As a kid, it was a real treat when my mom would throw up her hands and exclaim, “Ah, let’s just go to Pee-Wee’s!”
This meant she wasn’t cooking dinner, and I’d be afforded a few of life’s simple pleasures: a few quarters for the jukebox and video games, a fish sandwich and cheeseballs, and the dark-and-dingy atmosphere of a dive bar. My most vivid memories of this delight are set around 1981-82 when I was nine and ten years old, and Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll” and Ms. PacMan were my personal in-house delicacies.
It was paradise.
The other day, I was reading Boak and Bailey’s take on the Seven Ages of Beer Geeks, which reminded me of a wonderful recent experience that itself took me straight back to Pee-Wee’s for the first time in decades. To summarize Boak and Bailey’s list of Ages, I’ll just say that One is a Noob, and Five is a Deep Freak Chasing All the Paradise Beers. Six brings boredom and disappointment because all the Rage Beers one’s been coveting turn out to be meh after all, and Seven brings a return to the old standards–beers you know and trust in places you know and trust.
These days, I’m a Seven.
Early last month, I was in some other state with a bunch of beery colleagues for a big, awesome beer festival and series of meetings. We checked out some wonderful breweries and bars and attended the reception for industry members. It was all great fun. But as the night wore on, and the craft beer bars became overcrowded, the search for the next destination turned away from the main drag. Some cool guy from Michigan suggested Dive Bar X, and everyone shrugged their shoulders and marched, because we just wanted to chill with a beer and a friend and be able to have a conversation.
There were no Fives in sight.
But there were definitely other brewers taking the same refuge in this slightly darker version of Slippery’s Tavern, if you’re a Grumpy Old Men fan. It was long and narrow, with a C-shaped bar. A pool table, darts, and vintage urinals that spoke to me in a sentimental tone.
I wasn’t alone in realizing that I’d entered Paradise after sooooo many years on the run.
But there was more. All the grit and atmosphere felt good like a Grandma Pie, but on top of the Hamm’s and Schlitz (and cheese balls) that we slung back nostalgically, this place had updated its jukebox selections (well, you know, those new-style, digital jukebox thingies) and had IPAs and other local nuggets on offer.
There were many elements to this time machine bar visit that outstripped the experiences I’ve had at so many breweries and bars with tap counts ranging from 20 to 120. Craft bars and breweries can attract some insufferable people, ya know?
There was the nostalgia factor. There was the friendship factor. There was the billiards factor. There was the Lack of Fives Factor.
At the risk of exposing some big secret, it was some brand of safe haven for industry insiders–a true paradise. But not the paradise I was ready for 10 years ago. However, I like to think if I had popped into this place for a clandestine meeting with a fish sandwich a decade back, I’d have recognized how nice it was to be in a place that reminded me of 1982 and had a solid IPA on tap.
Because we found such refuge in this place–thanks to both privacy and comforts old and new–we hung out there three nights out of four, relishing the fact that our beloved craft beer had reached a level of mainstream availability such that we could drink what we were after in any damn place in America.
And isn’t that the paradise we’ve all been looking for?
NOTE: For the record, many of us–you’ll be happy to hear–switched back to IPA after an obligatory Dive Beer.