LS: You should have bet.
FKR: A vesper is a type of wind, isn’t it?1 Fill your sails with vespers. That’s from The Rime of—
LS: I doubt it. Anyway. Here we are.
FKR: The legendary Lancer. And it was legendary. The best pour west of the Mississippi. Visitors from drab worlds would come here, revel in its golden light, then take their stories of the Big Pour back home. The Lancer was bigger than life, certainly too big for this goddamn town.
LS: It’s funny how everyone has the same, “First time I walked in the Lancer story.”
FKR: You’re right, and here’s mine: The first time I walked in the Lancer I ordered a double bourbon on the rocks. The barmaid sort of snickered and said, “Just order a single.” I thought she was questioning my virility until the “single” arrived. It was a triple at least. In some bars it would be considered a quadruple. If it were poured in any other bar there would be hysterical shrieking, recriminations, at least one firing. The law might have to get involved. I mean, right to the brim of a large lowball glass.
LS: And she wasn’t hooking you up. Your first impression would be she was in love with you or trying to kill you. But it was just their SPP. Their Standard Pouring Procedure. You know, physically, this place hasn’t changed all that much. The crowd is very different. And they got rid of that crazy bartender.
FKR: I know who you mean.
LS: The topical chameleon.
FKR: A full-bore fabulist. Most people are loathe to be caught in an outright lie, and if they are caught, they laugh it off like they were joking. He was not like most people.
LS: And it didn’t matter what the subject was.
FKR: Not in the least. I was at the bar talking to a fellow vet about the invasion of Grenada, of which I was part. The bartender overheard me and whispered, “Grenada?”
LS: You stirred up old memories.
FKR: I said, “Yeah, back in 1983 we parachuted in to rescue some students,” and he said, “Yeah, I know, I was there.” I asked him if he was in the military and he shook his head no. So I said, well, the only other Americans on the island were the students and a couple of CIA guys feeding us intel.
LS: So he was CIA.
FKR: Of course he was CIA. He told me he couldn’t talk about it, so I started berating him on the extremely poor quality of intel they provided. I mean, they were wrong about everything. He just shrugged. For such is the life of a spy.
LS: Did he even know where Grenada is?
FKR: Oh, you know how it is. One day you’re running drugs out of Columbia on a hijacked submarine, the next you’re hang gliding out the back of a CIA transport into the steaming jungles of some random tropical island. He can’t be expected to remember all the little details.
LS: Oh, hell no.
FKR: You know, the magic of the Lancer was almost entirely due to Becky, the owner.
LS: Wonderful woman.
FKR: An actual saint. She liked her drinks big, so why shouldn’t everyone else get one? There was a sense of idealism over business model. A sense of genuine kindness and generosity over the pursuit of the almighty dollar.
LS: If you were a hard drinker and you spent enough time in this town, you eventually gravitated to the Lancer.
FKR: It was a fantastic beacon for boozeheads, ever brightening the midnight sky. We certainly found our way here.
LS: It was a serious drinker’s bar. Not meaning everyone was solemn—it was really very festive, almost belligerently so—but that you knew you were drinking with serious drinkers. It didn’t attract dilettantes. It attacked dilettantes.
FKR: The amount of booze being poured gave the Lancer an entirely different texture. It was a throwback. It was an outlier.
LS: And the outliers always get picked off.
FKR: This was another dive killed by the tax man. There should be a law where dive bars don’t have to pay taxes. They should be declared religious institutions.
LS: They all operate on narrow margins. Take it from an ex-bar owner: If they played by all the rules they’d all go under immediately.
FKR: They should be protected like the endangered species they are. They are the balm of the blue-collar working class.
LS: Are we still blue collar? When was the last time you dug a ditch?
FKR: It’s been awhile. Let’s say gray collar.
LS: Dirty collar. This is definitely not the Lancer crowd. They won this one.
LS: These are the people who would walk in the Lancer, take one look around, then storm out in a huff.
FKR: The bastards captured our castle.
LS: There was that one night a week that had one of those all-you-can-drink deals that brought in a swarm of college kids, but the rest of the week was for hard drinkers.
Hipster at the Bar: Are you guys talking about the Lancer?
FKR: Yeah! It was a wild place.
HATB: They don’t tolerate that anymore. If someone gets too wild they throw them right out.
LS: You say that like it’s a good thing. What’s wrong with getting a little wild?
HATB: They throw them right out.
FKR: Well, we’ll just see about that.
HATB: Can I get my tab?
LS: He’s one of them.
LS: You. Them. You’re one of them.
FKR: You’re three of them.
HATB: Okay. See you.
FKR: Oh, we see you, all right. And that is why the dives are dying. People like that.
LS: Don’t want to get too wild.
FKR: Don’t want to lose control. Things could get messy.
LS: The Lancer ended in a big mess.
FKR: When Becky died, a vast snakes’ nest of back taxes was laid bare. I don’t know if death or taxes came first, but the result was the same.
LS: That may have explained how they were able to pour them so right.
FKR: Could be. And when the Man found out they were subsidizing the drinking class, they seized the bar. And you know what’s weird? The last night it was open, there was a blowout, and those people, you know, the sneery hipsters, Them, were already sliding in. People I’d never seen there before. Guffawing and mugging it up for selfies.
LS: And now they own the place. They won.
FKR: They did win. How does the poem go?
Oh somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright.
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere the hearts are light.
And somewhere men are drinking and somewhere drunkards shout.
But there is no joy in Denver—the mighty Lancer had struck out.
—Luke Schmaltz & Frank Kelly Rich
1 Vesper : an evening prayer. Also a cocktail invented by James Bond creator Ian Fleming.