Saturday, August 6, 2011


Here is the complete bar series.  I shot this stuff in 1999, and was so over the project when I was done that I burned all the negatives.

Every time the door swings open, all eyes reach discreetly in that direction hoping a familiar shape will fill the doorway.  Strangers are greeted with indifference on thinly veiled disappointment from the babble around the bar, a friendly bartender their only salvation.  Friends are greeted with smiles, handshakes and a certain amount of relief. 
The Crack of the pool balls resonates ubiquitously among the cacophony of voices, music, glassware and laughter.  The distinctive smack of a breaking rack, the thud of a solid rail shot, these are the sounds that define competitive friendships that occasionally border on volatile.
There is nothing surprising about the sort of relief one feels when walking into a bar and finding a friend.  The easy familiarity of sitting down and falling into conversation, greased to ease by beer and whiskey; a friendship forged stronger for the moment, or a lifetime, or something in between.
 Often the relationships in a bar are developed due to convenience or timliness, the bouncer who wouldn't let you in because you forgot your ID, you conceeded to the bartender who knows more about you than you think.  Now you have both in your fold and you within their's.  The subtle and inevitable politics stepping forward to pick up where personalities leave off.

Inexplicably, there are times when the barstools are crippling, conversation is lagging and no amount of beer will calm restless hands nor minds.  It's these times when rolls of quarters are invested in pool and video games in order to distract from general restlessness or tiresome drama.
There are so many reasons, excuses, explanations for going to the bar that have nothing to do with drinking.  Shooting a couple of games of pool or pinball, some liars dice, four-one-twentyfour, all conveniently located at your neighborhood bar, all, of course, best when accompanied by at least one beer...
Business begets business.  The relationships that develop between product reps and bars often become relationships among bar patrons; official business abandoned more with every drink as reps become customers and friends more than associates.
It is rare and strangely ominous that a bar falls silent.  The moments between songs are little bits of emptiness that make all eyes lean towards the jukebox, fingers unrumple dollar bills, voices fall into whispers, all, soon to be drowned out by the Reverend, Beastie Boys, Sinatra, Digital Underground, Ella Fitzgerald, the Clash, Spike 1000, any number of options with which to fill the silence.

There comes a point each night when things begin to swim, when everything gains a certain easy liquid quality.  One or two beers has become five or six, with some whiskey added to the mix, and everything becomes soft, gellid and deceptively graceful. 
Bars, saloons, pubs, freehouses, inns, throughout time have been sanctuaries, meeting places, social necessities, volative and boisterous in turn.  But in any situation the sound of laughter will always distinguish itself in the bar room cacophony. 

The restaurant crews are generally the best customers a bartender can hope for.  They arrive around midnight, one at a time, or in droves with relieved smiles pockets full of cash and succinct and knowledgeable drinking habits.  The presence or absence of these friends can make or break an evening socially and financially.

Conversations braid themselves across shoulders and under chins, words skipping the ears of one person to command the attention of the next.  Smiles float around the words of the eyes of someone further away. 
There is something ironically solitary about bartending.  The job is rooted basically in money; the bartender's base function is to collect cash in exchange for intoxicating substances.  This chilly aspect of the business is whitewashed with jokes, smiles, conversations, fun.  A good bartender will strike and easy balance of all these factors.  But, on slower nights, that balance, that mood can be a long time in coming.
Between the time on the barstools each to his own life and ways.  But among pints and shots and cocktails, respective days and thoughts are exchanged and pondered by those who's friendship is created, bound and permeated by beer, booze and cigarette smoke. 

There is little some of us find in life that is as comfortable as our regular bar.  No matter how intrusive the atmosphere may become, the barstools are tantamount to lazy boys and the conversation abundant.  Each of us has a story in our posture, elbow atop bar, cigarette smouldering, drink sweating.
A quiet bar is sometimes best.  In the winter, when the nights are long, the early evenings in the softness of the dim light sharing a paper and some conversation create a quiet intimacy within a space usually defined by reckless and loud joviality.