Just Like Old Times?

A Three Part Lamentation on Modern Drinking Culture

Part 1: Progress?

The idea of progress and drinking has been on my mind lately.  New drink creations, new styles of decor, and re-imaginations of old classics seem to be all the rage.  New technology follows these new trends, be it bars that pitch their Wi-Fi hotspots or boast of countless high-definition televisions.  These technologies have become ubiquitous in bars and pubs, which has made finding a place to quietly enjoy a drink or two away from the noise and bustle of daily life increasingly difficult.

Drinking culture has regressed much since the 1940s and 50s.  Since then the omnipresence of jukeboxes, televisions, and cell phones have all but destroyed bar culture, where once only the din of conversation filled the air.  Noisy, crowded, television-filled mega-bars are fine if you are looking for such a place; if you aren’t, your are likely to find that your options are disappointingly limited.  The modern pace and ambiance – the culture of drink itself – is dramatically different.

Yet have these changes bettered drinking?  What happened to traditional drinking culture, when a man could hang his hat and loosen his tie, order a whisky, and recess into dimly lit booths to conspire and commiserate beneath the background murmur of intimate conversations?

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Published in: on February 2, 2011 at 10:25 pm  Comments (41)  
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41 Comments

  1. Women.

    In the old days, only men could (or would) drink in bars, so it was an escape from being in the house with the womenfolk. That was where a man could feel comfortable enough to hang his hat, loosen his tie and drink a whisky without having to worry about being nagged about it.

    Now, going to a bar is more likely a place where people go to find or be with a date. Music/jukeboxes were added to allow men a way to meet a girl and ask her to dance, in a non-skeezy, non-pickup line way, and for a girl to be able to say “no” or “yes just once” without feeling too compromised.

    Of course, then the bars had to figure out ways to get the women in them (and men would follow), so they resorted to “girls drink free” sorts of things, but I imagine that just led to a lot of drunk girls (and their families) being appalled at their own behavior. So TV (sports) and internet became a way to pull in the men and convince the girls that it was an OK place to go and meet people.

    I also think that changes in when people got married has something to do with it. There are probably more people living alone these days than there were then, so bars have become a somewhat safe place to not be alone.

    I’m a woman and I go to pubs to get out of the house, but also because I like to be with people and talk with them. I don’t generally frequent the bars that are too loud or crowded to talk, because I love a good conversation. There are still some of those bars around, but even they get loud and obnoxious on the weekends.

    Thems my two cents and I’m looking forward to the next two installments! :-)

    • Such an interesting point of view Gigs, your comment is very original.

      I’m not sure that the bar culture has changed as much because of the presence of women as it has as a result of changes in society in general (people live busier lives and are always “connected”); but your point definitely seems valid: if we get married later, where do we find life partners after graduating from college?

  2. I invite you for a beer in Belgium. All the nice quiet nostalgic pubs you could ever want. Including hundreds of different beers.

    Congrats on being FP.

  3. After my sudden and very surprising divorce, I found myself every once in a while in a bar. Shocking, I know…

    I was astounded at how much the bar scene had changed just since a decade before (pre-marriage). And I could point to one reason: the pervasiveness of cell phones.

    Everyone was talking on them. Or texting on them. Or surfing the internet on them. And that meant people weren’t socializing…because of them.

    Great post.

  4. I agree with alot of what Gigs is saying, about the social aspect of drinking now – going to bars is about interacting with people now. However, while your blog is describing a drink or two after work as the old-time classic, for alot of people, it’s become “how quickly and inexpensively can I get fall-down-drunk?”, which is what the loud, beat-pounding crowded bar scene ends up being about. I’m recently out of university, so I can understand the draw to go out and find a place that has a crowded dance floor and good tunes, and, yes, cheap-drink-night. But it would be nice to find a quieter pub where you can catch up with friends and actually hear what they’re saying while sharing a pitcher whose purpose isn’t ‘1, 2, 3, FLOOR’.

  5. there is this sweet speakeasy style bar near my hometown that would be 100% old school…except the upstairs still rocks a DJ most nights. but downstairs great old school bar atmosphere still rings true!

