The Tender Bar

J.R. Moehringer ★★★★★

A memoir, a coming-of-age story and an ode to a bar, but also the tale of a boy in search of a father figure. This book is close to me for many different reasons.

The bar is definitely a magical place, even more so during the daytime than at night. The early afternoon sunlight reflected on the polished countertop, scattered by those eye-catching, colorful liquor bottles - Drambuie, Cointreau, Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire - objects of desire, a candyshop window for grown men. I like the quiet bar, near-empty, the bar which has just opened. The faint smell of bacon and coffee, with a barely audible daytime radio in the background. It’s there for you if you need a hot meal, a cold beer, a corner to read in, a coffee to regain focus. It provides refuge, comfort and peace. Bars at night are different: they are crowded, noisy and brawly. Source of many conflicts and headaches, but also source of distraction in time of troubles.

I also liked this book for its focus on words: despite being a relatively easy read, I took my time and paused to look up words in the dictionary - especially Uncle Charlie’s vernacular (You don’t mind if I say “mellifluous”, do you?), and savoured them for while, like a good port wine.

I have a predilection for the geographical area as well - growing up on movies and books from the US, and especially after reading The Great Gatsby many times, New York State strikes me as the real place, the place to live in.

Characters are truly well brought to life: Uncle Charlie, Grandpa, Colt, Joey D, Cage are almost tangible. McGraw, Bob the Cop, Fuckembabe and Smelly, I basically miss them.

Of course, it romanticises alcohol and a lifestyle that might justly be deemed, irresponsible, unmanly, a waste. But it does so while being totally aware of it. Maybe that is the key: many will be able to relate, and find some consolation and hope. It will appeal to those who think they’ve spent way too much time in bars. They will be somewhat reassured that many people have taken that path, many people are trying to espace life and find shelter in bars, which are “crowded with people who have stopped trying long ago”, familiar faces, and the soft, killer cushion of alcohol. They might find it even more promising that many, many people have succeeded in escaping bars, and finding refuge and comfort in real life.

Though proud of me when I succeeded, the men celebrated me when I failed.

Post-Publicans hangover sometimes soured my disposition, hindered my job performance, and reduced my slim chances of being promoted to absolute zero.

He didn’t work hard because he was talented, but because he knew that hard work was the right path for a man, the only path.

I saw that we must lie to ourselves now and then, tell ourselves that we are capable and strong, that life is good and hard work will be rewarded, and then we must try to make our lies come true.