If there's a bar where everybody knows your name, you're probably an alcoholic — anonymous
That's a riff on the old Cheers theme song, of course. And, of course, it's not true. You are not an alcoholic — not you! — just because the bartender looks up when you arrive and starts pouring your favorite libation. You're not an alcoholic just because everyone at the bar turns and shouts your name when you enter. You're a regular, just like they are. You're walking into your home away from home, your family away from family. Your special joint.
And that's what this new monthly column, "Bar Report," is going to be about — a look into Memphis bars and pubs and the culture surrounding them. Flyer staffers are going to take turns writing the column. We'll be talking about all kinds of stuff: What are the best bars for first dates? What makes a good sports bar? How do you find a bar that's age appropriate? Is there one thing that all good bartenders have in common?
We'll be writing about drink trends, seasonal beverages, day drinking, historic bars, bar hopping, ethnic bars, dive bars, high-end dining bars, seasonal drinks — you name it, and we're probably going to cover it.
I was discussing "regulars" with a bartender friend the other day and thought maybe that would be as good a topic as any with which to kick off this column. It's one of the things that isn't discussed much but seems obvious on reflection: how various establishments become venues for particular age groups — how "regulars" select their venue. One bar might draw baby boomers while the place two doors down the street is filled with millennials. The choice gets made based on many factors: the kind of food, the music, the décor, the noise level, the proximity to other places. A craft brewery will draw a different crowd than a wine bar or a cocktail-centric bar, obviously.
But the variations on a theme are almost endless: There are pickup bars, gay bars, wine bars, craft beer joints, live music clubs, dance clubs, after-hours bars, foodie bars, artisanal cocktail bars, Irish pubs, to name a few. Someone who's out to meet strangers and drink themselves into a bed will go to a different kind of venue than the person who just wants a quiet joint where they can have a conversation with friends. A married couple in their 50s will want a different bar experience than two single women in their 30s.
One thing is certain, though: Regulars are the lifeblood of any drinking establishment. David Parks, who holds down the fort behind the bar at Alchemy, says "regulars represent 75 percent of my income, but it's more than that. Some of them have become close friends — and friends with each other. A few even got married, with varying degrees of success."
Allan Creasy is the bar manager at Celtic Crossing. He says regulars can make — or break — a bar: "If you walked into a bar, and it was perfect — had all your favorite drafts, had the televisions on exactly what you wanted to watch, there was a friendly bar staff — but if every person who started a conversation with you was an ass, you would stop going, eventually.
"Friendly regulars are worth their weight in gold," he adds. "It's impossible for me to chat with everyone and make drinks at the same time. A good regular is almost doing a part of my job for me, making the pub more of a home."
Tyler Morgan and Justin Gerych man the bar at Cafe 1912. They will tell you the quiet backroom venue tends to draw a more mature crowd, seasoned Midtowners looking for decent food and friendly conversation.
On a recent night, when Morgan was pouring the drinks and the place was filled with regulars, a young couple walked in and took the last two seats at the bar. They were immediately peppered with friendly questions: "Where do you work?" "Where do you live?" "Do y'all like Midtown?" "How long have you been dating?" It was like they'd just come home from college and were dealing with nosy parents, probably not what they expected to encounter on a dinner date, but they endured the inquisition good-naturedly.
At one point, a geriatric-looking fellow — a regular, of course — stood up and adjusted his pants at the crotch.
"What are you doing, Richard?" asked his companion, slightly horrified.
"Adjusting my chemo bag and having another drink, goddammit."
He then turned to the young couple and said, "I bet you two feel like you've just walked onto the set of Cocoon."
Ah, regulars. Can't live with 'em. Can't live without 'em.