high school reunions. We ate dinner one night at the restaurant at which my family celebrated every birthday or other special occasion, a restaurant that my mom and dad went to every Saturday night of their life in Columbus. It was called, not surprisingly, Husker House.
Husker House has a bar, and it will not surprise you to learn that the bar itself is of dark wood and there are just a couple of small windows, making the atmosphere pretty dark itself. Because we were early for our reservations, we sat down in the bar area, which was pretty full of regulars. There were two bartenders, a young man and a fairly old woman – seriously, probably in her 70s. I tentatively ordered a martini from a cocktail server, keeping my fingers crossed that the young man would make the drink. No such luck. The order was given to the woman.
“I’m not hopeful about this martini,” I said to my husband.
I got the martini – Tanqueray, up with an olive – and the glass was ice cold. I took a tentative sip, and to my surprise, tasted one of the best martinis ever made by someone other than me. So much for stereotypes. She’s probably made several thousand martinis in her lifetime.