Category Archives: Venues/Bars/Restaurants

The Tavern: Bedrock of Western Civilization

The tavern is an intrinsic feature of Western society. Contrary to the reputation commonly associated with drinking establishments as dens of debauchery, locations inappropriate to delve into subjects of religion or politics, the whole of Western civilization in fact owes much of it existence to the local pub. The roots of this tradition run back through the centuries and helped bring Europe out of the dark ages toward the Age of Enlightenment.

irish pub
The Temple Bar

Ancient Roots

The historic progenitor of the bar or nightclub in the West is the Germanic and Nordic mead hall, popular especially during the European Dark Ages. Originating in the Germanic and European longhouses, from around the fifth century onward the mead hall was the primary residence of the king or chief and his theigns or other retainers. Often the most well fortified structure in the Anglo-Saxon village, the mead hall served a similar purpose as did the keep in later medieval cities. As the preeminent building of the Dark Age kingdom, the mead hall hosted the stately ceremonies and celebrations of the community.

 

The mead hall played such an important part in the religious and mythological system of Western Europe that even the gods lived in halls much resembling those of the people. In Norse mythology Valhalla is Odin’s hall and home of half of the valiant dead while the other half resided in Freyja’s hall Sessrúmnir. Much of the epic poem Beowulf takes place in the mead hall named Heorot where a lot of ceremony and merry making goes on. Such examples are the basis of the Sumbel, multiple rounds of ceremonial toasting still performed today by those whom practice indigenous Germanic religions.

viking longhouse
A Viking era styled longhouse/mead hall

The Medieval Era

As Western Europe became steadily more Christianized, amongst the aristocratic classes the Germanic mead hall along with its social and ceremonial focus was transformed into the banquet hall. But amongst the working classes and the poor, the social and ceremonial significance of the mead hall was transferred to the taverns and workhouses. In fact the word tavern is derived from the Latin taberna which was a workhouse or retail center for craftsmen as well as an apartment style lodging, housing freedmen and travelers. This is the origin of the public house or pub that is so common in Western Europe and her colonial nations.

Throughout the medieval period the public houses or taverns became centers for lodging travelers and merchants. They became the central gathering points of craftsmen seeking safety from bandits and highwaymen and thereby became the focus of trade meetings. It was within these taverns that the medieval guilds were established whereby craftsmen and artisans could share and protect the secrets of their trade such as architecture, glassmaking and other crafts. For this reason taverns and lodges became the few places in the intellectually oppressive medieval European society where freedom of speech, especially of a religious, philosophical and political nature could be exercised and protected, if only clandestinely.

 

The Enlightenment

There should be no wonder that during the Enlightenment era of European society that the tavern or lodge is where Freemasonry and other secretive societies emerged from the shadows. Freemasonry is the inheritor of the European architectural guilds transformed into a philosophical society complete with ancient rituals and respect for religious and political diversity. The four primary lodges upon which modern Freemasonry is established originally met at four respective taverns; the Goose and Gridiron Alehouse in London in St. Paul’s Churchyard, the Apple Tree Tavern, the Crown Alehouse, and the Rummer and Grapes Tavern.

 

In 1716 these four lodges gathered at London’s Apple-Tree Tavern where the first pro Tempore Grand Lodge was established, the eldest Master Mason was instituted as Grandmaster and an agreement was made to hold annual meetings amongst themselves to formalize and regularize the Craft. The following year; June 24, 1717 the four lodges met at London’s Goose and Gridiron Alehouse where the Grand Master was elected and the founding of the first regular Grand Lodge of Freemasonry was finalized.

 

Like Freemasonry briefly before it representatives from all over England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Brittany met at the Apple Tree Tavern on September 22, 1717 to form the Revivalist Druid order An Druidh Uileach Braithreachas (The British Circle of the Universal Bond).

