December 14th 2011. There had been a mist in the afternoon. It was unusually warm but the temperature began to drop in the evening. When we left campus, at nearly 9PM, we were still dodging puddles but it seemed as if snow had become inevitable. My walk in the half snow/half mist was entirely spent in a daze. After 11 years, I had finally completed my undergraduate coursework. These were the first steps of a college graduate. This was the most important night of my life to date. I was headed to my bar.
Everyone has this place at one time or another – or every time. Entire eras of individual lives, or whole generations can be spent in them. They write books about the people inside them or dedicate one of the longest running television shows ever to them. There is not a novel consideration to attempt here as a definition of this place. Just a possessive pronoun. Mine. My bar
The bar I am writing about here, Liberty Street Tavern, is my second bar. The first one was in downtown Allentown and it closed before Allentown had the chance to start coming back. Not that any city revitalization could have saved it. It seems that Cannons was on its way out regardless. 9th and Liberty. A lot of the spirit of Cannons moved to 23rd Street when it shut down. Staff did too and the food.
It’s where you come to spend a night blowing off steam from an awful week. You celebrate there. You meet a girl there. A date becomes a relationship spent there and ended there and then maybe even restarted there even for one ultimately regrettable night. You come to stare a missed opportunity or lost dream straight in the face and watch the next one burn past so you can come and drink it away the following night. And then sometimes you catch one of them and you have the Tavern to thank for it.
The entirety of this shared human bar experience is a cliché for a reason. I think we need our bar. As social organisms there is no better place to engage in the behavior that we have been selected for through the evolution of our species. The only thing missing is a fire in the middle to sit around. Our bar is the campfire we never leave.
I have met more than one girlfriend at the Tavern. I have attempted to live an intellectual life at the Tavern. And when I went back to college at Muhlenberg, a year after being laid off into a listless wandering of absent purpose, the Tavern became my college bar. I spent many nights with my college friends slamming pitchers of beer that can be lovingly described only as piss. (They have way better beer than that. I was broke.)
I think the Tavern is absolutely the best bar in the Valley. I have spent birthdays, anniversaries, nights of mourning, Philadelphia sports victories, Philadelphia sports losses, entire friendships, relationships – I have spent the majority of the best moments of my adult life there.
I don’t get to the Tavern as often these days. Life changes. If I am lucky, I can manage an evening there on the weekend or a drink with the coworkers I spend the majority of my time with. There is not a table or booth in the bar that does not contain some memory of significance. The dust in the corners of the bar knows more about me than I do. I look at empty seats sometimes and watch myself on nights long past with people long gone.
Places like to Tavern seem to generate eras in social engagement. Certain friends at right times on many nights. And they go too. Life changes. But someone else is coming in either to join you or succeed at you at the table. Eventually all the faces change. That’s why these places- these campfires exist – we need them to be there.
After they had left – the friends, professor, and faces that defined these most unique and special years of my life – I walked my friend to her car in the parking lot across the street. It was snowing now. And it was that particularly enjoyable kind of snow that seems to absorb and reflect light in sparkle and prism. It had gotten cold out.
These nights – ah…
They don’t happen more than once. I wish they did.
I went back in after she left. I’d rather she had stayed.
But, regardless. I was going in for another round. I needed to make this night go on at least until last call. I couldn’t stop it from ending. One week after my birthday. 28 years old. December 14th 2011.