Everybody has a really good first bar story. Often it's a tale about a group celebrating somebody's 21st birthday by seeing just how close people can get to death and still be fine the next morning. Sometimes it's a saga about using a bad fake ID to sneak into the local VFW or some other seedy joint in order to drink Miller Genuine Draft from the tap (can anyone explain this to me?). Frequently, it's a fable about gluttony compounded by being overserved. And almost invariably, that virgin night out involves the consumption of drinks that you never, ever drink again — drinks with names like Gorilla Fart, Mind Eraser, Brain Seizure and Hippo Laxative.
My first bar experience was a doozy. In high school, most of us socially active kids worked at the local Hy Vee grocery store, which had a well-earned reputation as the corporate version of Delta Tau Chi. At this job, teenagers not only got a paycheck, but also a huge, instantaneous social network for drinking and other illicit activities not at all discouraged by the relatively young management. Because what could possibly go wrong in white-bread Rochester, Minnesota?
Given my willingness to do almost any moronic thing for a laugh, I became good friends with some of the older guys at the store, and somehow got included in a road trip to one of the folk-dancing establishments outside of Minneapolis. Four of us cruised up to the venerable Jake's in Tony Lisko's Cadillac convertible. Not only was it my first bar, but it was a skin club. Sure, I'd seen naked women — but only in badly worn magazines. To say I was a bit overwhelmed by the experience would be like saying that Bill Gates probably has an okay portfolio. Unfortunately, some of my enjoyment was stolen by Catholic guilt, as the guy sitting across from me on sniffers' row looked like Jesus or a very close relative. I battled through that, however, as Jesus seemed to be enjoying the gyrations of the young ladies nearly as much as I was.
When I was young, adults never talked about bars. So I wanted my kids' first bar experiences to be with their old man, in order to trash some of the taboos; I like to think that having visited a nice bar patio with their dad will remove that primal urge to get blotto in a saloon before you're of age. For her first bar visit a couple of years ago, my daughter, Allison, went to the Irish Hound (575 St. Paul Street) with the former Head of Research and the original Institute of Drinking Studies cadre. The other customers were pleasant, and the staff served wonderful adult and pediatric drinks. So it was a no-brainer that my son, Nathan, and the sons of the Mormon Representative and the Auxiliary Jewish Representative should have their bar christenings at this same great neighborhood joint.
We'd been planning the excursion since the day we all learned we were having boys, and the anticipation kept growing. The evening prior, I called the Mormon and said, "I feel like it's Christmas Eve. I don't think I'll be able to sleep tonight."
"It's even better than Christmas," he answered. "There's no let-down after opening presents!"
Not only was this going to be our sons' first bar, but it would also be the last official act of the Institute of Drinking Studies, and attendance was going to be at an all-time high. The Hound was kind enough to reserve its patio for us, and we lucked out with the perfect Colorado afternoon. Our children were able to wander around freely, and the Mormon took advantage of this by telling his daughter, Ellie, to "go get Mommy another Strongbow." As a true progeny of the Institute, Ellie ignored her old man and bellied up to the bar with Allison to enjoy a Shirley Temple and a lethal dose of maraschino cherries.
As our boys are still developing head control, they were less actively involved — but the importance of the day was not lost on them, because the Mormon's wife had made special outfits. All three boys sported shirts with the words "Baby's First Bar" on the front, and their name and "Irish Hound" on the back. Had Child Protective Services stopped by, they might have batted an eye — but only for a second, because the shirts were so cool. Unfortunately, we had to watch the boys closely, because in their immaturity, they waged a constant battle to tip over our beers.
And in our immaturity, that was our job.
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All in all, it was a fine night for the Institute. The weather was unbelievable, the service impeccable, and the ideal conditions just made it that much more poignant that the National Institutes of Health grant is at an end. But during our research over the past four years, the Institute has forged ahead in many economic, social and medical endeavors. With astronomical bar tabs, we've propped up the Denver economy that is sagging due to the Hickenlooper administration (which would get a pass if they'd start serving John Courage at the Pearl Street Grill). We've shown that it's not impossible for a dozen people to make their presence known at a sold-out movie night at Red Rocks. We've almost eradicated drinking and driving by extolling the virtues of chariots and other public transportation, such as pregnant wives. We've made advances in understanding different cultures and their stereotypes as they apply to drinking. We've unshackled the masses from the oppression of major religion and gotten nastygrams from the Scientologists as a result. We've spearheaded a major Mideast peace effort and increased the pool of Nobel Laureate candidates.
It's been an excellent run — and with any luck, we've introduced you to a few great bars, a bunch of good ones and several to avoid. My only regret is that we didn't hit all the bars suggested by bleary-eyed readers, especially the crew out at the Golden Cue. Of all the bars we visited, though, we've never found a better saloon to celebrate almost anything than the Irish Hound. This place has it all, from the patio to the drink selection to the people. They took in fifty of us Institute idiots and treated us like royalty (we usually get that kind of recognition only in our own minds). Above all, they provided the perfect spot to recall four years of ups and downs, change, hangovers, greasy breakfasts, regrets, big tabs and the friendships that only a few hours of heavy drinking can produce.
I think it's all pretty much summed up by the drunk guy's greatest expression of emotion: "I love you, man!"