During my long tenure as a callow youth, few things excited me more than charging from bar to bar in hot pursuit of that ever-elusive Best Time.
Sometimes I even imagined I caught sight of it, though only as it was escaping out the back door, undoubtedly on its way to the next bar. I imagined myself as knight errant engaged in a headlong, wild-eyed dash across enemy territory, lance raised high, eager to terrorize the locals and perhaps impale some poor girl (who generally managed to dodge my lance with considerable adroitness.) On any given night you could find me in one of a dozen different places, swearing allegiance to none because you could not predict with any certainly which would be hosting the Best Time.
As I got older, and presumably wiser, I realized I was not so much a dashing knight as a skulking beggar—the reason for all the rushing about was I was trying to horn in on someone else’s fun, simply because I was far too stupid and lazy to make my own.
Not uncoincidentally, this was about the time I decided to establish a regular haunt. Perhaps if I drank in one place, I thought, I could build my own Best Time and the girls would come to me, where I could ambush them on familiar territory.
Ah-ha! you rudely interject. Isn’t establishing a favorite bar another way of saying you have become a regular, and we all know what those bastards look like: a bunch of cranky old-timers lined up along the bar like mangy crows on a wire.
Which is, of course, a grave misrepresentation. Being a regular doesn’t necessarily make you part of that particular flock. Not at all. It merely means you have to listen to a lot of their stories.
Furthermore, declaring a regular haunt does not mean you’re married to it. It merely means you, as every wise adventurer does, have established a base camp. You don’t have to spend your every drinking moment there, just the majority of them. And for good reason; investing most of your drinking dollars in a single establishment reaps all sorts of dividends, namely:
Regulars get benefits. Spend enough money in a bar and you start accruing a form of interest. You receive faster service, mis-pours and shots appear almost magically before you, and at the end of the night your tab is often appreciably lighter.
You get to lord over newcomers. You can sprawl at a corner table like local nobility, act as guide and protector to visiting females, and explain to the staff why said female’s boyfriends are likely to start trouble and should be made to leave at once.
If trouble breaks out, the staff will take your side. They know you and understand you’re not the sort to start trouble with an outsider, even if it’s plain that you did.
You get to be yourself. It’s hard to relax in an unfamiliar bar because you’ll be putting on airs and misrepresenting yourself in hopes of fooling some poor girl into following you home. In your favorite bar you can relax and be yourself, however annoying that person might be.
The bar’s character will reflect onto you and perhaps lend insights into your personality. For example, if you frequent a hotel bar, acquaintances will assume you love to travel, as opposed to a Greek-style bar, which prepares them for the possibility of you asking them for a rather large loan that you might not be able to pay back any time soon.
Enhanced communication. Once you’ve established a rapport with the bartenders, you can order your drinks with the most subtle of nods, which is a tremendous advantage when you find yourself incapable of anything resembling human speech.
Your friends know where to find you. There is something magical about meeting friends in a bar without the hassle of haranguing them by phone for hours and hours on end. It feels like a special occasion that might well be celebrated with them buying you a drink.
You build more enduring friendships. Let’s face it, the friendships gathered while bar hopping are little better than those trite alliances knocked together by tourists who happen to be trapped in the same train compartment. Friendships built over time in your favorite bar are much sturdier affairs, not dissimilar to those formed by soldiers idling in a trench that happens to be dug in around a functioning brewery.
It makes you appear dependable, if not entirely respectable. Women like a man who can commit to something, even if that something dispenses a glorious, never-ending stream of liquor and beer. They will think, “Hey, at least he’s not whoring around with all those downtown discothèques that stole my last boyfriend.”
It dispels the unkind assumption that no bar will have you. And make no mistake, it is a two-way relationship. As undemocratic as it may seem, you cannot simply walk into a bar that strikes your fancy and declare, “This is my regular haunt.” As with any relationship, there must be mutual consent. The bar must also choose you. If the staff and established regulars take a dislike to you, for whatever unfair reason, it will never become your bar, no matter how much you lurk about. To them you will be nothing more than persistent trespasser, and though it may take time, they will evict you. I don’t care how stubborn a barnacle you imagine yourself to be, they will drive a chisel beneath your shell and pry you loose.
You become part of a family. Eventually. First you’ll have to intern as a familiar face, then, after proving you are not the sort to go berserk while fully loaded with a cargo of booze, you will transform into a proper regular.
You will be forgiven when you finally do go berserk. And you will. If fact, once you are a regular, you’ll want to. Paradoxically enough, going berserk will augment your regular status. It will give you the aspect of a beloved uncle who, somewhat amusingly, is plagued by fits of madness and might perhaps need to be pinned to the floor, for his own protection. This sort of behavior may even elevate you from a regular to a full-fledged character. Run amok on a regular basis (once a month, say) and you might even become an actual institution.
—Frank Kelly Rich