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Death of the Neighborhood Bar (bostonmagazine.com)
102 points by maxerickson 70 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 154 comments

If we remove alcohol from the equation I think whats more pertinent is the death of the “third place”. Churches are dying. If the article is to be extrapolated then smaller local bars are dying. Where do people go other than online to socialize. Thats important to understand.

I honestly can't understand that at all. The "third place" has exploded and has never been more vibrant in the history of mankind, at least if you live in a city.

Yoga classes, coffee shops, CrossFit, meetups, hiking groups, rock climbing, dance parties, marathons, evening painting classes where they serve wine, improv comedy shows, improv comedy classes, cooking classes, language classes, indie band shows of every type. Meditation, Buddhism, any kind of spirituality you might be into. Literally everything just a few clicks away on Google. You don't need to "know somebody", you can just go. Go a few times in a row and make conversation with people, and suddenly you've got community and new friends.

Modern culture is an incredible smorgasboard where you can connect with every type of person through pretty much every type of activity known to man, whether athletic or artistic or spiritual or educational or all four.

The bar was a kind of lowest-common-denominator location that often came with a drinking problem. Bars still exist, but today's alternatives are almost infinitely more varied and vibrant.

That is true, but those are all interest based activities, things you do at 7pm on a Tuesday night, between getting off work and passing out while watching netflix. They aren't places where one can go to simply 'be', or to mingle with strangers. In Ireland for example, people would do those things and then go to the pub afterwards.

Think of the Prancing Pony in the Lord of the Rings...a place where locals and travellers can mix and mingle and converse as much or as little as they please.

This also sounds like the Ethiopian concept of coffee as a 'social house.' There's a place in the ethiopian neighborhood of DC that really practices this: https://www.kaldissocial.com/#new-page-1-section

> In Ireland for example, people would do those things and then go to the pub afterwards.

I love the idea of a hot yoga session before heading to the pub for a couple of pints and some darts.

Nothing as beautiful as cans with the lads and a couple of smokes too


There is a fair bit of social pressure to drink in a bar though, it isn't exactly a place to just "be" in that regard.

> coffee shops

Central Europe is losing the vibrant cafe culture it used to have, where people could sit together for hours and chat. Cafes today often blast loud pop music and send staff around more frequently to pester clients who seem to have finished their drinks, as owners believe this will prevent people from loitering. Instead, customers will quickly drink what they ordered and then get out, freeing the table for other customers.

Perhaps in the USA the situation is different, but I live in a city with a tradition of quiet, intellectual cafes that goes back centuries, and was still like that a decade ago, but now I am hard pressed to find a single place that would be pleasant to socialize even with my friends in, let alone mingle with other regulars and strike up conversations with strangers.

Speaking here in the US, if you don't have a local coffee shop your neighborhood is probably not very vibrant, and lots of business happens in these local coffee shops. I host meetings at my local coffee shop all the time and see others doing the same thing. Even if all you have is Starbucks, there's still tons of meetings that happen at Starbucks and you're not likely to be hassled to leave.

I'm much more likely to be pushed out the door at my local brewery or bar than I am at a coffee shop. If I had to guess it's because coffee tends to be a grab-and-go whereas beer cannot be served in a to-go cup so it has to be served and consumed inside the building with few alternatives if the seats are all full.

Huh. My experience in nyc is that most of the coffeeshops tend to have hordes of people on laptops with earbuds on ignoring each other.

I think that New York City may be particularly bad in this regard. I remember when I lived in Saratoga Springs (a small city upstate), I could strike up conversations with strangers on the bus or train, and did all the time. Here in NYC, that's nearly unthinkable—only crazy people do it.

And they are crowded and have loud music and no bathrooms.

There's a hookah bar by my apartment that has just the vibe I crave from a coffee shop. It takes ~1 hour to smoke a whole hookah, and you can go with some friends, socialize, work quietly, and they don't blast music. I believe it's like that because it's next to a university and usually full of students. Other ones around me aren't like that.

Unfortunately, it comes with some dangers...nicotine.

Good points. Pubs, tea houses, hookah bars, cafés, etc. serve a similar function as local gathering places in a number of cultures. It's important that you won't be pressured to leave if you don't order anything for a while.

> Unfortunately, it comes with some dangers...nicotine.

The days of hookah bars in many locations are probably numbered, since public health is focusing on gradually reducing tobacco use to zero. For the time being hookah tobacco might still be sold for someone to use in the privacy of their own home, but forbidding smoking hookahs in public spaces is a simple and effective step that the authorities can take.

None of these are third places, though; they're more expensive commercial activities, and non-participatory performances. Not the same thing. They don't facilitate the same social or psychological functions as the relaxed, inexpensive, unstimulating and improvisational third-place.

> None of these are third places, though; they're more expensive commercial activities

Many meditation and Buddhist activities are free or donation only. It's a common attribute that Buddhist retreats are completely free before and during the event, and only after you receive a piece of mail soliciting a donation.

There _are_ more commercial meditation based activities but those are more lifestyle than spiritual.

What if you don’t believe in Buddhism or the particular meditation approach advocated? I agree that these sorts of events are not quite third places as a modern society of people of varied or no religious belief would expect.

Also, due to movements like the Hare Krishnas advertising free events (often without specifying that it was the Hare Krishnas or whatever other sect organizing it) for the sake of bait-and-switch recruitment, people are understandably suspicious of any vague "spirituality" or "meditation" event where free entrance is advertised.

You're both a) cherry-picking and b) overlooking the second half of my post.

I agree with the others. While these may be options, they're all activities or events, not just a default place to hangout or be and where you're not there because one specific thing ties you together

True, but ... this explosion and this embarrassment of riches also led to people not engaging with a "community of some interest group" (so a subculture), but just paying for it. In and out in a few hours.

