When things get bad, you go out and get drunk — that’s just how things are, and how they’ve always been, except that now, thanks to coronavirus (and, at the risk of sounding controversial, that thing is a real piece of work), it’s impossible. It’s a hard thing to even wrap your head around, as there’s a place you’d usually go to try and process big/bad/heavy news over a few beers, but you can’t now, so… fuck. Goddamn it.
Pop culture is filled with drinking holes, though, and there are worse ways to spend lockdown, isolation or whatever you’re going through than enveloping yourself in the comfort of make-believe bars.
What is it? The finest bar in Boston, with a minor celebrity barman (former Red Sox relief pitcher Sam “Mayday” Malone), charmingly affable regulars who can somehow drink all day, every day without losing their jobs or wetting themselves, and more often than not, some kind of scheme, craze, caper or shenanigan going on.
Why does it appeal right now? There aren’t a lot of cheerful exploits going on at the moment. Isolation sends people into one of two modes: scared and horny. There’s nothing between a tearful “we’re all going to die” and a grunted “let’s give it another go.” But we need more than that — getting caught up in the kind of quip-filled zaniness and low-stakes rivalry of something like Bar Wars would really let you take a break from all your worries. And, as the greatest piece of music ever recorded attests, taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot.
The Titty Twister, Mexico
From: From Dusk Till Dawn
What is it? A strip club in the Mexican desert, built atop an ancient Aztec temple and populated by vampires; the kind of dudes who have codpiece guns; and multiple people who look like Cheech Marin. Plus the occasional snake.
Why does it appeal right now? If scared and horny are all most people can manage, it probably can’t hurt to lean into those two feelings. The exhausting constant fear that the coronavirus brings, the unending feeling of it all going wrong, the unshiftable anxiety that life may never be the same again — in a way, the intensity of screaming with a boner before getting your head ripped off quite appeals. Fewer question marks over it, at least.
Ten Forward, Space
From: Star Trek: The Next Generation
What is it? The USS Enterprise-D’s bar/all-purpose venue. Getting married? Do it there. Having a funeral? Do it there. Playing some sort of stupid sci-fi multi-floor chess? Yep! It’s the perfect place to sit extremely unusually and drown your star-sorrows.
Why does it appeal right now? In the squeaky-clean utopia of Star Trek, they serve synthehol — synthetic alcohol that lets you drink huge amounts without getting hangovers or crossing over from happily drunk to completely disgusting. In emotionally fraught times like this, it’s tempting to start drinking and never fucking stop, which synthehol would presumably allow you to do without dying. Plus, bartender Guinan has a few bottles of real-life booze in the back for purists, just in case the synthetic stuff doesn’t cut it.
Paddy’s Pub, Philadelphia
From: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
What is it? A reasonably unsuccessful Irish dive bar run by the worst people in the world. It has an unshiftable yuck-puddle, a “bad room,” a cellar that sometimes hosts games of Russian roulette and the occasional corpse. Clientele includes shifty milk-drinking oddballs and a fallen priest who has dog threeways.
Why does it appeal right now? “The people who run this place are massive assholes!” isn’t the greatest endorsement of any establishment, but you know what’s incredibly appealing? Not giving a shit. It’s extraordinarily hard to do at the moment — even the most nihilistic corona chad has to know, deep in the back of his creatine-addled mind, that he should call his grandma and wash his hands. We’re all living much smaller lives than we’re used to, but we’re also more aware of the wider world than ever before, and it’s exhausting. The five soulless bastards who run Paddy’s are arguably the most self-absorbed gang in all pop culture, and goddamn, that seems pretty great right now.
Chalmun’s Spaceport Cantina, Mos Eisley
From: Star Wars
What is it? “A wretched hive of scum and villainy,” according to Obi-Wan Kenobi, and “a dimly-lit tavern known for its strong drinks, hot tunes and occasional outbreaks of shocking violence,” according to StarWars.com. Basically, it’s a bar full of mad-looking aliens, most of whom are smugglers and bounty hunters and cool stuff like that.
