Bars and Beer: Essential to Community

Do YOU have a place near home where “everybody knows your name“?

Cheers cast

Copyright: NBC Studios

“Making your way in the world today
Takes everything you’ve got
Taking a break from all your worries
Sure would help a lot
Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You want to be where you can see
Our troubles are all the same
You want to be where everybody knows your name”

Finding such places is becoming more and more challenging these days, especially places within walking distance. Given the very legitimate concerns about drinking and driving, the fact that so much of the “developed” US outside of cities is explicitly designed to be driven to/from, there are fewer and fewer opportunities in the ‘burbs.

Just a little driving required...

A bar is a business type we should be encouraging people to walk, not drive, to reach. Civic and community groups frequently band together to hold places which serve alcohol to higher and different standards than other businesses, all the while forgetting to hold the local governments accountable for infrastructure which would make patronzing these places safer. (How are we doing with that?)

If you do not partake of the suds, you may make the mistake of believing that drinking beer is about drinking beer for the primary purpose of getting drunk. Wrong! (That’s what fishing is for; “hunting camp” too!)

Long-time SF-area beer critic (THERE’s a job for ya!) William Brand lamented:

“The American problem – our problem – is the way we live sucks. I mean we’re totally auto-oriented. Most of us live in places where mass transit doesn’t exist or is sucky.

… coming home, I don’t get back in the car ’til I’m certain I’m sober.  It’s a hell of a way to live. In fact, it changes where I go. I hate visiting friends where we’re going to drink good beer, but the only way to get there is driving. I envy my friends who live in San Francisco, Oakland and other cities, where a trip to the pub is a short walk.

For the rest of us, the whole system is loaded against us. We love good beer, but the laws are tough and cops are relentless.  What to do? Drinking at home is one solution, but nothing beats the warmth and friendship of a good pub. It’s a dilemma, isn’t it… “

Bar Du Central

A “neighborhood watering hole” is a classic example of sociologist Ray Oldenburg’s “Great Good Place“, the all-important third place in our daily lives, someplace which is not home… and not work. These gathering places are essential to community and public life; Oldenburg argues that bars, coffee shops, book stores, hair salons, general stores, and other “third places” are central to community vitality.

In an article titled “In Praise of (Loud, Stinky) Bars“, Michael Hickey, a community development consultant,  rates neighborhood bars highly as essential components:

“The vaunted ‘third space’ isn’t home, and isn’t work – it’s more like the living room of society at large. It’s a place where you are neither family nor co-worker, and yet where the values, interests, gossip, complaints and inspirations of these two other spheres intersect. It’s a place at least one step removed from the structures of work and home, more random, and yet familiar enough to breed a sense of identity and connection. It’s a place of both possibility and comfort, where the unexpected and the mundane transcend and mingle.

And nine times out of ten, it’s a bar.”

Kaid Benfield (co-founder of Smart Growth America) writes in his article “Why a Good Bar Is Essential to Sustainable Communities“:

“The more complete our neighborhoods, the less we have to travel to seek out goods, services and amenities. The less we have to travel, the more we can reduce emissions. People enjoy hanging out in bars and, especially if they are within walking distance of homes, we can also reduce the very serious risks that can accompany drinking and driving.”

I might add that in the download age, which has already killed music stores, weakened movie theatres, put print newspapers on life support and finished off all but a few bookstores, the places that remain and offer a shared community commons are becoming more important.
Bars qualify: you can’t download a pint of Guinness.”

Mickey Finn's in Libertyville

No less than the mighty International Economic Development Council (IEDC) has weighed-in on the topic. Looking at how municipalities are re-marketing themselves as “destinations”, combined with the rapid growth of DIY and craft food & drink, the IEDC recently hosted a webinar entitled “How Can a Microbrewery Grow Your Local Economy“?

“Everybody’s into “buying local” nowadays. Why should your beer be any different?

Microbreweries offer substantial opportunities for communities. Not only do they allow for re-using vacant space, they also create local jobs; attract new companies or expand existing ones; and increase the tax base. In IEDC’s first web seminar of 2013, you will hear the academic, professional, and practitioner perspectives on how microbreweries help grow their local economies.”

We see it locally:

  • Grayslake: Opened the “Light the Lamp” Microbrewery (with seating and by-the-glass retail sales) in 2011. Also just concluded: The Grayslake Chamber of Commerce and the Exchange Club of Grayslake have partnered to present the 1st Annual Craft Beer Festival.
  • Libertyville: Mickey Finn’s brewpub has been a fixture of a lively downtown scene since 1994
  • Lake Bluff: Over the last few years, the Lake Bluff Brewing Company has quickly become a key part of social life in the far North Shore
  • Mundelein: Home of the Tighthead Brewing Company whose Tap-Room “is intended and expected to be “an extension of our family room”. A place where all are welcome to visit with friends, make new friends, share the trials and tribulations of your day, or week, or just watch a game and relax.”  The community also just had its 2nd Annual Craft Beer shindig this last weekend.

Like it or not, bars and the products they serve play a key part in “lubricating” the social fabric of a community. They’re sometimes seen by puritanical Village Elders as “Dens of Sin and Iniquity“. They can also be seen in the historical context as essential parts of neighborhoods and communities… going so far as to have local-government endorsed “beer gardens”.

The Milwaukee County Park System recently opened the Estabrook Beer Garden, operating as beer gardens always have (until prohibition screwed things up!)… as a FAMILY-FRIENDLY DESTINATION! In the days before air-conditioning, many cities had beer gardens, where a family could bring a picnic, enjoy cold drinks, and spend the day with friends. Beer gardens offered many pastimes besides just beer drinking: some spots hosted shooting galleries, bowling alleys, and live classical music. People could come for entertainment and events, even if they didn’t want to partake in the drinking. Today many beer gardens have outdoor games and board games available to patrons.

Estabrook Beer Garden

We’ve also mentioned “pop-up plazas” in other posts… works for beer gardens too! Have to get the RLB and Park District lawyers to stop scaring the Mayor, Trustees, and various Committee members with talk of lawsuits and litigation in order to allow something like this at one of our many parks.
– Orchard Park, surrounded 100% by residences, would be GREAT!

So, a little bit of “topic drift”, but still to the point. Whether from a fixed location or a temporary tent, beer attracts people, and more importantly… people attract people, and that’s a big part of having successful “places” in the community!

How will we capture the value of that idea and put it to work in Round Lake Beach?

Related Post (with content):

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