To acquire friends one has to get to know people, and also people have to know one. It takes time to open up.

I'm not saying bars were this magical place. No. Bars were the place people who for some reason spent enough time together to get to a bar went to.

I work out a lot. I’ve tried taking classes or joining the lifting team. But I don’t like working up out on a schedule. I get to the gym when I get to the gym.

I don’t drink anymore but when I lived in NYC I went to the neighborhood bar and was part of a loose knit group of people who went there too. Classes, schedules and fees don’t point to the same thing.

I do miss the mid 90s indie coffeeshop scene.

I think some of these things may die off when people our age have kids. I didn’t have a kid when I did these things before. Maybe schedules and fees facilitate third place activities when you’re negotiating time with your co-parent. Now my kid is mid-teens and I have my free nights for third place things. But I’m not likely to attend a thing at a time and pay a fee. I’ll go for a trail run, with my partner or by myself.

I believe that the activity-based stuff you list is quite orthogonal to the concept of “the third place”.

bluedino 70 days ago [flagged]

>> Yoga classes, coffee shops, CrossFit, meetups, hiking groups, rock climbing, dance parties, marathons, evening painting classes where they serve wine, improv comedy shows, improv comedy classes, cooking classes, language classes, indie band shows of every type.

Your white upper-middle class is showing

Please don't do this here. Even if you're right, it only adds poison to the commons.

My experience is that some churches are dying and some are growing. Unfortunately it's the ones I (and possibly you) would go to that are dying.

Churchgoers are moving from mainline Christian denominations to more extreme evangelical or fundamentalist denominations. Evangelicals have become a majority of all Protestants [1]. Generalizing, these churches are stridently political in character, and often have social beliefs unacceptable to most of us.

What we are seeing is many churches having reoriented themselves with respect to society: while before they were community meeting places in areas with nearly identical backgrounds and beliefs, now they define themselves in opposition to a diverse community and the changes it brings.

In other words, it's not just that people have abandoned churches (secularization); it's also that many churches have self-consciously abandoned their roles as third places.

[1] https://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/chapter-1-the-changing-r...

This is such a sad phenomena and it's really accelerated in recent decades. What it means to be an American Evangelical has also radically changed over the years- for example, 100 years ago, the Southern Baptists were very vocal, activists even about preserving the bounds between Church and State. It was the official Southern Baptist position that not intermingling Church and State was critical to a functioning society, that when the two intermingle it inevitably corrupts both (which has been shown to be true, if the last 50 years have taught us anything). I bet many/most Southern Baptists today believe the opposite, and might not even believe that their denomination has done a 180 on this in recent years.

In America at least, the trend has had the effect of minimizing the positive effects of religion on society, while maximizing the irrational, corrosive, and divisive effects. It's like the worst of all possible worlds. I blame politicians for catering to the worst instincts of religiously-motivated voters, and I blame religious voters for allowing their politics to corrupt their own spirituality. As a result, you see these Evangelical megachurch pastors preaching beliefs that are in blatant, obvious, direct opposition to the clearest and least ambiguous words of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, for example. His observations on the Pharisees have never been more relevant.

I was going to disagree because I had misunderstood the GP. But if you’re both considering mega churches to be an example of evangelicals then I while heartedly agree. The mega church is the worst thing to happen to Christianity. While once you could be part of a small community and you’d notice new visitors and introduce yourself that doesn’t seem to be the case at the larger churches. I recall visiting small churches with my grandparents in our (likely evangelical) denomination and always being greeted and invited to potluck. The few times I’ve visited mega churches it felt so impersonal and hollow. I am a pro-church athiest but I’d like to see the likes of Joe Olstein pass away.

A pro-church atheist is a great description for me too, it never occurred to me but that's a great phrase.

Yes, I'm definitely including megachurches (esp. nondenominational megachurches) as evangelicals, and I totally agree with the friendly small church vs dystopian megachurch experiences. Just about any TV pastor is an evangelical as well. For someone who's not a believer, I'm surprised at how sad this state of affairs can make me. Joel Osteen/Jim Bakker/Jerry Falwell Jr./Pat Robertson/etc. are just the worst.

If I could point at any one evangelical belief that for whatever reason offends this atheist, it's Prosperity Gospel. The idea that you should follow Christ so that material wealth will be drawn towards you, in correlation to how hardcore you are about Jesus. Of course this conveniently explains why the Joel Osteens of the world have mansions and private jets and so on- it's not a pyramid scheme, it's Christ's blessing magically seeping into their bank accounts on account of their innate holiness. But what's more depressing by far is that they've gotten so many people to actually believe that that's what's in the Bible.

> If I could point at any one evangelical belief that for whatever reason offends this atheist, it's Prosperity Gospel. The idea that you should follow Christ so that material wealth will be drawn towards you, in correlation to how hardcore you are about Jesus.

Surely there is nothing worse than the prosperity gospel. I didn’t think there could be something worse than the glorification of suffering until I understood the prosperity gospel.

I honestly wish we could found a church based on teaching and practicing meditation and communication techniques. I think it would be a good place to raise a kid since churches are largely about raising kids.

Strongly pro-church agnostic here. Agreed with you. Small community churches served and in some cases still serve a vital role. Megachurches are like the KFC of the religious world.

>social beliefs unacceptable to most of us

the mission of the church is not to feel you warm and fuzzy, and appeal to the latest social trends and what's deemed politically correct these days.

I've got to disagree with you on this one.

I left Catholicism 20-odd years ago when I got married. Started going to a Southern Baptist (evangelical) church, and have gone ever since.

