McGlinchey’s doesn’t love you back

    They threw me out of here recently. It was an honest mistake on my part, really. I love this bar more than any other place I’ve ever spent money.

    The following is a work of opinion submitted by the author.

    They threw me out of here recently. It was an honest mistake on my part, really.

    I had not gotten much rest since returning from a week in New Orleans. I was a few lagers deep, and, in a mildly hallucinatory state of sleep-deprivation, almost literally forgot what city I was in. In Philly, we don’t walk around with beer on the streets, something I was rapidly conditioned to believe was the norm after seven days in Louisiana. The server grabbed my beer and we exchanged an equity of vulgarity.

    I was in McGlinchey’s, one of Center City’s last bastions of Philly disaffectedness, a place that has remained nearly cryogenic throughout the transformation of that part of town.

    Its home neighborhood has gone from a gritty safety hazard to its slick post-Rendell incarnation, but McGlinchey’s has lazily resisted among a swarm of glass towers creeping skyward like stalagmites, a steadfast artifact, the quintessence of this city’s weathered weariness, a spirit very different from that of the city I briefly mistook it for.

    Looking for love? Move on.

    If New Orleans’s moniker, The Big Easy, is famously befitting, ours is renowned for its irony. I don’t think I have received love, brotherly or otherwise, from a McGlinchey’s server in the years since I started coming here for Korsakoff Syndrome-inducing Yuengling specials and the rarified privilege of smoking within four walls.

    Not love, but not hatred, either — though I’ve often wondered how many times McGlinchey’s servers have fantasized about bludgeoning their patrons while filling our orders at the bar.

    Not hatred, but our own Philadelphian ennui, a term that usually implies privilege, but in our city means exhaustion and years of conditioning of learned helplessness — that no matter what you were or are or wanted to be, you’re now filling the order of someone drinking away their obstacles in a suffocatingly smoky room, at a table slick with the patina of decades of spilled booze, under perhaps the only red lights in the world that don’t actually hide the shadows on your face.

    Abandon desires for gentility or small talk, questions about your day or how you’ve been. A server will walk up to you and look at you — not ask what you want to drink — just look, unmoving, usually with bagged eyes and almost never, except on the rarest of occasions, with a smile. And in the 100 or so times I’ve come here, I’ve never said anything in response to that hollow look but “Just a lager.”

    I love this bar more than any other place I’ve ever spent money.

    Just a lager

    They threw me out of here. And after they did, I realized I had forgotten something on the table. I walked back in with a mix of courage and apathy and asked the bartender, who had watched the scene a few minutes earlier, if they had found it.

    He smiled. “Chicken in a Biskit?” he asked, holding up a box of the crackers. I smiled back and told him no, thanks, I just needed what I left on the table — which, unsurprisingly, they couldn’t seem to find. He put down the box and went back to work.

    The bartender next to him told me not to try to take booze out of the bar anymore. I tried to explain that I had spent so much time recently taking booze out of bars that it hadn’t occurred to me not to. She swore at me and told me it was a lame excuse and that they would see me next time.

    I had forgotten what city I was in. The defining psychological undercurrent of our city, perhaps, is the anti-passive aggressive. It is the fully communicated, wholly felt sensation coursing through citizens’ neural pathways, a high-definition, impersonal emotionalism that is at once whimsical and true, the luxury of never having to guess how someone is feeling. A passive-aggressive anger would be longer-lasting, never having a resolution. The dogs get their anger out all at once, and when it’s out, it’s out, and they can go back to eating Chicken in a Biskit.

    I never have to ask the server if she’s all right, because the answer is always, “Of course not.”

    Of course not, and there’s no need to couch it in the painfully forced decorum of the hospitality industry. I’m not okay. I’m tired. It’s late, and I didn’t think that, at my age, I would still be serving lager in this much smoke in this much red light. Don’t tell me where you’ve been. Don’t tell me how your day is. Just tell me, as quickly as possible, what you want to drink.

    I went back a week later. And when she looked at me, I told her, “Just a lager.”

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