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Episode #11: Bellying Up to a Bar

One of my most favorite things to do is to belly up to a bar. By myself. Preferably in the afternoon or very early evening. Before it’s crowded. When it’s quiet. Nothing quite makes me feel so free as to walk out of our apartment a few blocks and into a local bar and restaurant. Nothing quite feels like I am instantly on vacation to drink during the day and to go home and take a nap afterwards. That’s paradise to me. I didn’t realize how much I had missed bellying up to a bar during the pandemic, until I got fully vaccinated and Virginia laws changed and allowed customers to sit AT the bar a couple of weeks ago instead of sitting at tall tables, spaced apart, up AGAINST the bar. Yesterday was one of those wonderful staycation days for me. I couldn’t wait for 11:00 when one of our local bars and restaurants would open and I could order my first Sonoma-Cutrer chardonnay and a rare, bacon cheeseburger with fries. Yum. I actually walked out of our apartment at 11:11 – I remember the time exactly because I had looked in at my sleeping daughter and said out loud – in case she could hear me – that I was going up to Jackson’s for lunch. By the time I rounded the corner and could see the outside bar, I was surprised to see a few tables were already full. And my favorite bartender was behind the bar. And there were two new playmates already seated at the bar. Turns out these two men were new to me, but not to hanging out at Jax. They had been regulars for at least 6 months and they had become friends with each other, having met at Jax. Excited as I was to find new playmates and to start chatting with them before I even claimed a bar stool, I was almost disappointed because I wanted a little quiet time to myself. I had planned to text my friend, Dena, back. Dena had been a neighbor and a sweet friend who I miss because she and her husband took a townhouse a couple miles away, plus they bought a beach house in South Carolina and spent most of their time there. I had texted Dena in the morning to see how they had fared during the storm that had been working its way up the east coast from Florida. She had sent back a long text, updating me on their plans to downsize back to an apartment down the street and something about her husband’s job and her plans to come back up soon. I wanted to sit at the bar with my chardonnay – Dena’s favorite, too! – to re-read the text and all of her updates and ot thoughtfully respond to her. I still have not responded to her and will wait until later this morning as to not wake her on a Sunday morning. I didn’t respond to her yesterday afternoon because I started talking right away with my two new playmates and I forgot about Dena. And by the time I got home after my burger and a few glasses of wine, a few hours later, it was straight to the couch – I love our couch! – for my nap! I think I mastered the art of bellying up to the bar BY MYSELF when I was in my early thirties after the split with my ex-husband. I have always bellied up to a bar with other people throughout my adult life. Bellying up to a bar by myself started when I lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the co-op apartment I had bought at 79th and Riverside. My long runs – two-hours long – were slow and easy, about 10 miles – and I would do them on Sunday mornings, along the Hudson. I would go home and shower and walk up a couple blocks to Blondie’s and drink beer and get a bacon cheeseburger with fries. They served waffle fries. Yum. I fucking love waffle fries. After a few beers, I would head home for my sofa nap. A perfect Sunday for me. I may or may not have started chatting with other patrons at the bar. I might have watched whatever sports were on the TVs. I might have looked at my Blackberry. I did whatever I wanted, when I wanted. It’s still my favorite thing to do. What I want when I want. That’s also the time I started taking myself to the movies. To see what movies I wanted and what time. No negotiating with someone on what to see and when. No feeling bad if I suggested a movie that turned out to be shitty. I wasn’t responsible for anyone else’s enjoyment or lack thereof of a movie. I saw literally every movie there was to see on my own. Major films and Indie films. Everything. Back to bellying up to a bar, I loved stopping on the walk back from my office in Midtown to the Upper West Side at Ruby Foos, an Asian fusion bar and restaurant, which is no longer there and used to be on Broadway around 76th street or so. I used to love to belly up to the bar, lean across it to kiss my favorite bartender on the lips, order some kind of pink and sweet martini and ask him to surprise me with 3 sushi rolls. A few cocktails later, I would walk the few blocks home, feed and take out my pug and call it a night. This was my routine a couple of nights a week at least. When I sold the co-op and moved downtown to Wall Street, I found new local hangouts. The first place I found was on a Saturday afternoon when I needed a break from unpacking. I had noticed the sign of a place around the corner, on one of my dog walks, called Killarney Rose. And it started my Heineken Light phase. Or at least that’s what I drank when I went there. Can you still buy Heineken Light? Do they still make it? I don’t know. I’m not really in a beer phase right now. Anyway, downtown Manhattan – way downtown in Manhattan is a little tricky to navigate because it’s not the grid that most of Manhattan is – where the numbered streets run north/south and the avenues run east/west. There are no numbered streets or avenues and the streets run diagonally and some streets even stop and start again down the block. And Killarney Rose’s official address is on Pearl, but it also has an entrance on Hanover. Until I figured out that it had two entrances, I was confused as hell about where they were – they were in two places! I remember telling the bartender about my confusion once I figured it out and he said, “Yeah. I kicked a guy out once and he went out one door, walked around the block and came in the other entrance. When he saw me behind the bar, he said, “Man, you work HERE, too??” Hilarious. Oh my God. Anyway, there was Killarney Rose for my beer and burgers and I usually went to Stone Street with friends. We loved to sit outside at the picnic tables at any of the many restaurants there. Then I discovered Front Street, near the South Street Seaport – which is no longer – and a great little New Zealand restaurant, called Nelson Blue. And that became my weekend afternoon spot and occasional happy hour place, if it wasn’t too crowded and I could get a seat at the bar. It was the kind of place where your third glass of wine or beer would be on-the-house. Of course, I’d tip the bartender extra well and go home for my nap. After I had my daughter and we moved to Midtown to be closer to my new office and her daycare, we found family-friendly places nearby to go to with friends and their kids. 

