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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The old man's day out, Part II

In the second installment of a three-part series, Steve & company drink beer in Grand Ledge. Steve explains his love for dive bars; Sam makes a new friend. (To read the first installment, click here.)

I like dive bars. Don’t get me wrong. I like classy bars too—the ones with polished wood and gleaming tap towers and the appropriate glassware for a barrel-aged barlywine, or a German heffe or a Belgian triple. But there’s something about sitting in a dive drinking watered-down American pilsners. If the beer you drink is out of aluminum cans or long necks bottles it makes it even better. I like hearing the hard crack of pool balls and listening to country music playing on ancient juke boxes. I like the faded tile and wooden floors, the dusty wall signs and the bar tops worn smooth by years of resting elbows. I like the long, trough-like urinals in the rest rooms, the smell of greasy hamburgers frying on back-bar grills, the packages of Slim Jims, the hanging bags of salted peanuts, pretzels and pork rinds, and the huge jars of pickled pigs’ feet, hard-boiled eggs and ring baloney. I like meeting the people in these bars. I like listening to their stories.

The first bar we hit that day was not a dive. Sometimes you can tell that a bar is a dive from the outside. Sometimes you can’t. The bar we went into on the downtown main street in Grand Ledge is one that you can’t. It’s a good bar but it’s not a dive. I was disappointed by the varnished log walls, the carpeted floor and the classic rock songs piped through speakers in the ceiling. No one was sitting on the padded stools. An aloof bartender walked up and asked if we wanted menus.

“We’re just here to drink,” I said. What’s on tap?”

“Bud, Bud Light, Busch, Amber Bock and MBC Pale.”

“I’ll have the pale.”

“Make it two,” said Barb.

“Make it three,” said my dad.

Sam will drink a craft beer but it’s not what he prefers. He prefers the watery pilsners. All those watery American pilsners except for Bud anyway. I have heard him say more than once that he doesn’t like Bud. I have often wondered what it was about Budweiser that he doesn’t like. Someday I’ll have to ask him. Whenever he drinks a craft beer he always says the same thing. “It’s good, but it’s heavy,”

Sam at wedding

When he finished his beer our glasses were still half full. He took out his thick wallet. “Let’s have another,” he said.

“Put your money away, pop. We need to pace ourselves.”

“Bullshit. I want to buy you guys a beer.”

“Okay, pop.”

We drank the second beer and when we left the bartender didn’t say goodbye.

The second place was also on the town’s downtown main street. This one turned out to be a dive and I was pleased. Every stool was occupied. There was a wooden floor and heads of dead animals on the walls. We sat at a table and after a minute I walked up to the bar.

“Sorry,” the bartender said. “I didn’t see you come in.”

“It’s okay. What’s on tap?”

“Coors, Bells Best Brown and Blue Moon.”

I couldn’t pass up the Best Brown. “Two Best Browns and a blue Moon.”

“This is good,” Sam said after taking a sip of his beer. “What is it?”

“Blue Moon,” I said.

“I like this.”

“I’m glad, pop.”

An old timer got up and shuffled over to the juke box. A few moments later we heard Hank Williams wailing about someone’s cheating heart. “Good choice!” my old man shouted after the man had sat back down. The old timer smiled. Sam got up and for a few minutes stood talking with the man at the bar. “I bought him a drink,” he said after he sat back down. I smiled while listening to Patsy Cline’s silky voice floating through the air.

“I’m having a good time,” Sam said. “I feel like I’m up north.”

We finished our beer. On the way out Sam said goodbye to his new friend. We got back in the car and continued making our way back to Grand Rapids. Fifteen minutes later I spotted a low building surrounded on three sides by snow covered fields. A scattering of dried corn stalks poked up through the snow. I turned into the parking lot.


  1. Well there you were in Grand Ledge and couldn't even give us a hollar???!! Shame on you! Come back. Have you been to the bar with the money on the ceiling, the Barn? GREAT beer, with lots of tap heads, and starting to brew their own as well. See you in GR Steve.

    Glá and Riley

  2. Pop and Grand Pop,

    Sounds like a very good day. Yes sir, a very good day.