Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

April 1, 2013

Bar Life:

A Mutating Form Of Tavern Entertainment

What’s almost as important as a bar’s beer list? The jukebox.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
Contact Eddie»
With our fractured society and all the crazy ways we can communicate with each other these days, what with all our Facebooks and our tweets and texts and emails, reality TV, pwning n00bs in Call of Duty, and diet soda, a lot of people increasingly see the neighborhood tavern’s role as a gathering place to drink beer and talk face-to-face as an anachronism.

Despite all of this, or perhaps because of it, I completely disagree. I know it might sound like the loftiest heights of irony coming from an antisocial, paranoid asshole like me, but the tavern is, first and foremost, a place of community, and I love bellying up to the bar at new and familiar taverns alike to drink a good beer, maybe eat something, and … well … just observe.

I don’t even remotely know why I enjoy that latter part so much. Maybe it’s because I was practically raised in an old country bar brimming with community, and taverns feel homey to me. Maybe it’s just the people watching. Or maybe I feel that if I only watch these human beings interact with each other enough, I’ll eventually come out of my shell and won’t be such a misanthropic, socially inept boob.


Maybe if I only watch these human beings interact enough, I’ll eventually come out of my shell and won’t be such a misanthropic, socially inept boob.
All joking aside, during my many stops in taverns far and wide over the years, I’ve discovered that not all drinking establishments are created equal, and I find myself frequenting different places for different reasons. A great beer list (not necessarily, you may notice, a large one) is, of course, of utmost importance, and I tend to gravitate toward places that rotate in different beers, just to see what’s available, or always offer at least one great, foundation beer on tap or in a fresh bottle.

But other factors contribute to creating a drinking establishment worth visiting regularly. I’m not going to go too in depth on what I think makes a great tavern—that’s for another article—but such things as decor, staff, location, patrons, overall ambience, bathroom quality, and entertainment, to name a few, can, when combined, supersede even the best of beer lists to influence what is and isn't a great bar. (Note that all these other factors, no matter how mind-blowingly awesome they may be, can’t overcome an awful beer list.) Add to that list one factor that continually gets short shrift nowadays: the jukebox.

I’ve noticed a lot of good beer bars tend to play it safe when it comes to jukeboxes and just don’t provide one, instead having a canned, pre-programmed playlist or the bartender hooking a laptop or iPod into the sound system. I actually like this approach. The management can control an important part of the ambience, allowing patrons to focus on what’s really important in the tavern experience: drinking great craft beer and talking about great craft beer.

I’ve noticed a lot of good beer bars tend to play it safe when it comes to jukeboxes and just don’t provide one.
No jukebox—Hell, dead silence, if you ask me—is far more preferable to the option a lot of lazy and/or short-sighted bar owners resort to: the internet jukebox. If you don’t know what I’m talking about you’re either lucky or need to get out more. It’s a device that allows patrons to buy virtually any semi-popular song out there, usually at a premium price, and blast their personal musical tastes into the faces of the rest of the hapless bar goers. In theory this sounds great (the entire Iron Maiden Killers album front to back, anyone?) and can be entertaining in certain circumstances. But the majority of the time you wind up listening to Toby Keith, Coldplay, or some other pandering drivel four times in a two hour period, night after goddamned night.

(If you happen to be a Toby Keith or Coldplay fan and are offended, fuck off and quit visiting our web site.)

No, to me the best way to go when deciding your tavern’s music options is something you rarely see anymore: the old fashioned, finite playlist jukebox. This gives the management control over the ambience while still allowing patrons to interact with the entertainment. The best jukeboxes are ones that tie nicely into the theme of the bar, like the punk-heavy one at Delilah’s in Chicago, the classic country and rock-n-roll box at Madison’s Le Tigre Lounge, or the eclectic indie rock machine at Stella’s Lounge in Grand Rapids.

Or anything with a lot of KISS in it.

Today is the feast day of St. Arnold, patron saint of beer.

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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