    • I want to go to there! Sounds awesome!

  6. nice

  7. Great post….can’t wait to see what is next.

  8. I hardly know what to say. Mothers Against Drunk Driving was created to counteract some of the effects of the “good old days” of the bar drinking back then. TV wasn’t invented at that time, so it couldn’t be in a bar. Neither were cell phones. Get over it. How old are you, anyway?

    • FYI: MADD’s mission isn’t to stop people from drinking at bars, it’s to stop people from drinking at bars and then driving. It’s also to stop people arrested for drunk driving from being able to do it again.

      Also, MADD was created in 1980 and I happen to know that TV was invented at that time because I watched it a lot. There was this new-fangled thing called “MTV” on in addition to sports!
      :-)

      And thanks everyone for the compliments

  9. Yes! I agree… bars nowadays seem to be over crowded, and the music crancked up so loud, you cannot hear yourself think let alone carry a normal conversation with anyone, or indeed sit peacefully enjoying the poison of your choice. I for one would love to have more glamorous, “quiet” bars where to while away an hour or two…

  10. Televisions were first installed in bars as a way to get guys out of the house when sports were on tv.

    I hate to burst anybody’s bubble, but the connection between intoxication and loud conversation goes back as far as alcohol does. Go back in time and read a few period accounts from throughout the ages and you’ll find plenty of snarky pieces about the “roar of the rabble” or such in bars and taverns…
    That being said, there are bars that defy human nature and actually have a level of background noise that doesn’t damage the ears. We owe it to ourselves to share these locations only with our trusted friends and not tweet or yelp about them, otherwise we’ll lose those sanctuaries!

  11. I bartend in a dimly lit, smoke-filled members-only club in an arm-pit of a village. It is still a place that the men in the village go to get away from the “womanfolk” – equipped with a jukebox that is never played and TVs that only show ESPN. The men pour themselves into the club after work and don’t leave until it’s time to sleep.
    They also tip poorly.
    They only hire young and attractive female bartenders.
    Your desired drink culture is alive and well here, I assure you!
    I very much enjoyed this read – thank you!!

    Gigs – I love your comment!!

  12. I understand Mothers Against Drunk Drivers & their cause but they have effected the bar scene,no smoking has effected the bar scene. Stupid cell phones & too loud music has effected it also. Unfortunately time marches on. I am glad I was young when I was because things were more fun! I think you are better off hanging out at someone’s comfortable house if they are good hosts nowadays. Just my two cents!

  13. Yeah, that is rare. I have found places where they were quiet, wine bars and jazz clubs on their off hours. It is a different experience to drink in a more quiet atmosphere.

    But I think if people wanted quiet, they’d drink at home. They go out to enjoy the hustle and bustle with everyone else.

  14. I very nearly agreed with Gigs. We girls certainly changed a lot of things when it started to be proper for us to kiss in public, drink with the men, work on the plant floors, a chance to vote. But then I started to think about it. I think that bar/Drinking Culture has broken down like most of society because of the selfishness of our current populace. It used to be, back in the dim dates that I remember; you went to the bar/pub to escape life- work, kids, and spouse. You met friends, even if they were only barflies like you, people that knew you only because you came in every Tuesday, at 7:30 pm and ordered a Jack and Coke. You talked about politics, the big game, and if you came from a rural farm land like I did, probably the price of cows, the weather, or the plague of beetles in the tomatoes.
    But now, we’ve got cell phones with texting and internet, video games at the bar, large screen TV’s spewing forth the game or, if it’s early enough, some soap opera, or even late night places have got some mediocre live band or another. There is no chance for conversations most the time. And most the people that are at the bar the whole week, every night, now in days are running from something or someone- either a spouse/S.O or themselves, and don’t want to be bothered with trying to maintain a semblance of a conversation.
    Drinking is now the most antisocial social habit that’s out there. Even if you’re on a date, when do you go? When there’s a band, karaoke, or some gimmick to get people into the place. Or when you’re angry or hurting or are trying to stop the whole family from calling you an alcoholic because you like to drink at home, in the dark, alone. (*ahem*)
    Long gone are the days when drinking was a chance to unwind and spend time with like minded people in a small section of town before you wandered home. Long gone are the days when if you showed up on that Tuesday you were greeted with a “NORM!”

