News | Opinion
I am what could be termed a sporadic drinker. We – I use the royal “We” when discussing getting pissed – go months at a time without sampling the sublime joys of the bottle.
Sometimes this is voluntary, sometimes our teetotalism comes at the pleasure of the National Coronavirus Command Council.
Afterwards, we embark on a series of magnificent relaunches. We play rock n roll shows, we watch sporting events. We dispense the worst possible relationship advice to old friends. We report, polished and clean, for first meetings with promising new acquaintances.
At one time we lived in speculative apprehension that we needed the booze. But after a few fairly painless moratoriums, we have come to realise that we don’t need the drink, we just enjoy bars.
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Drinking alone at home is pretty meaningless. Entertaining guests is fun, but it requires hosting, events planning and generates large amounts of dishes. Parks are extremely sunny and full of insects. Which is why bars are so excellent for socialising.
Not restaurants, mind you. Restaurants are admirable establishments worthy of respect and support. But restaurants have a food focus. You go there with a preordained group of fellow diners to dine and enjoy each other’s company. You may share drink or too, but the dopping is almost incidental.
It is the bars, taverns and pubs of our magnificent nation that provide that special opportunity: the chance to meet new people over drinks. And not just new people – complete strangers!
There is a special thrill around getting to know someone from scratch, late at night, over a couple of drinks. Are they friendly? Are they stable? Most importantly, are they fun? Do they have some opinions that are worth agreeing with or arguing over? Can they share a decent anecdote?
This is not even to mention the special magic of possible romantic attraction that sometimes attends new friendships established in bars.
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It’s worth noting that not everyone has to drink alcohol in a bar, but it needs to be available.
Bar encounters are not always the stuff of swashbuckling fun and romance. A lot of the time you just sit there on your phone, drinking alone. But, ah, there’s always the possibility of something interesting happening.
An overheard conversation about someone’s traffic incident the night before: “They say I T-boned a car on my motorbike.”
A strongly held sporting opinion: “If your team can’t beat Fulham, then you shouldn’t be managing Chelsea!”
Clumsy opening gambits: “I recognise that accent! Are you from Zambia?”
These interesting, chance happenings – encounters between people from different professions, cultures and walks of life – are the stuff that drives life forward. It’s not for nothing that The Bar Scene is a staple of screenwriting for film and television.
We need the bar scenes in our lives. Or at least the knowledge that they are there, available to us if we need them.
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At the moment this is what I dwell on in my alcohol-free apartment in the bland but pleasant north of Johannesburg. The absence of a bar. The non-availability of one. I could visit a restaurant. I could probably get booze if I really wanted to. I could visit friends.
But I cannot just hang out at a bar counter and see what happens. See what eavesdropping I can do. Cast myself on the wings of coincidence and see whom I bump into. Thanks to lockdown and pandemic best practice, this is not the time for that.
The most responsible thing for us to do at the moment is minimise the random chance in our lives. To meet as few new people as possible. To remain outside of eavesdropping distance of everyone else.
But we need random chance. Randomness offers hope. So as soon as the season for that once again returns, I will be there. More than likely I will be Johnny-no-mates in the corner, beneath that vintage Lion Lager poster from 1982, texting Alistair to see if he’s still coming, idly watching a rebroadcast of a cricket test between England and Sri Lanka.
But I will be a bar guy. A raft floating on the river of life, flowing downstream. Waiting to see what is around the next bend in the river. Perhaps contemplating a Castle Lite draught.
Definitely contemplating a Castle Lite.
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