“You want to go where everybody knows the troubles are all the same, you want to go where everybody knows your name…” I heard those lyrics to the television show, Cheers, a lot growing up because my parents used to watch the show every week. While the show itself and the Cheers bar are based on a location in Boston, the characters in the show and the atmosphere of the bar itself, is a microcosm of any bar in America. I found this out about 5 years ago when I started going to a bar that a friend introduced me to in Rhode Island and discovered very quickly that there are other Cliffs, Rebecca’s and Sam Malone’s in the world besides the actors who played them in the television series. They come in all different shapes and sizes and can be referred to within society as anything from a customer, to a social drinker, to a bar fly to an alcoholic. The atmosphere of this bar in Rhode Island in particular, has amused me for years based on my Cheers theory. My friends and I meet there for drinks one night a week and over the years I have become more familiarized with and able to gather a lot of observations about this bar and the people who are the regulars, that go there. While I will not reveal the true identity of the bar to protect the patrons that frequent it, for the purpose of this essay I will call it The Bar and I have also changed the names of the people I wrote about to protect their identities.
At first pass it’s easy to miss the entrance to the parking lot that runs adjacent to The Bar. Only a small off-white, rectangular sign no larger than 2 feet by 1 foot and held up by a wooden mailbox post with the name, The Bar, written across the front in brown paint alerts the passerby that it’s even there. From the street the building appears anonymous and boring; it only has windows along two sides and the structure itself is relatively small. There are only a few signs on the windows that face the parking lot indicating an establishment is inside. One telling of the latest imported beer that has been up now for about 2 years and another asking that you wear a shirt and shoes or you won’t get served. It’s at this point, at least, that you know you are entering a drinking establishment but if not for the signs, you wouldn’t know until you entered and saw the large bar itself that takes up the entire left side of the space. Upon entering, the delicious smells of French fries and popcorn mixed with the scents of sizzling hamburger patties and steak and onion sandwiches fill your nostrils and immediately make you hungry. The bar is along the left wall and to the right are barstool tables and then beyond those are about a dozen larger tables for families or those who are with a large group of people. In the back is a smaller bar with an area that has a few arcade games and two pool tables. The walls are made of a beautiful, dark wood and it’s evident that the décor is that of a sports bar. There are numerous autographed photographs of the Celtics and Patriots players who have visited the bar hanging along the walls. Among them, a few worn out and yellowed newspaper articles, dating back to almost thirty years ago, report on events like the day when Sullivan Stadium was re-named Foxboro Stadium or when The Bar originally opened. Large, flat-screened plasma televisions that arrived only a year ago and have increased the viewing pleasure of whatever sporting game happens to be on are bolted securely onto each wall at various places around the three large, connecting and open rooms that make up The Bar. Their perfect positioning high up on the walls makes it so that at whatever seat you sit, you have a perfect view of a television. The overhead lighting is on at a low enough brightness that it makes it seem as if the lights are hidden among the ceiling and you are surrounded by natural light.
The glass door entrance to The Bar is never shut for long as it is always opening to reveal a new character or a regular coming in to quench their thirst. Whether they be a lone businessmen just passing through town or people getting together to share a laugh that are on a first name basis with the bartender, The Bar is a busy place whichever night of the week you go. Busy but quaint enough that it’s not overwhelming and you feel crowded. I sit in the first section as you walk in where the bar stool tables are and because there are only 8 of these tables in this section, I have come to recognize and get to know the people who frequent The Bar over the years. With the faces have since come first names and stories; my own Cheers, complete with a cast of characters all its’ own that I occasionally talk to or overhear, just located in a different bar and in a different state. The “Cliff” of the group, or the character that always appears sad and beaten down, is a man in his forties named Sal who owns a pizzeria in Warwick. He comes in every Wednesday night after he closes up his restaurant, arrives at 10:45 and is always sweaty and wearing a white chefs shirt and black pants and sneakers. It looks as if he has never showered or seen a razor but as I found out years later, he has to leave his house by 5 am for work so he does shave and shower but come nighttime it just looks as if he hasn’t. The bad 5 o’clock shadow runs in his family he once told me in a serious and defeating tone, “It’s because we’re Italian.” He talks about every aspect of himself and his life out loud like he’s reciting a play and the more he drinks the more boisterous his voice gets and the more animated his hand gestures become. Sal also dislikes his parents, regrets buying a pizzeria and thinks little of himself. Despite anyone saying otherwise, Sal thinks he is a loser. Multiply that by 4 years and I now also know that Sal is gay and the man who he would always sit next to at the bar that I just thought was his good friend, is actually his lover but no one is supposed to know. I’ve also discovered that Sal’s mother, Lisa, whom I’ve never met but know a lot about, is an angry old woman who prefers her children to be straight and lives in a nursing home that Sal pays for.
