The Season of Stop, I: Bar Reviewing

This story begins, as all good ones do, with a visit to see minor-league professional wrestling.

Some months back, winter still with us, I decided to catch a pro show in East Carondelet, IL. It was held in a strangely-clean community hall and featured the usual assortment of tag bouts, pimpings of coming matches and an appearance by former WWF star Hillbilly Jim. It was a fun night and I wrote about and photographed it for the blog, Look/Listen.

For the same blog, I’d been doing a recurring series called “The Bars Of…” It was a continuation of the bar reviewing I’d be doing around town, for a variety of publications, for about a decade. These, though, typically were based on geography or type. So, five reviews of bars on far-flung Manchester, or five bars founded in just the past month. It was a fun series to execute on a mostly-monthly basis and it typically drew a good number of readers. The bars were usually enjoyable to visit, but equally interesting was the chance to run through a lot of different neighborhoods or municipalities. Without the conceit of the column, I’d never have jetted up-and-down St. Charles Rock Road with a mission; I’d certainly not have hit a bunch of suburban chain bars for a first-time visit, not that my visit to Joe’s Crab Shack was a life’s highlight.

By driving to East Carondelet for wrestling that night, I passed through Dupo, noticing a few bars along the way. These looked like classic corner taverns, the kind that still offer $1.50 drafts and $2 you-call-’ems. After a bit of time passed, I went back to Dupo and found that my basic assumptions were correct. These were old-school affairs, the types of places where everybody knows your name; unless, of course, you’ve driven in from the big city on a random night, looking to write a piece of quick-take, online journalism. At the three places I visited, I sat alone, ignored, unbothered by the usual social norms. It was kinda, to be honest, depressing.

Already thinking of buying into a bar with friends, it struck me that the day we’d go official with a contract was the day I’d be forced for make an easy decision: you can’t write bar reviews and run one yourself. Bad policy, bad idea. But the fun stopped that night in Dupo. Like air rushing out of a balloon, I sat at a place called Judy’s Corner and knew it was over. It was a fun run, which went from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to to, where the idea went into that multi-bar mode.

The Tick Tock Tavern will be a amalgam of ideas borrowed and stolen from all those visits. Luckily, the memories are written down for easy recall.