Monday, 28 January 2013

Here Comes a Regular

Many moons ago (okay, make that many, many moons ago) I reached a rather pivotal point in my young life I was able to start drinking in bars.

Upon reaching this rather monumental milestone, I waved goodbye to the public park my friends and I had referred to as our "regular" up till that point (where more often than not we could be found of a Friday night passing around cheap bags of goon on the volleyball courts) and said hello to an exciting new chapter: legal boozing!

Initially, I wasn't blown away with the whole "bar-hopping" experience. For one, alcohol was a damn sight more expensive when not served directly from a plastic bag. Secondly, I had no control over the music. Taking into consideration what was being played, I needed that control. I mean really - who could possibly think that drinking ten dollar basic spirits from small plastic cups while being forced to endure yet another dreadful electro remix of "Hit Me Baby One More Time" is anyone's idea of a good time (let me again point out that this was quite some time ago). Lastly, it simply wasn't as fun to drink legally. There was no danger; no "are we going to get caught?" - style thoughts racing through my overactive cranium like there were back in the good ole park days.

It was, for a great majority of the time, all very responsible; all very adult.

Eventually, it became abundantly clear that I needed to stop torturing myself and start aiming higher than these god-awful hangouts. There had to be a decent bar somewhere; a place one might actually have a chance of striking up interesting conversations with interesting people while listening to interesting music created by interesting musicians. You know, a place where everybody knows your name (Respect to Cheers).

For me, the correct combination of music, patrons and overall vibe was (and still is) of great importance. Establishments offering this dream tri-fecta of awesome, however, were very few and far between; that horrendously overused saying that "variety is a spice of life" certainly did not apply when referring to what was on offer in my dreary town of residence at the time.

Was I being too picky when it came to choosing worthy watering holes? Perhaps. But maybe different questions need to be asked in place of this. Like the following, for example:

1) Do I enjoy drinking to a soundtrack of over-produced, over-polished, bullshit cookie cutter crap, driving me to have homicidal thoughts involving the DJ, a pair of pliers and a blow torch (respect to Pulp Fiction)? No!

2) Do I enjoy Shit Cover Bands whose only obtainable goal is to take already atrocious fucking songs and make them sound even worse? Ahh... No!

3) Do I enjoy drinking at pubs crammed with pokie machines, enticing a never ending stream of sad, pathetic lost souls to waste countless hours (and dollars) sitting like lobotomised zombies in front of them? Um, thanks, but no thanks.

4) How about sharing bar space with violent jocks who take great pleasure in testing the limits of Bundaberg Rum consumption before a) vomiting b) starting a fight with a stranger c) starting a fight with a friend or d) targeting some poor undeserving girl and making it his mission to bed her, only later discovering that consuming that much rum will not do him any favours while he's trying to perform in the bedroom/back of his Ute/nearby alleyway? Jesus, take a wild guess...

Early on, I settled for far less than I should have, if only out of desperation. During my first and only year attending this particular University (I mean, how could I focus on my studies when all of this searching for a decent fucking bar was taking such priority?) it was just about the only place within a one hundred kilometre radius that even came close to being in the ballpark of somewhere I would consider "bearable". Given that, I was certainly not about to speak ill of it.

Understandably, many of my fellow classmates had the same dilemma, and while it was pleasant enough seeing the same familiar faces week in, week out, if one was to, say, get involved with another of the familiars "romantically" , with said hook up eventually not working out (and believe me, it rarely, if ever, did), well then shucks, that bar was not really going to be too much fun to hang out in anymore. So, even though it's pretty much a given that lapses in judgement can and will happen while under the spell of your favourite intoxicant, its always best to follow the advice of the great Gene Ween and "don't shit where you eat, my friends."

Thankfully, this whole "settling for less" thing wasn't to last, and as I stumbled awkwardly into my twenties, along came the expected restlessness that soon consumes those living in the same small town but wanting more. It was no longer a place I wanted or needed to be in, and since placing a shotgun between my lips was not a path I particularly wished to travel down, the decision was made to move on to a bigger city, where I was soon met with another eye-opening realisation: there are bars  that *gasp* offered actual live bands playing music that is not of the cover variety! There were also places where the DJ's music selection did not move me to consider violently jamming knitting needles into my ear holes!

To say that the mere existence of such establishments, especially to a small town guy like myself, was immediately appreciated and celebrated is somewhat of an understatement. Beyond the drink and music choices, these bars also had the habit of attracting potential future like-minded friends, lovers and comrades that I otherwise may never have had the opportunity to meet.

Now, while the picture I have just painted is sounding a little more hunky dory, in reality there are still, and possibly always will be, certain considerations to keep in mind, because in this all too real and adult world, it takes many elements for a kick-ass bar to come together and materialise, and nothing short of a miracle for said bar to remain the awesome motherfucker of a place that is presently is. Or to simply remain open at all, period.

In fact, the hard, honest truth is that your favourite ANYTHING, whether it be a gym, restaurant, cinema or theatre, is, in it's purest form, a business. And businesses of all shapes and sizes require a consistently steady crowd (and cash flow) to ensure they remain above water. Therefore, a bar that marches to the beat of its own drummer while refusing to bow at the altar of the mainstream is always going to be in danger of petering out rather quickly.

Sadly, in this day and age, keeping things predictably boring and safe is the easiest way to guarantee that business remains consistent. So a bar promoting unknown, unsigned bands playing original music is never going to have the same appeal to the taste-deficient masses as another place just around the corner offering, as that nights entertainment, a group of overweight forty-something’s limping around on stage, slobbering their way through yet another horrendously bad version of Aerosmith's "Don't Wanna Miss a Thing."

I've seen enough in my years as a professional bar fly/social butterfly to know that the truly great bars have a tendency of not sticking around for too long . More often than not, the good times will be short-lived, and the lights will go out permanently, just as you are starting to grow attached to it. (R.I.P Woodland).

At best, if you're lucky, your favourite "Regular" may try and mix things up in order to keep it afloat, by offering to cater to multiple demographics. For example, on Friday night the bar in question may decide to try and appeal to the steroid-loving, nickel headed Jersey Shore crowd, while alternatively, Saturdays will welcome the withdrawn, solumn types who enjoy nothing more than a quiet drink at the bar while listening to Lou Reed's Berlin.

I have seen this "attempt to please everyone" approach happen on more than one occasion. Sometimes it works, other times... not so much.

When all is said and done, however, no matter what the fate of your favourite bar or club turns out to be, it's important to remember that usually, when one light goes out for the last time, another will inevitably flicker on. And if you just so happen to live in a part of the world with a large enough population to allow for a little variety when it comes to licensed premises, then you should count yourself one lucky bastard, because right around the corner, just over the road, a little down the street and through the nearby alleyway, your new favourite "Regular" will be opening its doors for the first time, and within it's dark interior, one of your future friends/lovers/comrades will be sitting just over past the pool tables, in a booth near the front of the stage, waiting for you to come on over and create some amazing memories with them.


1 comment:

  1. Bravo, Bravo!!! What a great well written article Ben. Actually I am up in Toowoomba at the moment. And that bar that you to referred too, that had great faces, - but not such great music - the UNI CLUB sadly closed last year.

    Seriously your article was also excellent in describing the business pressures that bars can deal with. It's refreshing to hear such a analytic reasoning behind why it's hard to find bars that have live alternative music.

    Also you already know this, but your stance is my stance on bands with smaller venues. Alot more intimate, alot better view, less yobo's who are not interested in music but want to be seen. I think you pretty much covered all that though in your blog. TIVOLI FOREVER!!!!!!

    Great Blog Ben. Keep up the great work!!!!

    Cheers David