  15. I have a growing nostalgia for my youth, which was mostly wasted in bars. In the late 1960s and 1970s, my most pleasant hours were spent with friends in bars, often simply drinking beer, but also frequently enjoying good food. On rare occasions, I got plenty drunk listening to live Irish music in a bar. As a guy on the next barstool said, getting drunk seemed like the patriotic thing to do. You can’t have a better time than that, but the consequences can be hell.

    Sadly, I had to give up drinking for health reasons. I am grateful that I was able to stop, but I do miss the life. At rock bottom, the bars of my youth were like private clubs where my friends gathered to do nothing but drink, talk, and sometimes eat.. Unfortunately, the price of admission was drinking and smoking all night. Wonderful camaraderie, but not a healthy lifestyle.

    I wish it were possible to recreate the neighborhood bar-club atmosphere without the requirement to drink and smoke. But I doubt it’s possible. Undoubtedly, the good feeling brought on by drink contributed greatly to the atmosphere. And good food is not the same as drink. You can talk and drink for hours, but you finish your sub or your pizza, and you have to get up and leave.

    • There was a …well, coffee bar is the only term that I can think of, in Norfolk, Virginia that my frends and I would frequent quite often. Food, drinks, and lively convesations along with a game of Spades or Canasta. They had live poetry readings, and sometimes someone would bring a guitar and play a few songs here or there. That’s the closest thing that I have ever experienced that sounds like your youth. When it shut down, we were lost in a mass of no where to go, nothing to do. There have been many times that I wish I had the fortitude to start something like that where I am now, but I don’t know how it would be taken in by the crowds around me now. Perhaps something that – well, casual just isn’t in the cards for today’s society. Though, like you, I wish it wasn’t so.

  16. “What happened to traditional drinking culture…when a man could hang his hat and loosen his tie?…”

    Sadly it’s gone the way of the bowling alley or the drive-in. Although it’s still nice to travel to a traditional city like SF and have a Scotch in an old, beautiful hotel.

    Thanks for making this point…it needed to be made. Congrats on being FP’d!

    http://wordsonmusicmyblog.wordpress.com/

  17. Great Post !!
    Thanks for the share.

    Vanimator

    http://www.vanimator.com

  18. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Karran Finlay Mktg, Andy Android. Andy Android said: Just Like Old Times? http://dlvr.it/GGD80 [...]

  19. I have to agree that find a bar that is limited in TVs and cell phones is hard. Although if you look hard enough you can find places that are great for old conversation. I know that I have found a couple of bars in Philly were the TVs are small and the regulars all know each other.

  20. Bars were places to go to communicate and be social before the days of email, cell phones and facebook. It was a place to gather, people watch and/or have discussions about life.

    Nowadays we do that via the internet, either at home on computer, or at a bar- staring at our smartphones instead of engaging the other people in the room.

    Great post.

  21. Things seem more personal before. Saying “Cheers!” will never be the same. I guess that’s one of modernization’s downsides.

  22. “What happened to traditional drinking culture, when a man could hang his hat and loosen his tie, order a whisky, and recess into dimly lit booths to conspire and commiserate beneath the background murmur of intimate conversations?”

    Now, I’m not a drinker, but that sounds depressing to me. Which might be why it’s fallen out of favor. The act of drinking your 9-to-5 away just isn’t popular any more.

  23. Head to a country pub in Ireland and you will be sure to find the same old men hanging up their hats, ordering a whiskey ( a hot whiskey if it’s winter) and sitting on THEIR bar stool day in day out. You will find no music, no tv and certainly no jukebox.

