A trip to Bluegrass Tavern
By Matt Sullivan
We were at that state of inebriation where you feel vacuous and bubbly, like you might float away if you don’t try hard to stay on the ground, when we passed Soundbar. That wasn’t our destination this night. The three of us would most certainly return to our safe haven, but not this early. Right now we were trying something new, for me anyways. Something different to ruffle the routine we had fallen into for our weekend fun.
Sauntering down Limestone, my boyfriend, our friend who I will refer to as E, and I ran in to a drunken foreshadowing of what I presumed was to come. Two large, hairy, drunk men were bumbling down the sidewalk speaking to each other and assaulting girls on the opposite sidewalk with dazed walrus grunts. The girls would look over, first at us, and then seeing that there was no way the three of us could produce those noises, at the two guys stumbling near us. The responses varied. Some girls howled back in appreciation. Others just laughed to their friends and kept walking. Some pretended they didn’t hear. They asked us where McCarthy’s was and my boyfriend said something to them, but I kept walking. He’s more polite than I am.
Passing the horse pasture in the middle of downtown and turning down Main street brought us to our, to my, new experience. The Bluegrass Tavern was wedged in between a few other bars filling the Fifth Third Pavilion. Out front was an expansive seating area roped off and half filled with patrons. Inside would be a world completely foreign to my own. A world filled with wonder and maybe more walruses. Who knew? I didn’t. What lay before me was the antithesis to my own version of night life; this was a place that harbored bitter drinks and odd people.
This was a straight bar.
The bouncer stamped our hands, which diverged from Soundbar’s row of eleven “doormen” checking everyone’s ID every time they wished to enter. I felt childish almost. The stamp reminded me of a club I had gone to in Louisville when I was a fresh 18 years old. The club was packed with other 18 year olds and smelled like sweat and puke. I never went back. We went in to BGT and walked immediately to the bar. Which, after looking around, I found was all you could do. The place was dimly lit by yellow incandescent lights. The bar was made of some nice dark wood, cherry maybe—I don’t know woods. The bartenders reminded me of soda shop boys. They had on white collared button ups and towels slung over their shoulders. One entire wall was a mirror that reflected the yellow light giving the whole room a cozy, amber glow. You could sit along the bar or use one of the barrels surrounded by stools in the front of the place as a seating area. We chose a barrel and pulled up stools and… sat. I looked around the bar expecting to find something to do, but everyone else was just… sitting. They were talking amongst their groups, seeming to have a good time. If there was music, I couldn’t hear it over the voices of everyone else, which was strange because I didn’t see any mouths moving.
The bartenders moved efficiently, flowing from one area to the next handing out drinks and taking cash in return. All the people standing around the bar seemed calm, just talking with their friends or silently standing, waiting for something to sip on. Watching all of them I noticed that none of them that I saw were watching anyone else. The guys didn’t seem to be staring up any of the pretty girls. The girls, likewise, just seemed to drink and text and giggle with each other. Then I noticed that the two sexes were, for the most part, separated. Groups of girls and guys were scattered throughout the bar and on occasion an individual from each group would leave the group and like satellites would orbit the other groups, sometimes bumping in to the opposite gender and striking up conversation. They would always retreat back to their groups, though. Even when a group of guys and girls came together, they didn’t seem to talk to each other.
A group of four, three guys and girl, pulled up stools to a barrel next to ours. The girl in this group started to drag a chair from across the bar over to their barrel so she would have something to place her purse on. E politely offered one of the stools that she had placed her possessions on, but the girl seemed so shocked by E’s suggestion that she babbled out a response about how she didn’t want to place her purse on their barrel with all of the guys sitting around. The wide eyed doe decided to take E’s stool after some hesitation. When she returned to her group, she sat in silence while the guys all chatted around her.
As the night wore on and the place got busier, I saw more characters. A group of girls walked in wearing matching black dresses and one had on a tiara. They strolled in and were lost to the crowd. After the princesses walked in came a perfectly normal looking guy. He had on some blue jeans and a fluffy grey hoodie. My boyfriend stared at him, perplexed, for a moment. Then he made the comment, “I don’t understand why people come out dressed like that. I mean, come on. It’s a hoodie. People should have more class.” At this I smiled at E and she giggled, I looked down at the hoodie I was wearing, looked at my boyfriend and patiently waited, still grinning. After a few moments he realized what I was wearing and apologized profusely. “I didn’t mean that about you. I promise. You know I wasn’t talking about you, right?” These apologies continued even after we left and were walking to Soundbar later that night. I kissed his cheek and he calmed down.
His comment, though, really did heighten what I already could feel in BGT. Everyone there was relaxed. Except for me, I was rigid on my stool, like a gargoyle, a gaygoyle if you will, watching studying everyone around. People wore what they wanted and enjoyed the leisurely experience for what it was. At my alma mater, Soundbar, what you wear, how you act, seems to be constantly scrutinized. The floor in Soundbar is not merely a floor, but a runway. Catwalking it down those alleyways between couches and up steps, or losing it on the tightly packed dance floor, is dangerous business for those less inclined to care about clothes and appearances (like me).
This, I think, has less to do with the pretentiousness of Soundbar and more with the reason you go to a place like Soundbar or BGT. In my experience, you go to be seen at Soundbar. You are putting on a show for everyone else. At BGT, there is no show. You go with your friends and stay with your friends. At Soundbar the place feels more like a group, like classmates almost, because chances are, if you go to Soundbar, you don’t go anywhere else and you go there regularly. This creates familiar faces and familiar faces are family. Although, I’m sure BGT has its own regulars. I saw things that weren’t foreign, but felt foreign, at BGT. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps people are just different. We try really hard to be politically correct and show how we’re all the same, but we aren’t and the differences in bars are enough to show that. I don’t know. They were just silly observations.