Colonial America

The ancient tradition of the Tavern acting as meeting house for gathering warriors, the discussion of philosophy and politics continued in the American colonies. In the absence of a national media the Tavern was the primary place where early Americans heard the news and discussed their political opinions. The Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, like the Apple Tree Tavern before it was used by multiple groups and organizations. The St. Georges Society, a charitable organization devoted to assisting newly arriving poor Englishmen to the colonies was established here in 1720.

 

Hailed as the birthplace of American Freemasonry, in 1732 St. John’s Lodge No. 1 of the Grand Lodge of the Masonic Temple was established in the Tun Tavern. And like the St. George Society before, in 1747 the St. Andrew’s Society was founded here as another charitable organization, this time assisting newly arriving Scottish immigrants.

 

In 1756 Benjamin Franklin used the Tun Tavern as a recruiting station for the Pennsylvania Militia. In 1768 the New York Chamber of Commerce was founded in the Tun Tavern’s Long Room where its officers continued to meet until 1770. This same Tun Tavern Long Room was also used by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson for the meeting house of the Continental Congress and as the recruiting station for the Continental Marines, now known as the United States Marine Corps.

 

Fraunces Tavern in New York played a central role in the organizing of the American Revolutionary War. The Son’s of Liberty used this tavern as a meeting place to discuss their revolutionary activities. In 1774 Fraunces Tavern hosted a tea party much like the Boston Tea Party before it, in which the patriots dressed as Indians and dumped British tea into New York harbor. And in 1776 the New York Provincial Congress met at Fraunces Tavern.

 

According to the Memoirs of Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge; at the end of the Revolutionary War on December 4, 1783, Fraunces Tavern hosted George Washington’s victory banquet in the Long Room where this iconic general said farewell to his officers as he resigned his post in order to insure that the newly established United States did not become a military dictatorship. After the ratification of the United States Constitution, Fraunces Tavern was used to house the departments of the Treasury, War and Foreign Affairs.

 

Bars, pubs and taverns are the traditional establishments where the freedom to speak one’s mind and offer challenging and revolutionary ideas has been protected. Concepts like liberty, republicanism, democracy and rebellion emerged from these establishments throughout the centuries. The United States’ First Amendment freedoms owe their existence to freethinkers exercising their philosophical muscles over a pint of beer or a glass of wine. From its roots as a tribal ceremonial house to its later adaptations as a place of revolutionary thought and activism, the tavern has been the lifeblood of Western civilization.

Bar Rescue? More Like Bar Boot Camp.

(Originally published in 2012 on GodDrinksBeer.com)

Bar Rescue, at the time of this writing is two seasons deep, and moving toward a third. Airing on Spike TV, this “reality” show is currently one of my favorites.  If you have any interest in the bar and nightclub business this series is definitely worth watching.

Bar Rescue stars Jon Taffer, an industry big-shot who specializes in turning failing bars into lucrative establishments. At the beginning of each episode he sends one of his assistants into the featured bar to assess just how bad off it really is.  After getting a feel for the place they leave and return to meet with Taffer, and deliver their report.  At this point Taffer enters the bar with both barrels blazing, and quite often all hell breaks loose.



It’s a reality show so I’m certain the drama is scripted to one degree or another, but in most episodes it’s pretty clear that there is genuine dysfunction at hand.  Usually the bars are in pretty rough shape, but some are especially terrible. In the majority of cases the problem lies in a lazy or poorly educated management, and slack employees. This results not just in poor products and service, but sometimes in the most disgusting working conditions.  This show has exposed filth that really makes a person wonder what is going on behind the scenes of a lot of struggling bars and pubs you might have a drink or dine in.

A lot of the episodes deal with poor or ridiculous branding.  From just plain stupid names like “Swanky Bubbles,” or the poorly located “Piratz Tavern,” or just bad ideas all around like the “Blue Frog 22” which was decorated with children’s games, Taffer often has to rebuild the bar’s brand from the ground up.  This often includes retraining the staff and management, renaming and remodeling each bar. To back him up, Taffer brings in the support he needs, particularly mixologists, and chefs.

