This week’s question is: What fictional bar would you most want to hang out at?
In creating Callahan’s Place, the central locus for his endlessly warm science fiction series Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, author Spider Robinson whipped up something very like the platonic ideal of the bar as the modern church. The empathy-heavy philosophy of Callahan’s regulars—who range from time travelers and would-be world destroyers to local New Jersey doctors and affable barflies—is expressed late in the very first book, and it remains powerful in its simplicity, even now: “Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased.” Now, if your vision of said shared joy doesn’t include a truly regrettable cavalcade of awful puns—there’s a long, drawn-out one about an extra-terrestrial giant that I haven’t been able to knock out of my head despite decades of work—then Callahan’s might not be for you. But if the idea of a well-lit drinking spot where nobody pries, but everyone is ready to listen, appeals, there are a hell of a lot worse Places you could probably end up.
I don’t know if I would even be allowed into The Snakehole Lounge from Parks And Recreation, what with my general un-coolness and lack of millions. But as someone who’s usually the most sober person at a bar or club (without being an actual teetotaler), I’d have a damn good time watching the fights and dance-offs that are bound to arise once Janet Snakehole—a very rich widow, don’t you know, with a terrible secret—or Burt Macklin or really any Pawnee regulars showed up. Although it’s more likely that I’d run into Leslie Knope at J.J.’s, the SnakeHole Lounge is a more appropriate setting for blowing off some steam after work or just an afternoon of scrolling through Twitter. I’d probably skip the SnakeJuice, but not because it’s basically rat poison (well, kind of because it’s basically rat poison); I just don’t like many liqueurs, period.
After giving a lot of thought to where I’d actually want to spend my days whiling away the time and imbibing spirits, I realized the only honest answer I could give would be 10 Forward, the lounge on the U.S.S. Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Residing in the lovely confines of Deck 10, on the forward end of the saucer section of the ship, the observation lounge not only serves up delicious alcoholic and synthetic drinks, but features a pair of replicator terminals behind the bar, so that you never need go without snacks or other comestibles during your time there—a must-have for any place I’d want to visit for any length of time. And sure, there’s a continually stunning view. But if I’m being truthful, the main appeal (aside from maybe playing some three-dimensional chess) would be that hanging out at 10 Forward meant I lived in the humanist future world of Star Trek, where civilization is committed to taking care of one another, a post-scarcity society ensures capitalism is a thing of the past, and—in the immortal words of Jean-Luc Picard—“We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.”
I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to bars: Just give me a stool, some wood paneling, a shot, and a beer, and I’ll be fine. Of course, it helps when the company is interesting enough that you’re not just sitting there anxiously watching your phone battery drain the entire evening. And I think I’d get along just fine with the artists, sex workers, and assorted ne’er-do-wells who tie one on at The Hi-Hat Bar on HBO’s The Deuce. Based on a real place called Tin Pan Alley that was a Times Square mecca for adventurous New Yorkers in the ’70s and ’80s, The Hi-Hat, a mob front owned by James Franco’s Vincent Martino on the show, is the kind of place where the personalities are strong, the drinks are stronger, and as long as the cops get their cut and the fistfights remain on the sidewalk, the staff is both friendly and discreet. That discretion makes the Hi-Hat a place where people of many different races, classes, genders, and professions, from transgender sex workers to bohemian socialites, can mix freely, which is way more important in a good bar than a punny cocktail menu. Besides, if you make friends with the person sitting next to you, they’re less likely to pick your pocket on the way out. No guarantees, though.
My favorite fictional hangout bar is from a show I still miss: Crowley’s from My Boys, the TBS sitcom that ran from 2006 to 2010. My Boys depicted the antics of Chicago sportswriter P.J. (Ozark’s Jordana Spiro) and her gang of guy friends, including her ex, Bobby (Kyle Howard), best friend, Brando (Veep’s Reid Scott), co-worker Mike (Jamie Kaler), neighbor Kenny (Superstore’s Michael Bunin), and hilarious brother, Andy (Jim Gaffigan). The group’s favorite question was “Who needs?”, as someone went up to order the next round of Old Style at Crowley’s, a query I confess I have stolen. The boys (and girl) on My Boys basically communicated via various rounds of light-dusting putdowns, which just got funnier the more the Old Style flowed. (Andy: “It’s like when they call fat guys Tiny or ugly guys Handsome.” Kenny: “What?” Andy: “You know what I’m talking about, Handsome.”) Since the homey dive vibe of Crowley’s was reportedly based on an actual bar in my city—Guthrie’s Tavern, west of Wrigley Field, famous for its wide variety of board games—I guess I could actually go there. But without P.J. and Andy and Brando, it just wouldn’t be the same.
