The supreme act of creativity, and other lessons one might learn in a bar

One thing that was unique about my last meditation retreat: I carpooled with three other guys, also fellow meditators. It was unique because we had a chance to chat about the retreat on the way there, and then on the ride back, we debriefed. Even so, conversations don’t always dwell solely on the topic of meditation.

I said something about my summer job in McCarthy, and I mentioned my favorite bar in the whole wide world, The Golden Saloon. Suresh, a Bay Area consultant, was sitting beside me. Normally the most reserved in our bunch and the last one to speak, he cut me off and enthusiastically began to extole the virtures of a bar. By his second sentence, he was getting philosophical. Hospitality, he said, is the supreme act of creativity.

Jon-McCarthy 2016
Me, dancing in the streets of McCarthy outside The Golden Saloon, summer 2016. Photo courtesy of McKinney Makes Media:

Suresh talked about the unique social place of a bar. A bar is a place to mix and meet people, he said, to mingle, but it’s more than that. It’s a place to exchange ideas and to get real with other people. Suresh said that one of his personal dreams was to open a bar.

Suresh’s eloquent exposition sort of caught us off-guard, but this was a car with some thoughtful folks. Allen, sitting upfront on the passenger-side laughed, then gave Suresh a bit of pushback.

Isn’t a bar actually kind of superficial? he asked. Drunk guy sitting next to you, rambling on and on — god when will he stop? — we’ve certainly all been there.

Not so fast, Suresh says. You offload the superficial first.

The core idea, he says, is that everyone is equal. Within Western civilization, there’s the bar and the church, the two great institutions of the West. As the American frontier was established, they first built a church, then a bar — or visa versa, as the case may be — but the two were generally the first social contexts to be established in a new town.

At this point, Suresh was on a roll, using his hands for emphasis, dazzling us with his insights. He squirmed too, as though the seat could not contain him.

There are no bars in the east, Suresh continued, at least not in the same way as in the States. Here in the States a bar is a cultural event, a social phenomenon.

A bar, he continued, is liminal.

What was that? I ask, interrupting. By this point I’m taking notes.

Liminal, he repeats. A bar is liminal, it’s neither here nor there.

Like an airport, I think to myself. I’ve always been intrigued by places like that. I’ve always thought of them as “no places,” but now I’ve got an impressive new vocabulary word that I can use to describe these no places.


The saloon, a liminal place “where everybody knows your name”


Because a bar is liminal, says Suresh, it’s makes it a therapeutic context. It’s something my bartender friends talk about quite often. After a few drinks, folk will open up to you like you’re their therapist.

Suresh kind of owned the moment, and what can you say after such a philosophical exposition?


A Saturday night in McCarthy, Alaska at The Golden Saloon, the greatest bar in the wide world

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Jonathan Erdman

Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy, as the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountain Center. When not in McCarthy, you'll typically find me in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, writing and working with local activists. My primary writing project right now is a novel set in remote bush Alaska, of the magical realism genre wherein an earnest and independent young woman finds a mysterious radio belonging to her grandmother, a device that has paranormal bandwidth and a disturbing ability to mess with one's mental stability.

3 thoughts on “The supreme act of creativity, and other lessons one might learn in a bar”

  1. This is interesting. I tend to appreciate bars more in the abstract, as well as in their representation in movies and books (including my own), than in actual personal experience. I’ve usually found bars pretty alienating: others seem to be having a good time, so how come I’m not? I’m also struck by the ripoff factor: why pay $8 for a gin and tonic at a bar when I could make one at home for less than a dollar? Restaurants too: two drinks often cost as much as the food. The same calculus applies to coffee shops, which I also tend not to patronize, preferring to brew up my own cup of joe at home.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s bar hopping and pub crawling, but this tends to be a bit less along the lines of “hospitality” or “a supreme act of creativity,” and is more about getting drunk/high with one’s peoples — and of course maybe getting lucky at the end of the night. What draws me to a pub/bar is the people and atmosphere of a favorite spot, the potential for something like community. I’m drawn to the kinds of pubs and bars “where everybody knows your name.” I recently found such a place, locally here in Cali. I live a bit more rural than urban, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, which is something of a forested oasis from the urban madness of the greater Bay Area. There’s a bar called Woody’s in a log cabin, where locals come to hang. Like you, though, I find it easier to stay in, most nights. For me to get out, I usually need a prior commitment or some sort of push, although these days I’ve been writing so much (and so much in my own head) that in truth it would probably be good for me to hit up Woody’s a bit more often.


Consider this post an invitation, an invitation to comment and collaborate ~ In Solidarity, JE

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