And when we found a place in Northern Virginia near the job I took with a FinTech consulting firm, our apartment building was in a little strip mall, with a Starbucks, a Panera, a pica place, a sushi restaurant, and an Irish pub downstairs. We could literally walk out of our building’s side door and be at the door of the pub in seconds. This would be very convenient in a big snow when work and school was shut down, but the pub was open and my daughter and I would have parallel play dates with other families nearby. And a couple years later, we would move to where we are now – where we have been for 5 years – which is a planned community with a mix of residences, office buildings, shops – including a Sephora and an Apple store! – and bars and restaurants. And I have my favorite four to frequent: Jackson’s, PassionFish, Bartaco and Barcelona. My daughter – when she used to go with me – my daughter and I have eaten together in the dining rooms of my favorite four restaurants over the past five years and she has her “go-to” meals at each: grilled cheese and fries at Jax, chicken fingers at PassionFish, mac n cheese at Barcelona and cheese quesadillas at Bartaco. Lately, my daughter doesn’t want to go with me – she’d prefer to be on her ipad or to sleep in. And, she’s not able to get vaccinated yet because she’s only 11. I tried to get an exception made for her with our pediatrician, but she said it was out of her hands – she’s not allowed to give the vaccine to anyone who isn’t at least 12 years old, because none of the vaccines had been tested on anyone under 12. So, now that bars are open again – to belly up the actual bar itself – and, my daughter doesn’t want to join me, I am happy to belly up by myself and bring home take out lunch, dinner or dessert for my daughter. I don’t think I know any other women who like to belly up to a bar by herself. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a woman bellied up to a bar by herself. I’ve seen two or more women together at a bar. I’ve seen men by themselves. But not women. Why is that? I’ve definitely seen a woman by herself sitting in a restaurant. But why not at a bar? Why don’t more women set a date for themselves at a bar? Is it because they have a partner and going out is something they only do with their partner? Maybe. Or maybe they have a partner and the only time they spend away from their partner is to catch up with a friend or two? Maybe. It’s okay, I don’t need to know why more women don’t do what I do. Because I’m clearly not like many other women in so many ways. And I like to be different. I would probably be annoyed if more women were bellying up to a bar by themselves, because that wouldn’t be something that would make me unique. When I was in junior high school, I wanted to be like everyone else – in the way they dressed, did their hair and make-up – but I couldn’t be like the other girls, so I ended up creating my own style as I’ve discussed in another episode. Spending time by myself is something I’ve always done from a young age and something I’ve always done well. When I was a kid, I was happy to be in my room reading and later as a teenager when I got my first car, I drove everywhere by myself. I don’t ever remember anyone riding shotgun with me. I remember rolling down the windows – rolling the windows down with handles because my first car didn’t have power windows – all the way down so I could feel the wind in my hair as I sang along on the radio, smoked cigarettes and sipped on a coke. I loved the freedom of going where I wanted to go and when I wanted to go. Sometimes, I was going to work in a restaurant and bar as a waitress or a cocktail waitress, and sometimes it was after work to another bar. For me, working in restaurants and bars reminded me of how much fun it was to go out. So after bringing drinks to other people all evening, it was my turn to go out! I remember when I was cocktailing at the bar of a restaurant, showing up tipsy from day-drinking with a friend – I actually lost any money I had made in tips because I either hadn’t charged people enough or at all, or because I had given them back too much change. Ay ay ay. I don’t think I ever drank again before a shift. Only AFTER. I’m realizing another thing I like about day drinking and bellying up to a bar – other than that it feels like an instant stay-cation and for the nap afterward and that it makes me feel free – it also makes me feel young. Day-drinking by yourself – or day-drinking at all – is a young person’s privilege. It’s not something a responsible mother and adult does. Not a responsible and respectable mother. Responsible and respectable mothers might day drink with a partner or a friend, but not by herself. That would be too indulgent for most women. But not for me. I’m indulgent and I’m not like most women and moms.

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