Ever since the show Cheers, having your very own neighborhood bar has been a not so secret goal of thousands of people. The idea of having a home-away-from-home where “everyone knows your name” is comforting. It’s an escape from the pressures of both work AND home, where one can feel comfortable and at ease without having to worry about the bartender or server eagerly giving you the check to turnover new customers.
It’s a wonderful idea, one that has been perpetuated in pop culture in many different ways. To name a few: Friends had Central Perk (it wasn’t a bar but served the same purpose), How I Met Your Mother has Mclarens Pub, Seinfeld had Tom’s Restaurant (you may not have known the name of that diner, but there it is!) and Always Sunny in Philadelphia has Paddy’s Pub. Now there are legitimate reasons why these places are put into shows: to allow for the characters all to meet, provide possible interaction with new characters, and ultimately help propel the plot forward without always being on the same set. And often times these bars don’t actually exist anywhere but in the minds of the producers and tangibly on the set of some Hollywood production center. That doesn’t change how we feel about the notion of having a hangout spot to call our own. In fact, it has sent many of us out into our respective neighborhoods and towns in search of a safe haven from our daily stresses.
So how do we find this magical place for ourselves? Does such a place actually exist in reality and, if so, what does it look like? How will I know when I find it? These are all great questions and realistically it totally depends on the individual asking it. Preferences for aesthetic, drink types, and surrounding clientele are never the same from person to person. There are a few universal things though, check list items if you will, that I believe will help you identify such a place. One’s neighborhood spot should always have: a friendly staff, reasonably priced “offerings” of good quality, flexible hours, proximity and a comfortable place to sit. These may seem pretty straight forward, but let me elaborate further.
A Friendly Staff:
Yes, service is obviously important wherever you go so why wouldn’t it be at your favorite neighborhood spot!? Clearly it is, but it’s a little more delicate than that. If this is going to be your “home-away-from-home” then you want the bartenders, mixologists, and servers to not be just plain vanilla friendly. You want them to be characters. Not just any kind of character though, but your kind of character. Just because you choose this place as your spot doesn’t mean you will be rubbing elbows with the same people night in and night out. Your most regular interaction will be with the service staff.
An important part of a neighborhood bar is that you have to feel comfortable going there by yourself, and being able to relate with and talk to the people behind the bar and servers goes a long ways towards making that happen. You want to be able to commiserate, joke, and hold a conversation with these people if you choose to be in a chatty mood. An important point to highlight, though, is that they must match your personality. Are you an outgoing person who likes to tell stories and meet new people every time you go out? Well your ideal bartender will be a little bit different from the person who is introverted, stoic, and doesn’t want to be interrupted while they reflect on their day. One person’s favorite bartender or server may be another’s annoyance. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just know who you are and be honest about the type of environment you need to relax and unwind. Make note when you find places that meet this criteria.
Reasonably Priced “Offerings” of Good Quality:
Drink choice says a lot about a person. No, I don’t mean to pigeon-hole people into a stereotype. Many people are open to/like all sorts of beverages and are almost offended when you try to link them to one in particular. You can try to argue about what you do or don’t identify as, but say what you will, there is a bond between beer drinkers, between cocktail people, and between wine enthusiasts. These bonds help set an atmosphere for the bar as well as the type of clientele that you’ll be bumping into. Whatever your drink of choice though, there is one thing that every patron can agree on: we want our drinks cheap, strong, and enjoyable.
That may sound a little crass, but it’s generally the truth. Sure, beer and wine people often make a big deal about having a huge selection of hard to find bottles. Cocktail fans may make a fuss about having a particular brand of whiskey or gin in their drink with the most unusual and surprisingly tasty ingredients. None of these people though, truly, want to pay an arm and a leg for these things. Nor do they need a top ten cocktail or rare brew every night of the week. Those things are left for special occasions or group outings. A neighborhood bar doesn’t have to be that. In fact, it usually isn’t.
A neighborhood bar will have a good selection of beverages that you like (beer, liquor, wine) at a price that won’t bankrupt you if you go more than once a week. It will have your typical, “every-day” offerings, a staple of solid (and strong) cocktails, and one or two specialties that are “hidden gems”. This could be a surprisingly good top end beer list for cheap, a really strong but well made long island for $6, or a sneaky good bottle of wine here or there. These are the things that make a bar great and what makes your neighborhood bar awesome, especially when only you know about them.
On a side note, let’s not forget about the food. No, this doesn’t have to be your favorite restaurant. It doesn’t have to have the best burger, taco, pizza, etc in town. It does, however, have to have a solid number of menu options that are done well. The kind that you could enjoy not only when you are a little drunk but also when you are hungry after a long day at work and don’t feel like cooking. Having a kitchen that is open late is a godsend for both of these scenarios. No kitchen you say? Well if the bar lets you order in food that’s almost just as good. That works too.
This is fairly straight forward. The bar doesn’t have to be open till 4 a.m. nor does it have to cater exclusively to day-drinkers. “Flexible hours” basically means two things: 1.) The bar doesn’t have irregular or weird times that they open or close (bonus points if they stay open for holidays) and 2.) You are never disappointed in having to wait for the bar to open or feel like you are being kicked out before you want your night to end.
Your bar should be easy to access, plain and simple. Ideally it is within walking distance of your home, better yet within “stumbling” distance. While a very simple point, proximity is important. A bar can quickly become someone else’s neighborhood spot if it is too far from you. There is a reason why it is called your neighborhood bar.
Comfortable place to sit:
This has a lot to do with atmosphere, decor, and crowd size. Sure, a comfortable place to sit doesn’t have to be a dimly lit couch or leather booth, but it sure doesn’t hurt. It has just as much to do with a comfortable chair or stool as it does crowd size. Sure, none of us want to be the only person in a bar, but your neighborhood spot should never feel overcrowded. You should be able to get a table or a spot at the bar whenever you want. Your neighborhood bar should have a perfect mix of ideal crowd size, soothing lighting, and enough seating space so as to not feel claustrophobic. That’s what makes for a comfortable place to sit, and your “home-away-from-home” definitely has to be comfortable!
So now that you now know of all of this painfully insightful information it’s time to pound the pavement and start your search! It may not be a bar but instead a cafe or diner. Whatever it is, make sure it’s you. Let me warn you though, this won’t be easy and could take a while. Don’t get discouraged! What’s the saying…”Good things come to those who wait”? Or was it “Nothing worth doing is ever easy”? Whatever it is, be patient. I should know since I myself am still searching for a place to call my own. Who am I kidding though. Maybe you’ve already found your spot! Maybe you knew all of this already, or you have a whole different set of criteria. Let us know of any other tips that helped you!
Good luck out there. Maybe I’ll run into you while we are both searching! I’m going to start with dive bars and pubs with cool decor that are away from major streets. Where will you start?