I wish I was sitting in a dark Chicago dive. One where the bartender wears a low-cut leopard print top while pipefitters, bricklayers, and millwrights harmlessly flirt with her just like they have for decades. They leave their money in a pile. The rules state that the drinks keep coming until that pile is gone, and she pulls from it. The rest is hers when it’s time to head home to the wife.
In these places, men tell tall tales. They buy bottles to sit atop the bar and laugh. I miss the darkness, with only the light dancing in from breaks in the painted glass out in front. Whenever the door opens, it’s a window into reality because they mourn and celebrate life by the fluid ounce within these walls. I miss their insistence on buying rounds for strangers once they sniff them out. Led Zeppelin pumps through the house, and whenever a new kid tries to hijack the jukebox, he’s cut back down to size. Not in this place, pal.
These guys have hands that are hard like their souls. They call one another motherfucker and mean it with pride. They still let you smoke in those joints. If you’re a rat who complains about the smell of a Marlboro, they’ll cast you aside, never allowed back on the pirate ship.
Old-timers have their seats. There’s always a ball game on, but silent. This is the Chicago the city was built upon. These are the stories we’ll etch into forever.
I miss the way many of them throw their phones in their tool bag, never checking for texts or to see what’s happening in the news. Outside, as Chicago moves, these places stay central to our lives – we hoist for tomorrow but know, these beers will go down smooth till someone’s wife calls and says it’s time to pack up his toys and go home. But till then, we’ll cherish our beers in these little corners of heaven tucked away in every neighborhood, all standing proud with an Old Style sign above the door like a beacon for all to know this is a safe harbor.
Robert Dean is a working class writer, raconteur, and enlightened dumbass. His work has been featured in MIC, Austin American-Statesman, Fatherly, and Consequence of Sound, to name a few. He’s got two books dropping this year, his poetry collection, Snakes in the Garden, and his essay collection, Existential Thirst Trap.