If you agree that everyone has a right to think as they please, you'll have nothing against evangelicals. Say you want to support abortions. You will surely get passionate arguments in return. You won't be given a position of leadership. You will not be in sycn with the rest of the congregation, and probably won't feel good about hanging around (as long as you keep vocalizing these ideas. That's not what the church is there for.) But nobody will be treated disrespectfully, and nobody will be subjected to anything unlawful.

On the flip side, evengilical churches do a great job of feeding the hungry, digging wells where they are needed, helping with disaster relief, etc. These are really important works, and given without care for the beliefs of the recipient.

I'm not sure I understand your position very well. Of course I think everyone has a right to believe whatever they want. But they don't have the right to inject their beliefs into politics, curtailing the rights of women, LGBT people, and other minorities, as they manifestly have done for decades.

You say I wouldn't feel comfortable hanging around should I be the sort of person who says what I think about these issues. If that were because churches were non-political spaces (like some neighborhood bars), that might be fine. But the point of my comment was that evangelical (and some other) churches have become heavily politicized spaces. The rules are, in fact, that you can say whatever you want, as long it agrees with extreme right-wing conservative dogma. In many (especially smaller) evangelical churches, you'll even hear it from the pulpit on Sunday. As it happens, I just visited the "Bible Belt" and got to hear evangelical Christians trash my so-called "environmentalism" (I tried to recycle plastic).

> On the flip side, evengilical churches do a great job of feeding the hungry, digging wells where they are needed, helping with disaster relief, etc. These are really important works, and given without care for the beliefs of the recipient.

Here again I must say my experience (I grew up in an evangelical church) doesn't match this. In my experience, churches treat these like mission opportunities. Any charity given is closely tied to the recipient's willingness to listen to the Gospel. And that's even putting aside the extremely questionable organizations that often run these programs, like groups tied to Franklin Graham.

It seems we've had differing experiences, with mine being the more pleasant.

Sorry about that. Please seek out a better church-- they are out there!

As Harvard Professor Robert Putnam has pointed out: One of the effects of "increased diversity" is that there is a shift away from being a high-trust society. This causes, among other things, increased isolation and social disengagement.

No doubt this isn't the only cause of pubs / bars closing, but it is a real measurable effect.

My spitball opinion on that: we had diversity in America during the beginning of the industrial age that we heavily relied on for it's host of benefits, innovation primarily as well, but it didn't create the conflict (conflict theory terms) we see today because you were expected to integrate (conform) to be "American", which was a shared set of values and beliefs. America is still today one of the few geopolitical distinctions today that is solely demarcated as such by subscribing to a fundamental set of beliefs, rather than by blood as you have in most other countries in the world, especially in Europe. America is chiefly an idea, and by believing in that ideal, you gain the entire inheritance.

This is something that is continually being eroded unfortunately, especially as we continually descend into more and more hyphenated subgroups of Americans, rather than just focusing on what makes us simply Americans, but something we should still strive for.

(And I know you will get downvoted for posting about Robert Putnam research here because it appears to come off as a knock against diversity, even though Putnam himself said his research actually affirms the benefits of diversity)

Except your opinion does not actually follow from the facts.

African Americans weren’t just “hyphenated subgroups” earlier. They weren’t even allowed to be in the same places as white male americans. Similarly, Chinese Americans formthe most part lived a separate life, and Japanese Americans were considered so different they were placed in internment camps during WW2.

Even the Irish and Italians were treated differently when they arrived, and had entire sub cultures.

The idea that the US is more hyphenated today just doesn’t seem to follow from what was actually happening in the 20th century.

I'm going to double down on this.

Early America was so hyphenated that people only occupied regions with people of the same original nationality. We still see places with lots of French street names, or a place with lots of German street names. To some degree this might have been self-selecting, but there are documented cases of people being denied mortgages in particular areas based on their ethnicity into the twentieth century.

We are in a place in American history where ethnicity has the least amount of impact on someone's life. It's illegal to discriminate on job applications, mortgage applications, or school applications based on ethnicity.

We have a lot further to go, and sometimes we take a step backwards. I think we'll continue to see an increase in diversity in all public spaces.

It's quite possible that the US is at an inflection point. Now those hyphenated groups are spread so thin that they lost all their meaning. Now you can't find comfort in sameness, because yes, you share some common history, but you are also very different in other ways.

And thus people can't seem to find their place, can't seem to find friends, and the default fallback of going back to your people is no more.

This is just a very wild hypothesis of course.

Did Putnam specify the benefits?

" In the short term, he writes, there are clearly challenges, but over the long haul, he argues that diversity has a range of benefits for a society, and that the fragmentation and distrust can be overcome. It’s not an easy process, but in the end it’s “well worth the effort.” Putnam cites the integration of institutions like the U.S. Army as proof that diversity can work."


The point about the army is a particularly interesting one because they certainly are experts in integration and conformity, which hits back to my point in my previous comment as well.

The army life is not a good example; it is an intense, catalytic experience that accelerates and exaggerates processes that may not even appear in the real life. For many people their army buddies are the people they trust because they trusted their life to them, nothing like this happens for regular people.

It's not just the military in wartime though. My father was in the US Army in the late 1950s after the Korean ceasefire was signed but when they were still drafting soldiers to be deployed there. It was the first time he had any major interaction with African-Americans as they were rare in the small Northern town he grew up in. Serving alongside them and realizing that they weren't much different from himself was a significant experience for him.

Most locals have a single race living in them and almost all have single income group living there.

Just about the only diversity pertinent to local pubs is gender diversity - it is more appropriate for girls to be in too.

