Where everybody knows your name

There is a practice that’s become somewhat of a lost art among members of my generation, either relegated to industry members or approached with disdain by the more civilized among us. But it’s also one in which you can find a strange, beautiful new community of friends, all seemingly unconnected, but with at least one thing in common – sometimes, after a long day of work, or nothing much at all, you just need a drink.

It’s the art of becoming a regular. A dirty word to some, I know. Associated with overindulging, laziness, misdirection, and avoidance of “life’s larger problems.” The Replacements even wrote one of their most miserable songs about it. But it’s an unfair reputation.

The disappearance of, let’s call it ‘regularism,’ in young people might be due to a shift in focus away from the neighbourhood bar. No neighbourhood is a real one without a neighbourhood bar, and nothing you say can sway my opinion. It establishes a meeting place (after all, they were once called ‘public houses’), and works as a great equalizer. I’ve had the pleasure, at my own haunts here in The Village, of having a beer with people who run great big companies and people who are on the verge of being evicted, all at the same bar, sometimes on the same day, together.

We’re filled to the brim here in The Village with choices – The Toad, Club 60, Carlos & Murphy’s, Billabong, Ozzy’s, etc. Each of them lay claim to their own diverse pockets of humanity.

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Over the past couple years or so, working my way through all 11 seasons of Cheers, I’ve given a lot of thought to this. Cheers was successful due very much to the fact that it was able to recreate all the things that happen in these places and make you care about who they happened to. It was a show almost exclusively dedicated to losers. There are few real, lasting triumphs on the show, and that in itself, when coupled with its longevity and quality, is impressive – the characters remain mostly the same as when we meet them, nearly devoid of development. What makes you keep watching, and what makes people keep striving, is the idea that one day, things might get better.

The bar is a place, maybe the place, where it’s possible to watch all these things happen to people – breakups, promotions, losing a family member or a friend, the birth of a child, going broke, hitting it rich, arriving, departing. Judgment is, for the most part, reserved. The other regulars are there to share in all of it, from basking in your accomplishments to patting you on the back during your tragedies. Never was a place more suited to both the ups and downs of life, welcoming regardless of the situation, a place where everybody knows your name.

But it’s a two-way street. Community is built on equal parts taking and giving. You have to do your time to become a regular somewhere. Pop in for a drink a few days a week after work, get to know the others who do, and listen to them. Most good regulars know how this works, and they’ll listen to you, too. The common equation in all this – the bartender – will listen the most. The best ones will have an answer. The great ones know whether or not you want one.

The Village is your best place to start, and with winter coming, a cold beer in a warm place is going to be really inviting soon.

So, to a different, less explored part of our community, raise your glasses in a toast – to good times and bad times, tragedy and triumph, and the courage and support to face each head on or say to hell with it, at least for a little while. After all, makin’ your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got – taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot.

Matt Williams is a Winnipeg-based writer and musician infatuated by lady country singers. Follow him on Twitter @MattGeeWilliams

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