Bart: Can I be a boozehound?The St. Marks Ale House opened in 1995. I showed up in January 1997 (and if you think I look young now, you should have seen me at age 20), after having split the previous eight months between Washington DC and St. Petersburg, Russia. Back then, the ale house was a small, smoky neighborhood place with an impressive beer list, an even more impressive scotch list, and decent burgers.
Homer: Not til you’re fifteen.
Every Friday, because we were poor students, we would pile into the place right at the start of happy hour, order some food and as many beers as we could drink, and then leave as soon as happy hour was over. It was the quintessential form of male bonding -- getting shitfaced while ripping into each other. The bar was three blocks from our dorm and quickly became a home away from home, even after we graduated. We were so enamored of the place that I palmed four pint glasses, each stenciled with the bar’s logo. Three have since broken, but one survives in my kitchen to this day.
Over the last five years, the ale house has evolved from what initially drew us to it. Instead of the comfortable neighborhood bar where you could grab a beer and a burger without any pretense, it has become a sports bar, complete with flat panel televisions covering every square inch of wall space. On nights when there aren’t any big games, the clientele consists of bridge and tunnel types, a reflection of a change in the neighborhood from alterna-punk refuge to something more sanitized. The quality of the beer menu, and the food, has suffered for the bar‘s evolution. The scotch menu was a casualty some years ago.
Our crew has changed over the years as well. During the height of our run, with our poor student days behind us, we could guarantee 10 to 12 people at the table every week, pounding beers from around 6 or 7pm until whenever we decided we’d had enough of the outrageous insults that we hurled at each other. The faces weren’t always the same. People’s lives pull them in different directions, and so as members of our crew flitted in and out of our lives, they added and removed themselves from the table. Through it all, there were the five OGs -- me, Eric, Peter, Andy and Al. Eric moved to Maui three years ago. Peter got married, and divorced, and now owns a few boutiques and can’t do more than pop in periodically. Andy got married four years ago and had a daughter six months ago. We don’t see much of him anymore. That leaves me and Al.
Many people talk about having a “wing man” when they go out on the town. With Alex and I, it was more like we would alternate turns as the anti-aircraft gun. Not that we would willingly cockblock each other; it's just that the bar was our living room, and you had to expect that kind of thing from us when we were in our element. As an example of how bad it could get, I made the mistake once of bringing a female interest to the bar. Upon being introduced to her, Al shook her hand and asked, "So, besides fucking F-Train, what do you do?" Game, set, match. From then on, the only women I brought to the bar were those with whom I was secure in our relationship (friendly, romantic, whatever).
Ten years of these kinds of insults force people to become great friends. Maybe it's just that nobody else can stand to be around us, but we are the last stalwarts of the ale house. Other people make guest appearances from time to time, but Al and I are the only regulars, putting up with the ever-rotating cast of waitresses, the awful music, the televisions that sap your attention at every turn, and the patrons they attract. Many weeks, Al and I are the only ones at the table, and lately we've been ejecting the dinner portion of the evening, choosing instead to dine somewhere that isn't the ale house. At some point soon, one of us is going to show up, have a few beers by himself, and realize the other one isn't coming. After an exclaimed "son of a bitch!", he'll toast the ale house, finish his last beer, and an institution will pass into memory.