In my experience, this is not true. Income group, yes, but racial mix tends to mirror the racial mix of the income group locally.

Possibly in some places, but not in my part of the world. Different places, different cultures, different outcomes.

Third places typically cater to specific demographics. "The sports bar," "the gay bar," "the cop bar," etc.

The non-teetotaler's bar... for getting drunk or otherwise mentally impaired.

Any good neighbourhood needs a little public green space, and a few pubs and coffee houses. To hell with zoning or other rules that separate living spaces from public drinking spaces.

(The green spaces are for drinking too. Possibly with guitars and snacks.)

Good point. I don't think many would bemoan the loss of a bar, but they should recognize that losing a place other than home or work could have dramatic and far reaching impact.

In addition to churches I'd add the death of social organizations like elks, shriners, etc. Most of the good things these groups worked on are now seen by most as the responsibility of the government, which changes a lot of the dynamics.

In my life contra dancing fills this role. It's a place I can go to socialize with friends and strangers, dance, and listen to live music. There are dances all over the country, and when I'm traveling for work I often look up the local dance (https://trycontra.com) and drop in. Wherever I am I have a good time.

It is not the same. I used to go dancing for years, but most people were going to a bar after that to socialize. Some dance events are a combination of both (the milonga for Argentine tango), but I haven't seen one to replace it.

I think a country bar/dance hall/saloon is unique in this regard when it comes to social dancing destinations.

They are certainly not for everyone but I have yet to have found another type of social dancing venue that balances being a hangout spot and a place to dance.

Line dancing in particular brings something to the table outside of couples dancing that gives those not interested in the potentially-unfamiliar social situation of dancing with someone else a reason to go. I think that especially helps to keep these communities going.

Quick plug: I've been trying to catalog country venues (and their dances and songs) at https://dancedocket.com

highly depends on the person but i hate dancing with strangers and would never do this

in contrast, i absolutely enjoy drinking tasty beer and cocktails with people i don't know

Cafes in my experience.

Anybody think it's about price? At least the quoted guy thinks so

> Why go to a bar when you can go to a yoga class, WhatsApp your friends, crack open an inexpensive bottle of wine at home, and watch something on Amazon Prime?

And I do believe that if beer prices were 1/3 of the usual, you'll see way more customers. Boston and some other US cities I have visited have, inexplicably, very high prices for bars and restaurants. Then you add taxes and tips.

Add to that the American sprawl and if you are drinking a few beers, you'll need an Uber to/back home. That makes your night in the $70-100.

No wonder Americans don't have $2000-$3000/month to spend on after-work bars.

This times 1000.

Back in the day around 10 years ago I could go out and spend less than or right around $20 for a night out (a few hours at my local haunt)... now I am unable to do that for less than $70. My wages have not increased 3x; so now, I go out maybe a couple times a month... and I even still drink cheap well whiskey (Old Crow, ka-kaw!).

> GP: And I do believe that if beer prices were 1/3 of the usual, you'll see way more customers.

I agree, but I don't think you'd see 3x the number of customers.

> Back in the day around 10 years ago I could go out and spend less than or right around $20 for a night out (a few hours at my local haunt)... now I am unable to do that for less than $70.

This makes me wonder where you live and what kind of bars you go to. I'm in a large American city that will appear on any list of most expensive cities to live in. Thinking about the places I've been to more than once, $20 would buy me about three beers - and even that price is vastly more expensive than the $12 price of a sixpack where I live. $70 would buy me enough beer to be passed out on the floor.

Now granted, I know there are fancy quiet bars for the wealthy. I was at one for someone's birthday once and mixed drinks started at about $15. And even $20 for a night out is high enough that I (not quite middle class in this city) can't do it often. But I wonder if you live in the most expensive part of your city, or if your tastes have become more expensive in recent years. To be sure, one isn't up for the atmosphere of a college dive every night, but I think in most cities there are still cheaper ways to go out with people.

Emphatically, no I go to the same cheap haunts I have for a decade. I drink the same cheap well whiskey.

Well-whiskey 10 years ago costed me $2.5-$3.5 now it costs me at least $7, closer to $8 or $9 with a tip. A meal at a pub used to cost around $6-8 now it costs between $13-$19 dollars.

Essentially, I believe, in larger cities prices are more stable for things like booze because you've already hit the acceptable limit for what people are willing to pay. In cities that are already the most expensive, the change will never be enormous, as you all are probably only seeing the increase in price due to inflation.

I spend a lot of time in the neighborhood described by TFA. My experience is that beers will run me $6-10 before tip. Eating anything other than fast food will be at least $12-15 often $15-20, perhaps more if I go to a more chef driven place. Again, before tax & tip.

None of these are fancy places. In fact this description applies to both the bar from TFA as well as the other bar the author mentioned, and both are frequently described as "dives" by people in the area.

When I moved here not quite 20 years ago the prices were about half of what I just described.

3 beers, a side item, a tip and 2 Ubers could take the total bill to $70. Now if you live in a walking distance (probably somewhere in the middle of the action in a walkable place like NYC) that could cut down the costs. This might explain why dense cities have more nightlife. It's cheaper both from a $ and effort perspective to go out.

I think you may have hit it. This article is about the "neighborhood" bar. In other words, it's a place where you meet with people who live nearby. A neighborhood bar is not a place that's a $10+ Uber away.

Which isn't exactly the fault of anyone who has to take one for a night out. This points to a nexus of problems with American cities, including sprawl, and the fact that few people know their neighbors.

Some friends that have a small bar told me the taxes and the rent are by far their biggest expenses. You cannot put 3x the number of customers in a place, but you can increase the taxes a few times until the number of pubs closing gets a temporary relief, then the upwards cycle continues.

