I sit, knocking out a backlog of blog stories, sipping from a tall, thin, glass of Zwettler (a German beer). The café has six small tables, closely packed, and four stools at the bar. The sun is pounding in through the west-facing window with an intensity I have not seen lately.
When I got here today I thought perhaps I had come through the wrong door. I even recognized one face from the Cheap Budvar Place next door. The place was thick with flavored smoke and old men. My favorite neighborhood bartender was working, though, so I knew I belonged. She’s past her prime now, perhaps, which means I can still think when she’s around.
I made my way to the last empty table, settled in, and after a few minutes opened the laptop. After I had been working for a few minutes a guy near me started speaking louder in my direction. I actually did the look-over-the-shoulder thing to see who behind me he was talking to. No, he was talking to me. he had Harry Carray glasses and was wearing a suit only a golfer could love. He said some more stuff at me. I made an honest attempt to understand, but it’s hard enough figuring out what sober czechs are talking about. I finally had to shrug and apologize for not speaking czech.
It was as if I had “You don’t say, sir; please expand on that fascinating observation.” No sooner had I explained that I didn’t know what the hell he was saying that he opened up the tap and let the conversation fly. The man’s little buddy turned to give me a shrug and a smile filled with unhappy teeth. Instantly I liked Little Buddy. He was apologizing for his friend in a way, and I was apologizing to him for not knowing the local jazz, but more than that we were sharing a joke.
Gradually a transition took place. I’ve seen it happen once before here, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t publish that episode. As I’ve been sitting here, the bar has gently transitioned into a gay bar. I’m sure of that – for all the Czechs pride themselves on their laissez-faire attitude they seem less tolerant of homosexuality. Then again, I’m not really the guy to judge that.
But the old men with their cigars have been replaced with younger men who exchange clandestine gestures of familiarity. Perhaps at this moment this is not a gay bar but an in-the-closet bar. Or maybe these are just regular guys who are more physically expressive than their czech brethren. It’s all the same to me. [An aside: three or four years ago I was in a gay bar in San Diego, and I was worried about what I would do if some guy hit on me. Then it occurred to me that if no women hit on me in my regular bars, no men would hit on me either. Being non-sexy means I can go to any bar I want, and damn if they don’t mix the drinks twice as strong in gay bars. Karaoke night in Vegas, at a bar with the “buy one drink with good booze and drink beer free the rest of the night” deal, was a night to remember. I sang Kinks and Queen.]
Back to the here and now. There’s one guy, thinning gray streaky hair, bad teeth, scruffy, me in fifteen more years, standing at the bar. He’s watching the window and the door, and demanding far more of the bartender than she wants to give. I know that look; bartenders have looked at me that way many times.
There are three guys in one knot, speaking earnestly, and since I can’t understand them it sounds terribly important. Aesthetics, I think, or perhaps the nature of consciousness.
Another changing of the guard is taking place. The second couple just came in, young and with enough scent to send an owl running for cover. [Nature note: owls are the greatest natural enemy of skunks. I’ve been told by people who should know that some owls will leave a dead skunk rotting in the nest to keep other predators away from their offspring.] My eyes are watering. I’m sure there are times I don’t smell good, but this, this is a smell the person chose to wear on purpose.
I’ll save the rest of that rant for another day. What’s important is that the nature of this tiny place is changing again, as the sun makes its way toward the horizon. It is turning into a place to bring a date. Couples, groups, kids with their infectious cheer are starting to arrive. The music, which I hadn’t noticed before, seems to be moving with the trend; right now there is a calypso-disco cover of a 70’s disco song playing. D-I-S-C-O.
How does this place change so readily? Have the different groups come to a tacit understanding of who gets the bar when? Is it just that the place is so small that when one group dominates the others find somewhere else? There are other bars in the area; down the hill are restaurant bars and close by is the Cheap Budvar Place (not to be confused with the Cheap Beer Place, which in retrospect should have been named Cheap Gambrinus Place). This place is different than the others, though. They aren’t like the fancy places with a full menu, there’s a neighborhood feel here. At the same time this place is not like smoky boozerias that dominate this neighborhood. It’s a little place, with a fleeting touch of class.