Here’s the thing: If I’m going to commit at all to leaving the cozy confines of my home to socialize, I need to be thoroughly entertained in return. Sure, there’s nothing inherently bad or boring about a low-key bar environment, but I’d prefer an atmosphere that’s going to encourage me to keep my energy the hell up. Otherwise, I can drink and scroll through Twitter in my bed. In theory, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s central haunt, Paddy’s Pub, would provide enough spectacle in which to immerse myself, depending on the day. But I have to be real: If presented with a choice, I’m spending my time at the antithesis of the gang’s often vacant establishment. I’m heading to Sudz. Listen, I totally understand that Sudz is representative of everything that is frowned upon in cool bar culture. The neon piping, the obnoxiously bass-heavy music, the densely sweet cocktails, and the forced sense of community all contribute to a vibe that we should have collectively left behind in college. Still, none of this negates the fact that it is a well-lit bar with a staff that at least attempts to provide decent customer service. Are they serving comically oversized, electric blue shock-tails containing a vague essence of alcohol? I’ll take two. And us adults may not need a bell to tells us when it’s time to drink, but on any given day I’m tasked with making a hundred decisions. If a bell-happy bartender wants to take the reins on this one thing for me, then they can have at it. Plus, it’s fun.
Fantasy works overflow with taverns, and while I’d love to sing drinking songs over half-pints of ale with my hobbit pals at the Green Dragon in Hobbiton or plot subterfuge with my wizard friends over butterbeer at the Hog’s Head, the fantasy drinking hole I’d most like to patron is The Eolian. This is one of The Kingkiller Chronicles’ best establishments, the bar residents of Imre and university students have to pay a whole jot to enter. But it’s worth it. Once you’re inside you’re treated to the best music from the best musicians in the Small Kingdoms, there’s some solid people watching with rich folk staking out potential patronages, and scamps like Kvothe keep the entertainment fresh with his clever tricks that get him into trouble but keep the audience entertained. I’d love to sit back over a mug of metheglin while Kvothe plays the equivalent of a lullaby and sweats and labors over his lute, making it look like an impressive technical feat, then plays a monstrously difficult song and makes it look boringly easy, all to humiliate a noble who dismissed him for playing “folk music.” I’d be among the audience fooled by the trick, but it’d be so worth it to watch it unfold.
I’m not a big bar guy, or a big “leaving the house” guy for that matter, but even I can see the appeal in a bar with no stuffy rules, where everybody belongs, where there’s no last call until everybody in the place has had the best night of their lives, and where the drinks are dirt cheap—at least until stuff starts getting broken. The only bar that could possibly be that cool is Puzzles, the New York institution founded by Barney Stinson and Ted Mosby on How I Met Your Mother. I’m not entirely sure why it’s called Puzzles, but it’s a great name for a bar and I could spend my time there trying to figure out what the name means… when I’m not enjoying the three-story margarita waterfall, of course! Plus, I can’t discount the appeal of appearing as a background character in an extremely long story with a terrible ending that some guy tells his kids in the future. Seriously, though, why is it called Puzzles?
This one’s easy. I spent my childhood playing RPGs like Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger, where our heroes gather much of their intel by chit-chatting with the denizens of any given village’s local bar. I can’t name a specific one, namely because it was rare that these bars actually had names, but I’d give anything to hang at one of them, sipping a medieval stein of suds on a knotty wood bar as firelight flickered across my face. Our faces freed from our phones, we’d listen as the brawny beards bursting through the door shared tales of taming Chocobos, and, together, we’d share rumors of just what, exactly, is unfolding in that bat-laden castle beyond the forest, the one those spiky-haired kids were asking about. I have friends in Cincinnati who’ve been telling me of “a bar out of Final Fantasy game” there, but I’ve yet to see if it lives up to the dorky-ass fantasy I’ve built up in my head. Something to look forward to, I suppose.
Last month, I had drinks and Korean cuisine at The Prince, whose red-leather booths and regal decor have served as throwback backdrop for such treasured works as Chinatown and Mad Men. But in my mind, I was throwing back cheap beers at The Griffin, the L.A. dive where Nick Miller tends bar on New Girl—a fictional watering hole that was played by The Prince for the Fox sitcom’s first season, and a soundstage replica thereafter. The place never seems too crowded, the barkeep’s just surly enough, Schmidt would be a willing partner in Sterling Cooper three-martini cosplay, and if I’m lucky, I get to eavesdrop on them and their roommates getting into a series of comedic scrapes for seven years. When I was at The Prince, I spied a bottle of Jeppson’s Malört behind the bar; I like to think that notoriously noxious liqueur was a cross-reality greeting from another, mythical Chicago native who’s an acquired taste.
My reflexive answer was the Mos Eisley cantina from Star Wars, until I considered that the place is a shithole and I’d probably get killed. In fact, I’d be at risk of death in most of the fantasy and sci-fi bars I’d like to visit, so my best chance is to hang out in a place where everyone is already dead: The Blue Casket from Grim Fandango. The club is located at the bottom of a subterranean elevator shaft inside a beautiful Art Nouveau building reminiscent of Spain’s Casa Batlló (likely not coincidentally, given the local name is “House of Bones”). The place itself is a Café Wha?-style basement café with dim lighting, exposed metal girders twisted into strange shapes, and a bunch of discontent beatnik skeletons planning labor revolutions when they aren’t getting on stage to perform beat poetry. And as long as I could sit back in a dim corner, sip a coffin shooter, and in no way be expected to perform, I would love every moment.