Here in Munich, I am about a 5 minute walk to three different beer gardens in my neighborhood. A half-liter mug of beer is usually about the equivalent of $4.00. At some more famous Biergarten I think the prices maybe are a bit more expensive, but not even like London or NYC prices.

At one, we can get fresh-made pizzas for about €10 that'll feed two hungry people or more not-so-hungry people. At one we went to last night, I got a savory strudel with a salad that was a full meal for less than €8.

I would have a pretty hard time spending $70 including meals for my whole family unless I was going to get stone-faced drunk. We go out to the local Biergarten a lot here, because I can get a beer or two for myself and my wife and we can feed the kids some tasty food all for around €35-40. And we get to socialize with others who are doing the same thing. At many there are playgrounds where the children can play and socialize with each other on their own.

It's a very humane way to live.

I would definitely be sad if we lost all of our neighborhood beer gardens.

Move to a small town. There are still dollar beers and burgers to be had.

Careful...most of those cheap burgers are prison or school grade meat. Frozen pucks of gristle.

And you've gotten to the root of the decline of places like pubs: Inflation with mostly stagnant wages. Sure, you can have a "cheap" burger and beer, but more often than not you'll end up eating roadkill and drinking chemicals.

Most people just can't afford to hang out the bar all the time anymore.

And don't forget about the criminalization of drinking wine or beer in a park or beach in N. America.

Amen! Drinking in public should be as ordinary and mundane as it is in Germany.

From my experience, (Norwegian, but have spent a year or so in Germany over a couple of dozen visits), the Germans have found a quite good balance:

Drinking in public is OK.

Being drunk and a nuisance in public is not OK.

I wish we could adopt the same attitude back home - here in Norway you are likely to be fined for drinking in public (though the extent to which drinking is tolerated vary considerably from place to place), whereas you can be in a drunken stupor and mostly be left alone as long as you're not drawing a lot of attention to yourself.

Then again, our drinking habits are mostly a DDoS attack on law enforcement - everybody going out Friday and Saturday night at around midnight, bars close at 2:30-ish at which point thousands of drunk-as-can-be people crash onto the streets.

> Drinking in public is OK.

> Being drunk and a nuisance in public is not OK.

In my experience, this is basically the way it already is in many places in the US. As long as you put even a modicum of effort into complying with the letter of the law in front of cops (ie using a brown paper bag, putting alcohol into a non-obvious container, etc) and you're in compliance with the spirit of the law (ie not being a loud and disruptive drunk asshole in public), the cops will generally leave you alone and you can responsibly consume freely in public venues.

The problem with this approach is that you're still in violation of the letter of the law which means it's up to the cops to decide if they will pursue or not which means now they can pursue you for your skin color, accent, etc and use the letter of the law as an excuse.

Drinking from a brown bag is not "responsibly consuming freely", it is "covertly consuming".

At a summer "Shakespeare in the Park" type of event up here in Puritan Massachusetts, it seems totally appropriate to bring some wine along if you like and judging from the throngs of people around me, many people agree. It's not "freely" in the sense of "you can't get hassled for it", but it is "freely" in the sense of "you likely won't get hassled for it" which is probably what GP meant.

This is the American mentality - it's accepted that you will break the law, because it isn't being law abiding thats important, it's not getting caught. It's quite a different attitude to many places in Europe, where obeying the law is the default.

I would argue that it is not really covert as brown bagging for public consumption is a well known social convention. Most Americans (especially those enforcing the law) know or assume that when you are obscuring a bottle with a bag and consuming from that bottle in public, you are consuming alcohol. It is not much more covert than not placing the drink in a brown paper bag.

But you can't _not_ use the bag, that's the point. You know they know it's alcohol, they know you know, etc., yes. But you still have to pretend. I find it a substantial difference to be honest.

> Being drunk and a nuisance in public is not OK.

IME the result is the same. When we're young and stupid we drink in public because we have to and tend to over do it, then we learn that drinking in public is illegal and the lesson tends to stick even when we're older and not out to get blind drunk.

Typical of Northern Europe and much of the US, unfortunately. Blame moral crusaders and prohibitionists. I like the German approach. I can sit on the street in Germany, play music for tips, and drink a beer without being hassled by anyone. And I do.

You can blame it on young people. Nobody wants to be on a beach with a bunch of bros being loud, passing out, fighting...

There's a decent argument to be made that the over-consumption which leads to the obnoxious behaviors is a result of the laws that make drinking a rebellious activity.

> Nobody wants to be on a beach with a bunch of bros being loud, passing out, fighting...

People regularly pay $20+ to be in that environment for an evening indoors.

It is a negative thing, but it used to be a way of life. No idea if there is a correlation to decreasing levels of testosterone and sperm count in males in the past half of a century since we have reliable data. Possibly taming men to extinction, possibly completely unrelated. Looking at my young male cats, playing and fighting is a big part of their lives. I think this is true for most higher species.

The price, and the noise. Many bars are so loud that I would pay to avoid being exposed to them. Friends who have gone to Spain and Italy say bars there are designed for conversation.

If multiple sellers, who presumably are not colluding to raise prices, are selling at a certain price, then that just happens to be the market price. Cities have very expensive rent, high pay, high everything costs, so the price of the products reflect that.

Also, a bar (or club) is dependent on its social atmosphere, partly dictated by the type of clientele it brings in. A place that sells $5 beer is going for a different clientele than a place that sells $15 beer (i.e. richer people).

Correct, but there are many times less rich people than regular people. If all the pubs are targeting rich people where will the majority of the world go?

