men in bars

This entry is part 8 of 18 in the series Memoir

I’m trying to write a scene based — in part — on the corner bar where my father went to have a beer after work every day. This tavern, on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago, was owned by a Pete Schneider. My father would take me with him sometimes and I would sit at a table with a coke and listen to the men talk. In the summer there was usually a Cubs game on the old black and white television. There was a long, highly polished wooden bar and a Hamm’s Beer Sign over the cash register. Anybody of my generation will probably remember the old Hamm’s commercials, and the ditty sung to a quasi-Indian beat: From the land of sky-blue waaa–aaaters! Hamms! The beer refreshing! (Thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can actually listen to the Hamm’s Beer Jingle here and see the very sign that hung over the bar, here).

I heard some pretty funny conversations there as a kid, bits of which I still remember. The problem is that the best bits of memory usually don’t work in fiction, no matter how much you’d like them to. Beyond the obvious differences in setting (this fictional bar of mine is set in the south in the present day; the Schneider’s of my memory is Chicago circa 1966-72) there is no transplanting Pete Schneider or the perpetually drunk, gentle chemist who was always giving away all his money, or Arlene, whose fingers were painted scarlet red except where they were nicotine yellow and whose earlobes were stretched to twice their normal length because of the earrings she wore, huge clusters of rhinestones and pearls. What I can transplant are the smells, and the lighting, and the sounds glass beer bottles make when you pick up a half dozen of them at once. Which I’m going to try to do, right now.

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3 Replies to “men in bars”

  1. Sara,
    This bar on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. It wouldn’t be John Barleycorn, would it? I am also a former Chicagoan. I worked for a few years at Barleycorn’s. I seem to remember a former, very crusty boss, who may have been named Pete. He I think also owned another bar in Old Town somewhere. Anyway, my years at Barleycorn’s were great. There were slide projectors at every corner showing art slides all the time. Classical music playing……..interesting people…… actors….writers….people of a great and various range of types… parents whose kids were at Children’s Hospital. Could this be the bar you are referring to?

    Cynthia in Florida

  2. Cynthia, no, not John Barleycorn’s. Schneider’s was very much a blue collar tavern, and Barleycorn’s is and always has been an institution worthy of tourist visits. Schneider’s is about two miles further north on Lincoln Ave, at Larchmont (just south of Irving Park Road). I don’t know if it’s there anymore, and if it is, I’m pretty sure it isn’t Schneider’s anymore.

  3. Sara,
    If the place you are looking for is further up Lincoln to Irving then I don’t know of it. I can picture a place like that in my mind though. Lord knows there are enough in Chicago to choose from. I will take exception, though, to your saying Barleycorn’s is only for tourists. I might admit there were extra costomers from the burbs in on the weekends but during the week there was a well rounded group of local regulars. Everynight after performances, the actors from the Victory Gardens Theater would come in and all sit together at the big back table and party. I remember a great crowd of interesting people. I worked there in the mid-80’s……before the “crusty” old owner sold it to two young brothers who cleaned it up too much and have in fact turned it into a tourist stop. I am visiting there in July. I’ll go and have a look at Lincoln Avenue and let you know how much isn’t the same as how we remember it.

    Cynthia in Florida

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