' ' Cinema Romantico: ...searching for my silver screen bar...

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

...searching for my silver screen bar...

For reasons I don’t remember, this post had been sitting in my drafts folder, a few sentences short of completion, since the halcyon days of March 2016 before a human trash heap became our quasi-steward. But now that bars, as they absolutely should be, are shuttering all over America for the foreseeable future, who knows when you once again might be given the go-ahead to mosey over to your favorite one and have a pint. So, rather than adding to the immense and justified global freak-out, I thought, why not add those missing sentences to this post, update it a little, and take a virtual trip to the bar? Wherever you are, crack a cold one and belly up to the blog.


 There’s a scene in Quentin Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown” when the eponymous flight attendant (Pam Grier) has just been sprung from the clink by a bail bondsman, Max Cherry (Robert Forster), who’s driving her home. But then he wonders if she might like to stop for a drink and discuss her case. He suggests the Riverbottom. “It’s a cop hangout,” he says. She nixes that suggestion. Then he offers the Hilton, the one out by the airport. “It’s kind of a sports bar,” he explains. She nixes that suggestion too. I mean, these? These are the bars he’s offering? A cop hangout and a sports bar by the freaking airport? She says she knows a place and, well, Tarantino’s screenplay says all you need to know: “The Cockatoo Inn is just what Jackie was looking for.”

When it comes to a preferred bar, I dare say we all know what we are looking for. Like, I’m looking for the Four Moon, in my old Chicago neighborhood, with impeccable beer on tap, superb music selected by its staff, warm lighting and wondrous decor, and a staff that will engage if you want to be engaged and leave you alone if you want to be left alone. It’s alehouse Elysium. But thinking about that scene in “Jackie Brown”, as I did during “The Drop”, a gritty crime thriller set predominantly in and around a neighborhood bar, when a detective asks a regular a few questions and the regular curtly if passionately replies “Don’t fuck with my bar”, made me wonder about bars on the silver screen. If I could have one bar stool at the movies to call my own in what watering hole would this stool reside?

You can consult the Internet, of course, Googling “Best Movie Bars” which returns all manner of lists, but that’s like consulting Yelp. Any list of “Best Movie Bars” simply rounds up the usual suspects: Rick’s Café Americain in “Casablanca”, Mos Eisley in “Star Wars”, the Korova Milk Bar in “A Clockwork Orange”, The Bamboo Lounge in “Goodfellas”, and, of course, The Titty Twister in “From Dusk ‘til Dawn”, hangout headquarters of men’s rights activists everywhere since 1996.

Everybody goes to Rick’s, and I’d like to go there too, except…..well, it’s always really, really crowded and I’m an introvert. Mos Eisley looks cool, sure, and it’s got the Cantina Band, of course, leaning on that one song like The Kingsmen lean on “Louie Louie”, but need I remind you it’s “a wretched hive of scum and villainy”? What are the odds are some crazy Alsakan will wanna off me? No thanks. Ditto The Bamboo Lounge which despite its ambiance would leave me scared off a mobster going all mafia on me. The Titty Twister has snakes, as well as all the aforementioned men’s rights activists. I don’t want to be anywhere in “A Clockwork Orange”, let alone anywhere that makes me drink milk. No, these bars are not what I’m looking for.

In discussing “The Strange Science of Creating a Perfect Bar” for the esteemed New York Times in 2013, Rosie Schaap reckoned “there’s that metaphysical quality that’s hardest to capture and impossible to fabricate: something like what Romans called genius loci, the spirit of the place. It doesn’t really matter what kind of bar we’re dealing with: It either has it or not.” That spirit cannot be faked, and is why another prominent Kubrick bar in movie lore, The Gold Room “The Shining”, when Jack Torrance, desperate “for just a glass of beer”, In his mind’s eye The Gold Room is swank and old school, like the Algonquin of the Rockies, but, of course, because it’s just a head trip. Even my beloved Westin Hotel of “Out of Sight”, with the snow falling just outside the window, feels a little too much like a waking dream, as if the obnoxious ad guys just “in from the apple” are just mirages of machismo.

The Park Hyatt in “Lost in Translation”, however, that opulent hotel bar of hard drinkers with weary souls bathed in Sofia’s melancholy light...that’s got the genius loci I’m looking for. And yet, not only am I worried that woman from Sausalito would try to talk to me, I cannot help but feel that a hotel bar would never be my bar. And that’s because I’m a man who appreciates a good dive bar.

The noted sportswriter gastronomist Wright Thompson knows dive bars. He once wrote: “A dive bar is a deeply personal thing, and the things that draw us back to them over and over often have to do more with the warm buzz of nostalgia than the actual brick and mortar.” That’s true. It might seem difficult to summon nostalgia for places where you’ve never actually been, only seen, but nostalgia comes easy to me, and I can long for their fictional stools and countertops as much as any real ones, I assure you. But then, nostalgia can also spring traps, and I must be cautious in not allowing those wistful movie memories to cloud judgment in the all-important selection of my movie bar. That’s why I can’t allow myself to be emotionally hoodwinked by thoughts of Brian & Jordan pouring drinks at Flanagan’s Cocktails & Dreams, a place connected only to the splendid escapism of guilty pleasures. That is not the bar I am looking for even if I think it is.

Now The Basement Tavern in “Inglorious Basterds”... that could be the bar I’m looking for. I love a good basement bar, particularly one in the idyllic French countryside where the bartender reads books between filling mugs.

Now The Crow’s Nest in “The Perfect Storm”... that could be the bar I’m looking for, what with Springsteen on the jukebox and disinterest in small talk, where you come to get drunk and drunker still, except the locals would probably also wonder what this hipster dufus is doing here and punch my lights out, and besides which, I’d also be disappointed when there wasn’t a Nor’easter about to blow in so I could say, Andy Garcia-like, “Storm’s comin’”

Now The Penguin in “Kicking and Screaming”... that could be the bar I’m looking for, because it’s divey and a townie bar and has Jimmie Dale Gilmore on the jukebox except that it would also be overrun with graduate students and undergrads posing as graduate students discussing philosophy like people who just discovered philosophy.

At this point I began to worry. I began to worry that perhaps the movies’ dependence upon action and interaction inherently precluded my kind of bar from existing. Movie bars may not need to be places where everybody knows your name, necessarily, but they need to be places where anyone can approach you and talk about stuff and all I really want is to generally be left alone and watch the world go by. Wait, watch the world go by? That’s when a voice entered my head. It was a craggy voice, a melancholy voice, a voice that hadn’t given up but was getting there plum quick. It was a voice that went like this……

“Near the plaza was a little cafe, called La Mar Azul next to a movie house. I sat there in the afternoons and drank beer. I used to sit there half-asleep with the beer and the darkness. Only that music from the movie next door kept jarring me awake.”

That’s Robert Mitchum talking his Mitchum-y jive in “Out of the Past”, the greatest of the noirs, as he wiles away the days in an Acapulco joint waiting for Jane Greer to maybe show up. And Acapulco is crucial here, because I considered The Ship Inn in “Local Hero”, except that’s on the Scottish coast and why would I want to sit there half-asleep with the beer and the darkness when the Scottish coast is right outside my door?

No, in the course of my travels over the last few years I have come to learn that what I need is not even so much a bar as a bar en plein air, a mixture of Parisian café culture and the Mexican custom of just chilling in the jardin; La Mar Azul is just what I’m looking for.

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