The Bar’s version of “Rebecca” or the incredibly high-strung and ditzy character is a woman named Alice who is dating the bartender of The Bar, whose name is George. Alice, a twice divorced mother of two adult sons works for a phone company and usually pulls in anywhere from 60-65 hours a week. She comes to the bar to spend time with her boyfriend George that she moved in with last summer and with whom she wishes she had more time to spend. She walks as if she’s trying to make up for lost time, with a hurry that would be more appropriate for a person exercising than just casually walking around. Her face always carries a look that screams exasperated and when she talks to you it’s so quick you feel like you need to replay the conversation three times to catch what she said. Alice is very nice but always in a rush or having a problem, similar to Sal but she is just more frantic about it. The nights she comes in she sits at the very last seat at the bar and sips water and eats chicken wings. Alice is 54 years old but looks like she could be 60 because the lines around her face are hard and her hair is almost grey. She wears her hair in a short and simple cut, has brown square glasses and dresses in simple clothing. Someday she hopes to retire but because of financial difficulties accrued during her disastrous first marriage and her second husband ruining her credit, Alice doesn’t think she’ll ever be able to do it. In the five years I have known her, this is all Alice really focuses on.
George, on the other hand, is one of the most laid back people I’ve ever met and is the Sam Malone character in my Cheers philosophy. He’s just so cool and has been since the first night I went to The Bar. George makes everyone that walks into the bar feel like they’re old friends. He’s quick to give you a menu, offer advice or refill your drink. George has a sixth sense about who needs what and his tips are evidence of his popularity among the customers. The customer base is always larger on the nights that George works and I only go to The Bar on the nights that he’s there. Compared to most bartenders that work there or other places I’ve been, George is the equivalent of Tom Cruise in Cocktail. Not only can he flip liquor bottles into the air and catch them but his advice is good, he always has a joke to tell and my friends and I get discounts on our bill because we’re regulars and he likes us. George is an attractive, middle-aged man with fiery red hair and freckles. He always wears dark jeans and a dark blue work polo. He collects nice watches, specifically Rolex, and he is always wearing a different gold watch each night. Bartending is George’s second job, one he has more “to pay for the gas in his cars” than anything else. His main bill-paying job is as a realtor and he has been very successful at that for over ten years now. He picked this part-time job up more for the social aspect it affords him than for the paycheck. All of George’s friends come in and see him when he works at the bar so working at The Bar for George has always been more like serving his friends and getting paid for it.
At quarter to one every morning, the bouncer or one of the waiters will turn the lights up and shut off the music to signal last call. No matter how many times you go through it or prepare for it, the moment when the serene natural light and soft music turns into a bright fluorescent glare and silence, your good time lessens slightly. Their method for getting patrons out is very successful, you don’t want to hang out in there anymore when the lights come on; the magic is gone. The Bar is only a plain structure from the outside view but once you go inside and truly experience the atmosphere and the people, it suddenly transforms itself into a familiar place with personality and people full of charm. I don’t know Sal or Alice or George’s last names and we don’t socialize outside of the bar but they are an important part of my experience there and when I go, I look forward to what they might tell me that day and hope that each shows up. When I first went to The Bar I thought that people who knew the bartender by name or who knew the personal details of the people around them were bar flies or alcoholics. Cheers, was only a television show created by someone but not based on anyone, a figment of some writer’s imagination. Now I think that Cheers can be any bar, anywhere. It’s not just problem drinkers that hang out at bars, some people like Alice go to bars and don’t even drink alcohol. Others like Sal go to feel accepted and let it all out so they can get up the next morning and do it all over again. George is the man who brings them all in; the lone businessman who stops by The Bar on the way to his hotel for a quick drink or a group of woman who get together for a girl’s night out. No matter what the reason they come, the customers do come…to share a laugh or a cry. “You want to go where everybody knows the troubles are all the same, you want to go where everybody knows your name…”