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Madison Monday

Madison Monday: Sitting at the bar

By May 3, 20113 Comments
Here you can see the tap for my favorite beer,
Three Floyd’s Alpha King

I’ve written about one of my favorite Madison hang-outs, the 605 Grille, before. If you follow this blog, you know I spend quite a bit of time there. One of my favorite things about going to the 605 is sitting at the bar.

A true confession. When I was a little, I didn’t play house or mommy and daddy. Perhaps with other kids who were so inclined I joined in. But this was never a game that particularly appealed to me and my older sister. We played Barbie’s with another female cousin, but were also quite interested in our male cousin’s Matchbox cars. I can still picture in my mind what certain of those Matchbox cars looked like.

My sister and I with the neighbor boys had many games we played together, many of which involved dirt, and sometimes the creek and often our pool. But when my sister vacated our upstairs bedroom the game I would play all by myself was Apartment. My bedroom was the apartment. The closet door was the door to the downstairs. And below my apartment was a bar. Yep, a bar.

Let me say at this point, that my parents were not big drinkers. My dad had a beer on the weekends when he watched football or in the summer, after he’d finished mowing the lawn. My mother almost never drank. They didn’t even have any alcohol at their wedding, good Southern Baptists that they were.

And yet, there was clearly a bar under my apartment in my little fantasy world. A bar which in my play, I would visit. By myself. And then exciting things would happen after that. Sometimes the exciting things involved drinking contests. Which I would win.

I blame this all on Raiders of the Lost Ark and Karen Allen. As a small girl in the late 70’s and early 80’s, I had already looked around at the women in most of the movies and seen that they were largely lame. Princess Leia did not appeal to me. She was kind of a goody two-shoes, wasn’t she? Now if there were a female version of Han Solo, that would be cool, but could there be a female version of Han Solo (I’ve actually thought about this question quite a bit, and I’m still not sure what the answer is)?

Karen Allen in Raiders of the Lost Ark was my saving grace. She owned her own bar. She won drinking contests with large burly men. She could handle herself. She wasn’t sitting around waiting for Indiana Jones to save her. She had her own plans. Get the old French guy drunk and then come at him with the cheese knife. Brilliant! She found Indie mostly an annoyance, and clearly, after the first movie, she dumped him. At least, that was my interpretation.

The drinking contest

I digress. The point is, I have long had a rather romanticized notion of sitting at the bar and going to bars by yourself. It’s not a radical thing to say that this is something that’s not always easy for a woman to do. My husband actually used to live above a bar in Philadelphia (this might be why I’m married to him…the strange appeal of a man who lived out my fantasy, though before I knew him), and he became a regular. When he did research in London, he would frequent the pubs by himself. Of course, I’m envious. During the brief year I lived in Birmingham, I would sometimes head to a bistro/cafe/bar called Rojo (a very cool place, if you’re ever in Birmingham) that was just around the block from my apartment, and on at least one occasion, I sat at the bar. Nothing much exciting happened. No drinking contest ensued. I didn’t stay long enough to become a regular. But no one hit on me, either.

Now, 605 is not really a bar. It’s officially a “grille,” but there is a bar in the 605. And on several occasions while my husband and I have been eating there, female friends of ours have come in by themselves to sit at the bar. My husband and I almost always eat at the bar. It’s kind of the place to be, and sometimes on a busy night, it’s wise to reserve your place at the bar. The bar is a good place from which to survey the premises, to catch up on local gossip, to chat with the fine family that owns and runs the 605 and all the people who work there.

The cheese knife

I don’t know exactly what was attractive to me about the idea of living above a bar when I was young, but a good bar, whether it’s a building or just an actual piece of furniture, is an infinitely human place. A social place. It is a place where something, in fact, just might happen. You might sit down next to friends and they might share their bottle of wine with you. You might sit next to folks you know a little and get to know them a little bit more. You might meet someone completely new. These are the kinds of things that happen at the 605 bar, and why it’s one of my favorite places.

Now, I’ve already been told once this week (mostly jokingly) that I think too much, but all the same, I’m thinking today that bars at their best can represent a truth about us as humans. The things that we want and expect to happen at the bar are deeply social. We could meet someone. We could fall in love. We could have a conversation. We could find a connection with another human being. Sure, there’s probably going to be some alcohol involved as well, but here alcohol is merely, as a good college friend explained to me once, a social lubricant. The important thing is that maybe we can feel a little less alone.

This week in particular, I choose to believe that a good bar is an infinitely hopeful thing, a sign that what we really want in the end is connection with other people. To maybe hear their story and have them listen to ours. That there are still places where we can sit next to each other and recognize our common humanity.

Do you have a good bar in your town? Do you ever go there by yourself? Did anyone else want to be Karen Allen in Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Check out other My Town Monday posts here.

If you love place and thinking about place and talking about place, check out my Blog In Place Blog Hop, here.


  • Love it, yes a bar has great appeal- intriguing characters, possibility for adventure. I think you are right about wanting the connection and a chance to tell stories. Great essay! Following as well, look forward to reading more.

  • K. Syrah says:

    The look in her eyes while she's holding a cheese knife… totally priceless!

  • Robyn says:

    bookspersonally, thanks for following. Don't want to make it sound like all we do is hang out at the bar, but last night we met more interesting folks at our favorite hang-out. It makes for such a nice evening.

    K. Syrah, yes, you have to love that look.

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