Critics of the show knock Taffer for his loud, in-your-face style. He often confronts owners, employees and even the occasional unruly costumer with the tact and sophistication of a drill sergeant. Taffer has a limited amount of time for each project and sometimes, like boot camp it is important to make a heavy impact, and break the cadet down just before building them back up.  It doesn’t do much good to passively explain what changes need to be made if the root problems in an enterprise have not been addressed and conquered.  Of course a lot of this done for ratings and drama attracts viewers.



In most cases the bar is renamed and completely rebranded, and by the end of each episode it is clear that the new or revitalized original theme has made a significant and lucrative leap forward. Most of the rescued bar-owners keep to Taffer’s advice and continue to see increased profits.  A few reject his changes and then later “decline to comment” on their current profitability.

Bar Rescue is a good show, especially for a “reality” series.  From understanding a bit about marketing toward the local demographics, utilizing the environment as a guide to branding, and the importance of consistency, anyone considering the bar or restaurant business can pick up a lot of good tidbits of wisdom from Jon Taffer by watching.



The Handlebar, Pensacola

handlebar

The Handlebar is a hub of the Pensacola music scene.  Located at 319 N. Tarragona St. the Handlebar has had a reputation for being a heavy metal and punk rock hangout.  Due to the implications in the name, it has often been mistaken for a biker bar.  The truth is that the Handlebar is a melting pot of styles and genre, with musical features which naturally include heavy metal and punk rock, but pop, folk and even country as well.

Ever since the bar first opened, the Handlebar has provided a stage for local and touring bands to perform and promote themselves.  Some of the better known acts that have performed at the Handlebar include Run DMC, Black Flag and TSoL.

The Handlebar serves beer and wine in a single community room with plenty of open space providing a clear view of the stage.  It’s a simple brick and mortar design splashed with black graffiti, decorated with vintage photos hanging crookedly on the walls.  At the north end of the bar, opposite the stage sits a piano I’ve never seen played ornamented with a Pet Rose Plaque and a skull in voodoo fashion, capped with a bud light sign.

There is a single billiard table and jukebox that plays when there are no bands onstage.  Typical selections include anything from the Dead Kennedy’s or Led Zeppelin to Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.

The back courtyard of the Handlebar makes for great escape sometimes from the volume and activity inside.  With two tables outside, patrons of the handlebar can enjoy their drinks, company and the fresh air of the mild Pensacola climate.

The Handlebar is a required stop in Pensacola if you enjoy the atmosphere and music of an underground music scene.  It has been an active part of the Pensacola music scene for so long that anybody playing original music locally inevitably plays many shows at the Handlebar.  It’s been one of my regular hangouts for years.

If you want to know more about the Handlebar, check out their webpage here.

Sluggo’s, Pensacola

Sluggo’s bar and restaurant located at 101 S. Jefferson St., in downtown Pensacola is an enigmatic club that has provided its eccentric crowd with a gathering place to revel in their eclectic musical tastes since St. Patrick’s Day 1990.  Over the years, Sluggos has operated in numerous Pensacola buildings, undergoing significant transformations while still remaining true to the Pensacola underground music scene.

The Sluggo’s kitchen offers vegetarian cuisine at reasonable prices and has been featured on VEGCOOKING.com.  Their most popular entrées include the Tai Chili Bowl and the Pecan Dust Sietan.  They have a full bar, a reading room and a stage for performing acts.

Many touring musical acts count Sluggos as a regular stop on tour to and from cities such as New Orleans, Atlanta, Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Gainesville and Orlando. Over the years, many popular acts have performed here including Everclear, Sugartooth, Run DMC, Digital Underground, the Reverend Horton Heat, and Shadowyze.

Sluggo’s also offers the stage for local and developing bands to cut their teeth and attract a crowd, playing original music.  On most weekends and often during the week, there are opportunities for local artists to open shows for larger touring acts.  Presently all of Sluggos’ shows are open to all-ages.