Here it's a 15 minute walk to half a dozen bars that serve $3 and $4 drinks. There's cheaper housing that is closer to those bars, so it isn't a special location or anything, just a normal smaller town.

Sure, but then they'd die out because they can't pay rent anymore.

I’m not sure why you think the high prices are inexplicable. The rent in those cities is higher than elsewhere. Thus they charge more money.

Prices are an issue. I support cheap liquor!

Looks like the usual hatchetators are here to play.

Bars and pubs are not the same. Bars just serve alcohol, but pubs are public living rooms and centres of communal life. A pub is where life's milestones are celebrated, the departed are grieved, friendships are cemented, matches are made, and revolutions are plotted.

And some of us prefer the pleasures and pangs of gradual self-destruction to the quasi-religious cult of self-improvement.

Some of us truly our 'best selves' after a few pints of something dark and bitter.

I for one never trust anyone who doesn't drink.


"And some of us prefer the pleasures and pangs of gradual self-destruction to the quasi-religious cult of self-improvement."


Hope I run into you in the pub! Cheers!

> I for one never trust anyone who doesn't drink.

And if they can't drink for medical reasons?

Medical and religious reasons are totally exempt in my book. Though I strongly recommend getting wasted on Raki with (Muslim) Turks. They have hollow legs. And it totally breaks down any preconceptions or irrational prejudices one might have. I once had a Pakistani Muslim over for Christmas dinner, and I offered him some single malt scotch. He said his duty to accept my hospitality outweighed his duty to abstain from alcohol. We had an excellent time. :)

But really if it's medical, it can't be helped. And if it is really a matter of faith, then abstinence is absolutely worthy of respect.

What’s your opinion on recovering alcoholics?

Known many, and that I respect as well. True alcoholism is an absolute monster, and the truth is that some people simply cannot stop once they start. Don't assume I think everyone should drink just for the sake of it--many people have excellent reasons for not doing so. Totally understandable. Many people who do not drink are beyond reproach.

And then some others are, well, Cathy/Kate from Steinbeck's 'East of Eden'.

Might change my original position to 'I don't trust anyone who doesn't drink without a good explanation such as a medical condition that precludes the enjoyment of the drink, religious convictions, or a history of or proclivity towards alcoholism. Sounds rather like an American prescription drug ad though.

They don’t have to deal with someone who are incapable of seeing people beyond their well-reasoned sobriety. I, for one, consider it a win.

As a 28-year old, I never understood the appeal of a pub as a meeting place. I think my main issue is that in loud places I just cannot for the life of me understand what is being said. I've had my hearing tested and it's absolutely fine, better than it should be at my age actually, and yet it's as if my ability to decode human speech goes to zero as soon as I'm in a loud environment, especially if there's sport events playing on the TV as well. I end up sitting there and nodding to conversations because I genuinely have no idea what people are saying. And yet people have group meetings and hold entire conversations surrounded by what seems like just an impenetrable wall of noise. Anyone else with the same problem?

You are most likely unfamiliar with what a "local" bar feels like. A local bar feels like a restaurant, one where you can hear others at the table: you go to it to talk with others not to get boozed or as a venue.

When you enter a busy local, the predominant sound is the hubub of voices. If there is music, it's volume should be below that (no amplified speakers throughout).

The issue is that many modern sports or night bars in urban areas often have loud speakers and you have to shout.

The type of bar the article is talking about is uncommon in some countries or cities. When you find it, you might not be comfortable with the feel of it (e.g. older patrons that seem like a clique); you often need to understand locals before you could know you are very welcome.

I mean, I live in the UK - there's always a pub round the corner. And yes, there are pubs which are essentially restaurants and everyone is keeping very low volume level - those are fine. But the types of pubs that all my friends/co-workers go to after work(filled to the brim with people, TV on, half of the people there are just there for pre-drinks before going on a night out) - nope, can't do those. And yet my friends can somehow easily sit there for 4 hours and talk about stuff while I'm just dumbfounded how anyone can understand a word unless it's literally shouted into my ear. Like, it's not just the venue choice - I can clearly see that other people are talking with each other.

Strangely enough it is the UK (or Ireland) where I think you can still find a social local, and I would be surprised if you couldn't think of examples yourself. Key things I would look for:

1. A wide range of ages that must include twenty year olds, middle aged customers, and elderly people.

2. It should have the vibe of a social friend's living room.

3. It doesn't have a primary goal of profit - would the owner still be there all the time if they won the lottery?

4. It is friendly to women: to quote a good-looking female friend from Shepperton "A bar I can go to by myself without getting hit on".

5. You could take a child there (not necessarily a child-friendly family bar, but neither should it be a booze palace where you wouldn't want to take your young son or daughter).

6. Unlikely to have music events or paid events that crowd out the regulars.

That said, I do get the feeling that this type of bar is harder to find over time in my country - maybe profit driven as younger drinkers do spend more - older drinkers get boozed at home with friends in my experience. I can think of examples I went to when I was younger in NZ, Ireland, and the UK.

I think the issue is the pubs you are going to. A real pub is quiet, with low ceilings, carpeted floors, comfy chairs/sofas organised in separate clusters, and a fireplace or two. It’s your living room away from home. Some “pubs” now are just bars with an Irish theme

Same problem. Hearing so good in quieter environments that it seems impossible to some people, and totally unable to make out a single word in a typical bar or club or party etc.

I’ve always thought it had something to do with undiagnosed ADD, or maybe more likely some autism spectrum disorder (though I never understood why medical professionals felt the need to label something that feels to me mostly like a few commonly coexisting personality traits and is not a source of any medical adversity for me a “treatable disorder”, so I’ve always rejected this).

