The Country Inn doesn’t have a television, so customers sat quietly around a radio on September 11 before conversation returned to a normal level later in the week. Beer sales were up for the week, although the place was almost empty on Thursday when President Bush addressed the nation on TV.
“This place is a sounding board for people,” Erenburg said. But there are house rules against certain topics: politics, softball and chain saws. “There were flags waving, quite a show of patriotism in its own way, but it was just conversation rather than politics,” he said.
Politics is a more constant subject of conversation at Rich O’s, where The Economist and International Herald Tribune are always available for reading. “There’s a certain amount of discussion about the state of the world,” Baylor said, but also plenty about beer. “We always talk about beer,” he said, finishing with a laugh.
The discussion might center on what international company just acquired another smaller brewery or what to do with the firkin of Bell’s (Kalamazoo, MI) Two-Hearted Ale that accidentally got delivered to the bar. (The decision was to drink it.)
Woodson figures that about one-third of The Sanctuary’s customers come in for the live music (jazz, roots), one-third for the food (great pizza) and one-third for the beer and conversation. Few ask why there isn’t a television. “Having a TV is a good way to kill conversation,” he said.
His business was up in the weeks after the attacks. “I think people wanted to get away from it, seeing it all the time on TV,” he said. “Especially people who live alone.”
Woodson, who in 27 years has seen more economic ups and downs than most of today’s brewpub and brewery owners, also doesn’t think that the economic downturn the attacks seem sure to worsen will seriously hurt a neighborhood tavern’s business.
“You are still going to go out for an reasonably priced meal, a decent evening, a few beers,” he said. “It is a luxury you can afford.”
Pam Brittingham, a bartender at The Globe in Athens, GA, saw a similar attitude in the weeks after September 11. The Globe opens at 4:00 p.m., so she and other employees listened to National Public Radio (the Globe has no television, and didn’t even offer one during the 1996 Olympics, some of which took place in town).
They kept the radio on in the first hours after the pub opened, but then changed to music at a low volume. “We wanted to give them some relief from what they had been listening to all day,” she said three weeks after the attacks. “By the weekend, people were needing to get out and do something normal, they didn’t even want to talk about it. It’s still probably what people talk about the most, but every three or four days somebody will say, ‘I can’t talk about this any more.’”
As important as neighborhood taverns were to so many people September 11, like too many other third places, they will probably continue to disappear at an alarming rate. But they really were “great good places” to be, and also to work, that day.
“There were definitely people coming in looking for each other,” Brittingham said. “It’s still going on. Everybody is extremely friendly and appreciative of each other.” And perhaps of having a good public place to gather.