Why does it appeal right now? The worry at a time like this — well, one of the millions of worries at a time like this — is that when we come out on the other side we’ll be more divided than ever. Economic hardship has a tendency to bring out the worst in people, and nothing makes xenophobes and racists feel more vindicated than global financial meltdown. Wouldn’t it be nice to be in a place so multicultural that bastards, assholes and ne’er-do-wells of completely different species can mingle and connive together? Also, the music played there is, supposedly, of the genre “jizz,” and that’s fun.
Moe’s Tavern, Springfield
From: The Simpsons
What is it? Manned by a hideous misanthrope, plagued by prank phone calls, sporting a toilet on the roof and contravening myriad health codes, Moe’s Tavern is the go-to drinking spot for Homer, Barney, Lenny and Carl, a place to drink Duff after Duff and achieve nothing. There’s a TV in the corner that appears black and white, but is in fact just dirty.
Why does it appeal right now? One of the really maddening things about the last month or so is how inconsistent it’s all been. Depending on who’s talking, and when, everything’s completely different. Are we all hunkering down for three months, or is it business as usual? Is this a slippy little thing we’ll all look back on and laugh, or will most of us die? Moe’s, in contrast, is the most consistent drinking den in the world. Whatever happens in any given episode — it might turn into a gay bar for a while, become famed for an on-fire cocktail, reinvent itself as a super-hip 21st-century venue, — it always goes back to being Moe’s by the 22-minute mark. Such consistency is, right now, the stuff of dreams.
The Mended Drum, Ankh-Morpork
From: The Discworld novels
What is it? A dingy, dangerous drinking den in the heart of Ankh-Morpork, financial capital of Discworld, a fantasy world carried on the back of a giant turtle in the late Sir Terry Pratchett’s novels. As described in Mort (book 4 of 41 — the Discworld series is really pretty ideal for a lengthy isolation period), “it was famed not for its beer, which looked like maiden’s water and tasted like battery acid, but for its clientele. It was said if you sat long enough in the Drum, then sooner or later every major hero on the Disc would steal your horse.”
Why does it appeal right now? The world is extremely stressful at the moment, and The Drum offers a lot of ways to, er, escape it. One book, Soul Music, mentions a character who walks in and introduces himself as Vincent the Invulnerable, for which he is immediately killed. The Ankh-Morpork City Watch (whose exploits are coming to TV this year) rule it a suicide. It also doesn’t have bouncers, but rather, splatters.
The Winchester, London
From: Shaun of the Dead
What is it? A North London pub populated by “sad old fuckers drinking themselves to death,” complete with a jukebox, pork scratchings and the vague promise of a toasted sandwich.
Why does it appeal right now? In the early days of the coronavirus — days that now feel like they took place decades ago — a lot of memes circulated using the Shaun line, “Let’s go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint and wait for this all to blow over.” It was, of course, a bad idea — something that stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost took to YouTube to address — but at least it was doable. The idea has gone, in the space of a few short weeks, from a Facebook annoyance to a bleak reminder that a lot of bars won’t make it. The pub used as the exterior in the film was long ago converted into apartments, and it seems reasonable to assume a huge amount of beloved boozers have served their last drink.
The Bronze, Sunnydale / The Bait Shop, Orange County
From: Buffy the Vampire Slayer / The O.C.
What are they? The kind of venues that only exist on TV, where hotly tipped indie bands play to crowds too young to drink in towns where the high school social scene is the dominant one. Actually, you know what? Fuck these places. Awful.
Why do they appeal right now? Everyone in them is young and attractive, two things nobody will ever be again. 2020 has, so far, taken at least a decade, and a world where everyone cuts their own hair isn’t the prettiest of worlds.
The Gold Room at the Overlook, Colorado
From: The Shining
What is it? The grand ballroom, complete with well-stocked bar and smartly dressed barman, of a hotel that has played host to a bunch of murders, suicides and descents into insanity. It’s got that great thing old bars have where there are pictures of parties that took place there 80 years before hanging on the walls. Great stuff.
Why does it appeal right now? If there’s one positive thing to be said about Jack Torrance, erstwhile caretaker of the Overlook, it’s that he really works out a way to enjoy his self-isolation. It’s not a good one — he tries to murder his family — but it’s something. As everyone tries to make life within four walls a bit more palatable while staying healthy and getting shit done, it’s nice to know it’s possible to find a system. He might not be getting his 10,000 steps in, but nobody’s perfect!