I also have problems with alarms and sirens. I’ve walked down many miles of city blocks in my life, and I’m the only person I’ve ever seen who has to put down everything they’re holding and cover their ears with both hands any time an emergency vehicles drives by. That makes me enough of an outlier that I think there’s probably something medical to this, I don’t know what though.

Huh, the bit about emergency vehicle sirens is weird - because I'm exactly the same. If an emergency vehicle is driving past I have to cover my ears or otherwise it's just...painful? I've never seen anyone else do this.

Interesting! I’ve never seen anyone else do it either.

It’s similar to pain but it’s more like a sensory input at a level of intensity that is so overwhelming that it feels like it is or could cause permanent physical harm to whatever in my ear is receiving that input.

I guess I just described pain, but it feels a little different because the sensory input itself is the source of it, it’s not a side effect of anything else that’s happening, and it doesn’t really feel similar to any other kind of pain.

Fire alarms do this to me too. I lived in a building with false alarms every few weeks. I would like to have ignored them and continued working, but it is just impossible. I have to cover my ears and wait for the pauses between sounds to even do anything with my hands, like unplug a laptop or open a door.

You might want to investigate a condition called hyperacusis.

Same. For me this is a symptom of my ADD. I know this because I can hear voices in loud rooms much better if I’m properly medicated. Makes sense considering ADD is the brain not prioritizing the right inputs. Unfortunately the medication makes me very uninterested in going to pubs or loud places.

Our local neighborhood pub is a very different scene at 5pm on a Tuesday, compared to 11pm on a Friday night. Bunch of local guys hanging out with the bartender yammering on about their downstairs neighbors playing music too loud, or cooking fish at 2am and the whole building smells like fish until breakfast time. Then Friday/Saturday night it's full of loud tourists looking to get ripped on tequila before staggering down the street to the next bar.

Some bars are just loud and noisy all the time. Depends on the location and the venue. We live in a tourist district with probably at least a hundred bars within walking distance, we visit two regularly (maybe once a week, midweek), and a third occasionally for a change of pace. Business district bars are also pretty chill from 4:30-7 as people are coming out of the office and wanting to blow off steam and complain about their boss or whatever.

I have this - and a set of NHS hearing aids help, but do not completely fix the problem. It's worse when tired.

As others have said, it's also a pub design issue. Modernist open bright bars are very noisy; traditional pubs with wood paneling, carpets and snugs are much better.

Apparently bars do that to boost the ammount of time spent drinking vs having conservations as one makes them more money. Needless to say it isn't without side effects like people discounting bars as a social hangout altogether.

Solution: 'old man pub'. Might have to go to Ireland or the UK to find it though.

Pubs don’t have to be loud.

not all pubs are loud; the best ones are not

I (don't) hear you.

Wonderful article, both content and style.

I’m in my early 30s and although I’m hardly lonely, I miss making new friends. The article makes me want to try visiting a few of my local bars more often.

On the contrary, I’m a lifelong Mass guy whose been in Boston proper for 12 years, and the bars seem better than ever. I’m in Jamaica Plain and Turtle Swamp brewery is packed every weekend and expanded into the neighboring building, which was abandoned and dilapidated before they came. My wife and I met a couple there from the neighborhood and we became good friends, we just went to their wedding. Downtown JP is in a renaissance of success and local business activity. The death of bars in Boston is greatly exaggerated.

There's quite a class divide between corner pub and brew-pub clientele. It feels like for every trendy brewery thriving, a few anonymous bars are failing. I'm not saying it's wrong, but it is different, and I'm not sure that a popular brew-pub is a useful counterexample to the general decline of dive bars.

About half the article is about a regular named Richard, who dies:

> When I heard that Richard was in a bad way, I figured he was at a low point in another cycle. I expected that I would just see him at the Plough the next time I dropped in. Instead, he died.

Nothing is said about what killed him, but I suspect there might be a clue here:

> Arguably, their [bars'] lifeblood—alcohol—has destroyed more American families than any drug ever has. Now the owner of the Plough, I struggle with this truth. My own family has been afflicted by alcoholism, and while “the gene,” as it is often called, bypassed me, I worry for my four-year-old twin boys. Recently, one of them snuck a sip of my beer, then thrust his right fist in the air in triumph and shouted in his deepest voice, “I am a man!” before running away gleefully. I laughed, but the episode also stabbed me with worry that he may be carrying a ticking time bomb.

It's hard to imagine the mental gymnastics that must be necessary by the owner to keep this business going.

Some patrons may be staying home, but it looks to me as if a plethora of alternative hangouts and ways to meet, not centered on alcohol, have popped up over the years:

- Meetup groups

- juice/hookah/vegan/whatever bars

- exercise/yoga classes and groups

- hookup apps

> Nothing is said about what killed him...

From the article:

> If the Plough provided him with a home in Boston and a community that was his own, it also helped him toward his demise. When he died at 60 in 2017, booze played a starring role in his precipitous decline.

Later in the article, the author also explicitly states that Richard was an alcoholic.

I don't think mental gymnastics are necessary. he's owner of an institution that has clearly played a huge role in his life, and that has been in his family for a long time. he strongly believes in the purpose of the business he runs, and the community that has formed within its walls. the purpose of the paragraph you quoted is to portray his own conflict with selling something that can be harmful. it doesn't sound like he's justifying his choices to me; it sounds like he's uncomfortable with the harm it's associated with, and is acknowledging it.

and as others have said, the neighborhood bar is unique in that the things you mention are things that people DO together, whereas the bar is a place where people simply BE together. I agree that those are places where you can make friends, but with those activities, what often happens is that mildly interested people come and go, and devotees form a hard social core that is difficult to penetrate. a bar--or a church, or elk's lodge or whatever--is a standing institution, whose main social function is community building of some kind.

