The light matters. It comes slicing through the windows at shoulder height, a flat ribbon of silver and concrete falling into the bar, catching the rims of the rocks glasses. The label on a bottle of Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ glows a dull white, and the barkeep turns into the glare for a second to take a breath and shake it out after a six-hour shift, and then it’s gone. Argent beams that were poised over the bar filled with the ghosts of Pall Mall smoke and underscored by football commentary wink out of existence, and it’s just the nickle-and-dime atmosphere and the dull brown glass. The barkeep, Margie, reties the ribbon in her hair. She grabs a bar towel. Gets back to work.
We’re in t-shirts, though we’re thinking we should’ve grabbed a hoody because the air outside has that apple-crisp chill you can’t get around. The side door is open. Two deadly steps lead down to a crooked sidewalk running along the bumper of a Toyota Highlander, then alongside the dumpsters to Pequod’s, a legendary pie shop that gave birth to Chicago’s signature deep-dish pizza. The Bringer Inn and the other place are made of faux log-cabin cement logs painted elementary school brown.
We order an old-fashioned and a glass of chardonnay.
My wife is a corporate lawyer who loves Succession, complex political analysis, and The Serpent Queen. She does logic problems to relax and can see lines of influence and politics illuminated in the air between Margie (not her real name) and Rebecca (not her real name), and she’s enthralled. Margie’s stratospheric level of industry has impressed her. We enjoy the constant, discreet battle for position as they change shifts. My wife is team Margie.
The bar is the size of a large closet. A three-sided thing like a broken horseshoe. We’re on side A, next to a retired grizzled real-estate broker. Around the horseshoe to our left, there’s a disheveled middle-aged woman who’s made the brave choice to abstain from social reality. She scratches at her head then inspects her fingernail then takes a swig then starts over. I turn to [My Attorney]. Her chardonnay is frozen in the air halfway to her lips.
When you walk in the side door, you can turn left into the gambling dungeon where you’ll be faced with the excruciating choice of three slot machines: All-Stars, which is a kind of Wheel of Fortune rip-off (and can we dip our toes into that well of rabbit holing wherein a game show is named for a casino game that’s named after a tarot card that’s named for the blind, ledgerless whacky crap shoot that is the spine along which life runs?); PROST! Featuring a beerhall girl with bolted-on balloon boobs holding two pints of (I am assuming here) German beer; and Buffalo Chief, which costs three dollars plus your acceptance of culpability in the erosion of Native American authenticity.
The Bringer Inn is a corner bar with a corner door on a corner in Morton Grove and has been since 1933. Apparently, there are 12 high-definition TV screens and a thriving patio which leads me to consider the thick, wide blinders I wear when I fall into such a lovely dive. Their website, designed with some of the most prestigious graphic styles of 2006, says they sponsor volleyball and softball teams and are the perfect place to watch the Superbowl, but I don’t care.
Margie finally cashes out, stays another ten minutes to clean, then goes home. We go to Pequods. I note my ongoing map of great dive bars for Bringer Inn. It offers nothing past the ordinary accouterments of a shitty bar, an after-work necessity that’s not trying to push any envelope or break any new ground or really do much of anything other than serve you a decent beer and make a buck or two.
Yet there is a quality, a sense that having come in the doors on the corner, you may walk out into a different time. A sense that the bar is eternal and unchanging, a landmark for alcoholic utility. It is beer. It is whiskey. It is cheap well highballs. It is Margie and Rebecca and PROST.
These are the important elements: the right ghosts, the perfect soundscape, and the fading light one needs to disappear into an early afternoon spent with cheap whiskey and cheaper company.