A few nights ago I took a stroll to a bar that has a pretty good tap list. I’m almost exactly equidistant between two of them, so they each have their merits depending on what I’m looking to do or drink.
Bar A, let’s call it, is dark and wooden, full of neighborhood regulars, has a tiny kitchen and a huge and varied beer list. It’s got a couch and overstuffed chair in the corner, booths, high top tables, and a front that opens completely up in the summer. It’s almost the perfect neighborhood bar except for the fact that it’s usually too loud with music (albeit good music) for such a vacuous space. Once the evening regulars show up (folks mostly in their 40s or 50s) it gets loud with conversation as well. That is, I think literally, the only deterrent for me sometimes. It is run by beer geeks and they’re great for advice and conversation about beers, if you like those moments. It’s great during the daytime, it’s quiet and easygoing, a bar I’d be comfortable taking a book to read or laptop to work on.
Bar B is in the opposite direction and caters to a varied crowd from say, 20s to 40s on average. The beer list is about a third the size of Bar A and the space is about the same size if not a little bigger. It’s also loud, and depending on the night you go, probably not all that interested in talking to you about the beer but for a brief recommendation or nod when prompted for an opinion. The scene at night can be crowded and active with groups, but there’s almost always a seat at the bar.
The night I was looking to go out for a few, I checked my trusty go-to, BeerMenus. It’s a genius website that, once you enter the beer or bar you’re interested in, will tell you where it is or what it has, respectively. It’s turning into the only site bar owners update regularly but it’s not very widely known, so the folks who rely on a bar’s website or Facebook page may often find them frustratingly out of date and thus, hit-or-miss. Being the social media maven that I am, I decided to tweet both Bars A and B to inquire about their lists, since neither had updated any resources in almost a month. Bar B responded to me almost immediately that my tweet had prompted them to update and it was ready. That won me over so I bundled up, made my way through Gotham, and into one of the only two open bar seats. Incidentally, Bar A responded shortly after I ordered my first drink with a promise to update their list as well, so it was nice to know that Twitter can be good for things.
The seat I chose unfortunately, was in direct line of the constantly-opening door and brisk 27 degree wind that blew in with ferocity. I cruised the beer list and put in my order. I chose the Cast Iron Oatmeal Brown by 4 Hands Brewing. It was just ok. I needed something dark and easy to begin with, but this was a little too easy. It had an interesting, nice and nutty nose with an easy hop profile, but after the initial sip it pretty much faded into mediocrity. I was disappointed in it, and reached for the menu to prepare my next order.
Sitting next to me were two men engrossed in conversation and I could tell they were new friends or had just met. After I ordered my somewhat disappointing drink and checked it into Untappd, I reached for the menu to photograph the tap list for my girls’ beer group. This particular bar does 12 beers every Christmas and if you drink all of them by then, you get a prize. As I was pondering my next beer, I heard a voice come from my left.
“What kind of beer do you like? Do you like IPAs?” he asked, pointing at the beer list. I could tell immediately that he thought I didn’t know what I was looking at because I was quizzically looking at the menu, and was planning to help me navigate the terrifying waters of beer selection. I responded that no, IPAs aren’t my favorites. He asked what I do like, because he can recommend me some. I told him porters and stouts, and that’s what I was looking at. He began to list some that I “might be interested in”… now, as I type this, it sounds purely conversational and not very forward, and it wasn’t. But he definitely thought that I didn’t know what I was doing, and assumed I needed his opinion to figure it out. I was instantly indignant but I responded with a cool, “Thanks, I know what I’m getting next” with a smile and that was the end of it. I sat there thinking about it for a while after though, and one thing kept rolling over and over again: If I’d have been a man sitting alone at a bar with an open beer list in front of me, he likely wouldn’t have said a single word to me.
It’s 2014! Can women still not go to bars alone without being a source of intrigue or seen as damsels in distress over a beer list? Come on! When I got home and told my sweetheart about it, he asked if I gave the guy what-for. I said no, I didn’t feel like getting into an angry feminist debate with him, but it got under my skin and continues to when I think about it. Why must we be on guard when all we want is to enjoy a nice dark beer and some alone time to taste and ponder? Why does it appear that we’re looking for conversation or that we’re something to be approached because we’re dateless? I have a great fella at home, thanks. He doesn’t share my deep and abiding love for beers so he chooses to sometimes stay behind while I go exploring. This works out perfectly for us and when he does come along, we taste and try and talk to the bartenders (ok, I mostly do the talking but he’s learning). No one bothers us then, no one assumes we don’t know what we want even though we debate it for minutes prior to ordering and probably more accurately, they assume he’s helping me with what I want and not the other way around. Incidentally, when these kinds of guys find out I know what I’m talking about they almost never want to keep talking about beers which leads me to believe that’s not what they were in it for to begin with…
Beer culture is definitely still very heavily male. I saw a few photos from last weekend’s Festival of Barrel Aged Beers and 90% of them were comprised of men. It’s an interesting dynamic that I’m only just now beginning to see up close. But much like home maintenance or car care, it’s not all limited to dudes. I’m happy to lead the charge in these changing times, I kind of enjoy the surprised expressions. I’ll talk about beer with you all day long, but if you come at me like I don’t know about them and need your help, we’re going to have a problem. The bar owners and managers I’ve run into are always into the idea of a girl beer group and in fact, often offer to have us in because “it sounds so cool”. Bar B was no different that night, in fact.
Anyway, my takeaway from the experience, after I finished a Revolution Fistmas and paid my tab, is that Bar A is made for the solo drinker (as some bars are) and Bar B is made for conversation with those around you. I love going to bars alone, it’s one of my very favorite things, but not all are created for that purpose. A lot of the times, we’re still just sitting ducks.