Old neighborhood bars are also in prime locations for real estate “redevelopment”. Many seem to get wiped out just for this reason.

I don't think Netflix and (maybe) chill explains this wholly. Here's my guess: {Boston, NYC, San Francisco, Chicago, $CITY} isn't as cheap as it used to be. Bigger, more corporate bars can afford the rents required to stay near where the people are. Consequently, smaller, neighborhood pubs close and force people to commune near bigger bars (and sometimes pubs) to get their fix of community through delicious alcoholic drinks.

The Plough used to be my neighborhood haunt. I knew Richard, he was a decent friendly guy, I liked him. Its strange to learn about his passing on this website.

This is so emphatically untrue in New Orleans I have to wonder if the writer has ever visited.

Nawlins is about the most atypical American city you can find. It's best typified as Caribbean North.

That's not a slight, just an observation. And yes, virtually all major cities are fairly distinctive. As Ed Glaeser has pointed out, something of an anti-Anna Karenina principle: unsuccessful cities are all alike, successful cities are each successful in their own way.

Not entirely true, but a strong element of truth to it.

Same with most cities and towns in the Midwest. The neighborhood bar isn’t going anywhere there.

I can see Boston, SF, Austin, and other transplant cities losing neighborhood bars. The people who to go bars there aren’t locals and they probably aren’t expecting to go to the same place for decades. They probably aren’t even expecting to live in the same place more than three years.

My guess is the bar is just lame. There are plenty of cool bars that are packed every night in basically every place I've ever lived.

A neighborhood bar is a place you go to see people you know will be there. Even if your friends aren't there, you'll still know the owner and the staff. The people you see there routinely are the "regulars" and the "locals." You're not going to the neighborhood bar to get sloppy drunk, loud or to pick up chicks. You aren't going there to "party."

A "cool bar" which is packed is usually too loud for conversation. If you want to sit and talk casually with people you know, then you won't go to the cool bar. If you go alone to a cool bar, then you might not talk to anyone. The atmosphere has too much going on for casual conversation. You can't overhear and engage with someone sitting at the opposite side of the bar.

This may sound lame, but one of the major themes of this article is loneliness. Regulars at the neighborhood bar might find that the bar is less lame than being lonely at home.

Absolutely! The best thing about the local is that you don't need to make any plans with anyone. You already have a pretty good idea who will be there.

I also know many bars like that and they are doing just fine, I also frequent them. However, they are decidedly not-lame.

The article makes a statistical argument though, that the numbers of a certain sort of bar declined 17% after 2006. That 4 out of 5 bars are still there follows from that argument rather than addressing it.

What do you mean by "cool"? A lot of my coworkers in SF think Local Edition is a "cool" bar. I thought it was one of the dumbest experiences of my lifetime. I couldn't hear or see a fucking thing, and the drinks were $20.

I used to live down the block from the bar in the article. Fantastic bar, staff, food and live music...

" Arguably, their lifeblood—alcohol—has destroyed more American families than any drug ever has."

My reason for not missing the neighborhood bar much.

They have some value-- helping people socialize, notably. But the downsides are just too steep.

Article can't quite make up its mind whether it's about the death of bars or the death of one bar patron.

This is probably purposeful, to draw parallels. The author also can't quite make up his mind about whether drinking becoming less popular is good or bad.

It's relatable content. When you have a bunch of nostalgia and identity (and money, in this guy's case) invested into something, I guess it would be hard to admit that overall, it's categorically been to society's detriment.

Don’t you love how everyone on HN thinks they can do journalism too off the cuff just because tech disrupted it? Glad to see taste hasn’t been disrupted

I thought the article was really well-written, felt like a good mix of fact and emotion. I read it to the end which I don’t do with about 80% of HN stories...


Ignoring the context is also common on any other planet? Bars don't cause alcoholism, bars don't do date rapes and spoons don't make people fat, but you intentionally ignore facts and play it with your political agenda. Should we close down everything that has any potential for bad things? Where is the button to shut down the planet?

Of course we shouldn't force them to shut down, but if you told me tomorrow that McDonald's was bankrupt I wouldn't shed any tears.

Is it true that some users of bars are alcoholics? Definitely. Is it true that some users of bars want to participate in date rape? Definitely. Is it likely that these users represent even a small percentage of overall bar patrons? No. We don't need to shut down an entire industry to protect a tiny subset of users.


Or perhaps it was downvoted by people who realize their own limited impressions of the world don't always reflect universal truths.

Wait, let me check my health app that monitors my alcohol consumption in real time...

Agreed, it takes a special kind of asshole to run a bar while "[his] own family has been afflicted by alcoholism."

> Richard had spent untold hours trading stories with friends, cementing connections with them, with the space, and with the city outside. A few people had gathered to continue their remembrance. All changed utterly, everything constant, I ordered a drink from the bar and sat down.

Yea, you killed him. Infuriating.

And it takes a special kind of asshole to be a professional grave digger when his entire family will die and be buried. Same kind of illogical argument.

I read this earlier and was sort of speechless.

Now I can't help myself, and must point out that a grave digger in no way contributes to the death of the buried.

Beware the acute and chronic cognitive effects of alcohol abuse.

Nor a bartender is contributing to the death of people, even when they drink themselves to death. Let's see where is the personal responsibility of each of the people involved.

I saw this kind of logic trying to blame gun manufacturers, but it should extend to car sellers (there are many more deaths in traffic), knife sellers, soft drink sellers (diabetes kills), etc. No, they are not contributing to someone's death just because they sell them something that person uses and eventually die.

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