Over the past twenty years Sluggo’s has reinvented itself a number of times.  Terry Johnson, the owner explained her vision of the ever transforming Sluggo’s.  “Sluggo’s has to evolve in tune with her environment.  Stagnation equals death.  We shouldn’t separate the arts, we should embrace them all and provide an atmosphere where everyone can express ourselves and share our ideas.  If we limit our options just to how we started, Sluggos would be just another bar scene.”

Not just another bar-scene, the Sluggo’s scene is diverse in tastes and styles.  Tending toward modern, progressive and punk rock, Sluggo’s has also hosted hip-hop open mic nights, several charitable events and other cultural expositions.

McGuire’s Irish Pub, Pensacola

McGuire’s Irish Pub is a Pensacola landmark, rich in atmosphere and tradition.  Located in the Old Firehouse at 600 E. Gregory St. Pensacola, Florida, McGuire’s boasts “Feasting, Imbibery, and Debauchery 7 nights a week.”  Themed as “a turn of the century New York Irish Saloon” McGuire’s features nightly performances of traditional Irish Music and sing-along.  Such artists of note include Rich McDuff, Dun Aengus, and JJ Smith playing a majority of classic and traditional Irish folk music.

Established by McGuire and Molly Martin in 1977, but only located at Gregory Street since 1982, this pub has a few traditions that have grown up with it.  The ceiling and the walls are covered with over 1 million one dollar bills, signed and donated by the pub’s patrons.  In the late night hours, as the debauchery gets a-going new comers and those overcome with that Irish spirit may be called up to kiss the moose as the featured artist sings the traditional moose-kissing song.

Lojah_Larry2011
Lojah with Larry Kernagis (banjo) at McGuire’s Irish Pub

As a restaurant McGuire’s serves lunch during the day and dinner until the wee hours of the morning and employs some of the hardest working wait staff in Pensacola.  Dining at McGuire’s is always fun and satisfying, with very large portions.  The nacho plate alone is piled up the size of your head.  And the quality is top of the line.

McGuire’s is a winner of numerous awards including Beef Backers “Best Steaks in Florida,” for their USDA Prime Beef steaks.  Their Molly’s Cut is the best steak I’ve ever had.  It is also an 11 time Golden Spoon Award Winner, and a Florida Trend Magazine Hall of Famer.  McGuire’s has also been featured on the Food Network’s Outrageous Foods during which the “Big Daddy Burger” made with bacon, cheddar cheese and jalapeno peppers was created.

McGuire’s is also celebrated for its selection of beers.  They proudly display a quote by Carrie Nation; “Life’s too short to drink cheap beer.”  McGuire’s operates an onsite brewery where are created a selection of quality ales and porter.  They include a light ale, Irish Red, Raspberry Wheat, Porter, Stout and root beer.  They also brew and serve a rotating variety of seasonal ales.  Visitors may tour the McGuire’s Brewery and home brewers are offered a sample of McGuire’s own brewing yeast for use.

The bartenders are very friendly, professional and offer quick service.  They pour 1½ oz shots and double shot martinis.  McGuire’s is the home of the aptly named Irish Wake, a green concoction served in a mason jar with a green and a red cherry, so potent that no more than three are allowed per customer per visit.  Amongst its many awards, McGuires with its 8,000 bottle wine cellar is also the winner or the 2009 WineSpectator Award of Excellence.

To new folks, the McGuire’s layout may cause some initial consternation.  Much like the TARDIS from Dr. Who, McGuire’s seems to be bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.  Like Disney World, much of McGuire’s is virtually unseen from ‘above ground,’ with 400 seats throughout several different themed rooms.  Then there are the bones of Bridget McGuire.

McGuire’s is a regular stop for many celebrities and politicians who live in or pass through Pensacola, including 2008 Presidential candidate John McCain.  This is a fantastic pub in which to be a visitor or a regular.  With good food, good drink, and great atmosphere, you won’t be disappointed.  Just be sure to pay close attention to the restroom signs when ye stop by.

Visit McGuire’s Irish Pub’s website here.