    I love these days, chatting with old friends, or simply watching the regulars as they shuffle in and the bar man already has their pint of guinness ready and waiting. Tradition is still true for the little guys of Ireland! x

    http://janetnewenham.wordpress.com/2010/12/09/spent-all-my-money-on-whiskey-and-beer/

  24. Go back in time and read a few period accounts from throughout the ages and you’ll find plenty of snarky pieces about the “roar of the rabble” or such in bars and taverns…
    That being said, there are bars that defy human nature and actually have a level of background noise that doesn’t damage the ears.

  25. I usually like my drinks someplace quiet too. I usually end up mixing my own at home after the kids are in bed. Something like a rum-and-Coke, or a gimlet, when I’m not in the mood for wine. I don’t have the time or money to to out to the bars anyways, so it suits me.

  26. Those dimly lit bars where men lurk in the shadows, sipping their drinks and chatting in hushed tones with friends still exist. They’re harder to find, but every city has a few – usually hidden down an equally dim alley or behind an inconspicuous door.

    I know this, because I’ve been in them. And maybe that’s a sign that things have really changed. Because if a 28-year-old woman can wander into these hang outs, they really aren’t the same as they were back in the day, I guess.

  27. I am enjoying a bar that has Wi-Fi and good food at reasonable prices. I feel comfortable sitting at the bar and ordering just coffee or hot tea. With my cell phone and laptop I can work from this site and still play. It’s a blast and I do believe bar society is changing to a more techie environment. Folks I see in Northwest Wisconsin are used to their snowmobles and time spent in a bar having lunch and a few drinks. I personally like it. Re: Stony’s Bar and Grill, Hwy 77, Minong, WI

  28. They are still out there, although harder to find. Just like despair, they will never disappear forever. ;-)

    I’m awaiting the revival of the Playboy Club.

  29. Yeah … as is said .. “consenting adults”. Problem is the shocking escalation in violence at bars etc. One thing to ‘1,2,3 drop’ but ‘1,2,3 WHACK’ ??
    Holy Dooly – if alcohol was discovered now it would be prohibited (shame !)

  30. Much as I agree with what you’ve written, I am delighted to say that there are still many many pubs in London, and the rest of the UK, where you can find a quiet dark corner to sit and ruminate in, as well as pubs where you greet the barstaff my name and pass the time, or just chat to whoever is sitting on the barstool next to you. Don’t despair – these places are out there.

  31. People have been complaining about the decline of the pub/bar for many decades – here’s George Orwell in a classic essay from 55 years ago …

  32. Evolution has brought us to the coffee bar where you can meet your friends and tug in a stroller or wheelchair if needed. Meet late at night and stand outside with your brew to smoke under the streetlight if you choose and yes the barrister does remember your name and order. The times of the old corner bar are falling out of favor within a time of focus of improved health habits.
    You can still find the sticky topped bar with the sad sack neighbor and the desparate divorcee sitting by your side, the cigars to be bought, the old time cigarette machine tucked by the bathroom in back.
    But really? It’s so Deadwood.

  33. I thought you were going to talk about how dull it’s to order just rum, beers or whiskey… it’s kinda lame. If you ask for something different, you’re a sissy or sorta ¬_¬

  34. As far as “old time” drinking is concerned, I have a great place for you, but it’s in NYC. It’s called Raines Law Room and you have probably heard of it. It contains all the best qualities a bar should have. Zero electronics, dimly lit, and plush couches surrounded by sheer curtains. It boasts a sexy and thourough cocktail list with old classics and newer concoctions they have come up with. I have been there so many times, it’s probably if not my top fave, one of my favorites in the city.

    Shoolbreds is another great one. They have a fireplace and overstuffed leather arm chairs, but there is nothing pretentious about it at all. I would highly recommend either, and I think it’s time for you to take a trip to New York!

  35. I am opening a beer right now.:)

  36. Thanks for the Beautiful Post…

    Loved your Blog

  37. I’ve become a teetotaler recently due to health and lifestyle. The bars in my area are uninteresting and the people are boring. I would love to frequent neighborhood pub in Great Britain, but in Portland, Oregon, there are only three types of bars: the upscale leather and lace; the lightless sports bar’ and the strip or dance clubs. I would love a place that is like a coffee shop, but serves all sorts of teas, spirits, and healthy food.


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