Friday, 2 December 2016

A Clean Well-Lighted Place

There are no more bars in Toronto.
I know this might be somewhat of an exaggeration, but let me tell my story.
I was trudging up Yonge Street with a friend. Because her car was parked near Yonge and Wellesley, and we were down by College, we were looking for a bar there.
We couldn’t find a single one.
Pardon me - there was an establishment that featuring a flashing light that said LCBO in the window, but the place was called, I think, Fry. 
The name suggested it was something more of a restaurant than purely a drinking establishment.
You see, I remember a day when if you walked up Yonge Street from College to Wellesley you would find a number of bars.
Now. Nothing.
Let me make it clear; I am not including in my category of bar a licensed restaurant. A licensed restaurant is something else entirely. I do not wish to go out for a drink and find myself surrounded with parties of any kind. I use the term party in both senses; quite literally a celebration, as well as a large group of people. Families, for instance. All celebrating Aunt Maisie’s birthday and eating chicken wings. Or a bunch of guys pinching waitresses and watching a ball game. That is not what I consider to be a bar.
Where have all the bars gone? 
My suspicion is that it is a sign of the times. First of all, nobody goes out anymore, now that there’s Netflix. And secondly, condos are not conducive to bars. They are considered noisy by condo dwellers who also suspect that they have the capacity to attract the ‘wrong’ crowd.
The concept of a bar— for those young-un’s who may never experienced one - is most cannily described by Ernest Hemingway in his short story A Clean, Well Lighted Place. This story offers a great way to get a down and dirty introduction to Ernest Hemingway’s oeuvre — if you would rather skip his more ponderous macho masterpieces.
In A Clean Well-Lighted Place a lonely man explains his reason for looking for a bar: he quite simply needs a refuge from the overwhelming ‘nothingness’ of life.
This is exactly what I imagine a bar to be. 
In my imagination, this is a bar.
There is a woman on a barstool, a bit frowzy — she’s certainly been around the block. She’s easy — or was easy — in better days. The bartender — there’s something welcoming about him; you long to tell him your problems. There is a man sitting at the other end of the bar, all by himself. He is talking very obsessively and semi-philosophically with the bartender about something — the bartender is only half listening. The man appears to be quite thoughtful but perhaps also somewhere on the autism scale. (I sat next to a man like this in a bar in Hamilton the other day —yes, they still have bars in Hamilton — and he kept talking about his dog — ‘I loved that dog,” he would say and then, after a short pause “I mean I really loved that dog.”) Off in  the corner somewhere would be a young man, with a guitar, rolling a cigarette. He would have long hair and be darkly handsome. He would be lonely, and be looking for someone to talk to or— (best case scenario) whatever.
That’s my idea of a bar.
And nobody would ever ask you  —“Would you like some wings with that?”