The Bar That Wasn’t

23 July, 2011

[A note on the language mechanics of this piece. Given how the evening felt like ill luck was happening to us, I chose to write this primarily using passive voice to convey that feeling of having events occur outside our control.]

3:00 pm
Alexandria, Virginia

Thursday night was to be a simple evening at home chatting on the phone with my parents followed by a night out with Sarah at a little bar called Oliver’s Old Towne Tavern. Things didn’t quite work out like that.

To begin with, I was extraordinarily ADHD. I couldn’t have focused on any one task even if an adorable puppy’s life depended on it. Lucky for the puppies it did not. I bounced from activity to activity, only half completing one before moving on to the next and then coming back to the previous. At one point I was running two laptops, carrying on a text message conversation, and updating the facebook from my iPod all while rubbing the cat’s tummy. Spooky, for his part was just as ADHD, as he kept dashing about the efficiency apartment, leaping on the furniture, and swatting at invisible lint specs.

As the hour for my departure crept closer, I began my finishing touches. You can picture me in front of the vanity, speaker phone on my left, make up spread in logical sequence on my right, a razor in my right hand, and a styptic pencil in my left. I am simultaneously freshening my face, carrying on the most natural conversation I’ve had with my Dad in months, and gesticulating to emphasize my thoughts (though this last was to no ones benefit as my father couldn’t see it and I was holding a straight edge). And I would have left on time if I hadn’t had to go back to take my pills, then go back a second time because I had set my purse down while taking my medication and forgot it, then go back a third time because my car keys were in my other purse. After all that, I was running half an hour late.

But that was all right. Sarah was later with her students than she planned. (Why is it students are always the most engaged and focused when you actually have the rare social engagement?) Because of her scholarly students she saddled up to Oliver’s five minutes ahead of me. Or rather she arrived where Oliver’s should have been, but wasn’t. For inexplicable reasons, Oliver’s had a website, a ranking in Google’s Places app, and data in Sarah’s and my GPS units but lacked physicality. Imagine my surprise when I received this text:

I’m where Oliver’s is supposed to be, and it’s not.

Silly me, I had been so worried about getting lost that concern the building might get lost never crossed my synaptic gap.

In spite of The Bar That Wasn’t our determination to have a drink and catch up was undaunted. But our challenges weren’t over yet. The next place we decided on was a restaurant/bar, Bennigans‘. We took one car to this new destination, ensuring one of us (me) wouldn’t get lost. Again, we should have been more concerned about the building. We circled the area three times and saw not a trace of the restaurant, not even a derelict building to suggest there may, at one point, have been a restaurant. Two for two. Our next choice took a more direct approach: we would only chose from among those restaurants we could see, which is how we ended up at Famous Dave’s twenty minutes before they closed. We were jerks and went in any way. (Actually, when I was waitressing, I liked the just before closing customers. Guilt made them better tippers.) Our late arrival guaranteed two things: a) Our Blue Moons came without orange slices and 2) our meals came without Johnny Cake (that’s cornbread for those of you not up on your Civil War jargon). While we waited for our not quite complete meals, we were approached by a waiter who was either on an amphetamine-based stimulant or was mad in the mind because he raved with an intense, bordering on Charlie Sheen enthusiasm about the salad he’d just eaten. According to the madman, this was the best of all possible salads in the best of all possible worlds. Though my brisket and roasted chicken were excellent I remain unconvinced of his bold salad statements; rib joints aren’t especially known for their salads. For her part, Sarah seemed to enjoy her meal, with the exception of the jalapeño laced mac and cheese.

We left the restaurant somewhat satisfied. Our food cravings had diminished but the required drinks per evening (two drink minimum) had not been met. We again set off in search of a bar. The first place we tried had been recommended by our server/bartender at Dave’s, a little dive known as Nuzback Bar, or as I loving termed it Nutsack. I can’t tell you what Nutsack was like on the inside. I can tell you there was heavy gangsta rap involved (you know, the type where the lyrical genius of “bitch beater” is rhymed with creative, original phrases like “mother fucker”) and the steel-plated door had two prominent signs: CASH ONLY and AS OF 7/8/11 MEN MUST WEAR AT LEAST A TANK TOP!

We didn’t bother opening the door.

Next it was off to Sam and Elsie’s, touted by the Famous Dave’s bartender as “an old style mom and pop tavern.” We almost didn’t make it to Sam’s. the GPS had us turning on a road that didn’t exist (I’m quite concerned about PG County’s vanishing landmarks) and then detoured us through an abandoned storage facility surrounded by parked semis and trailers. (Come get raped and murdered on the pleasant Laurel pub crawl!) Sam and Elsie’s had a physical location and there was no evidence of Hicksville signs or angry throttle your mother rap. Unfortunately, there were also no signs of life. It’s heavy, windowless, steel door was soundly locked. Though we did see two people come out just before we drove off in search of another bar.

Our last hope was a place Sarah knew of in Columbia but couldn’t quite remember the name. She sounded a few variants out before hitting on the right one, Pub Dog. A brewpub that followed a (can you guess?) dog theme with their beers. I like dogs and was desperate to find somewhere open, safe, and physically present so I readily agreed to the extended drive home from Columbia. This time we drove separate (so we could each head in our respective directions after the pub) and the names of the streets and cities did not fill me with hope and the promise of great things to come. We started on Scagsville Road, drove past the cities of Scagsville and Savage, and turned on Brokenland Parkway (Gorgeous Prince George’s!) before reaching the pub. Though a bit loud, Pub Dog has a friendly, attentive wait staff and bartenders and the beer was uniquely served. Two small pint mugs for four dollars. Typically a trick like this would be a warning to avoid the craft beers (They’re so bad you need to order two sight unseen.) but my brew, the Muddy Mutt—Pub Dog’s version of a black and tan made by combining their Thirsty Ale and Black Dog brews,—was excellent. Here at last we could sit and enjoy casual conversation without the fear of being gang banged, force feed salad, or vanishing from existence.

In the end was the Sarah company and the special craft worth all the Mystery Spot evening eeriness? Without a doubt.



  1. Strange but true: Scagsville, Savage, and Brokenland Parkway are all in Howard County. So was Sam and Elsie’s, apparently.

    • If true, definitely strange. They seem more like PG sorts of places.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: