Last Call: When a Favorite Bar Closes

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Photo by JoeAnneNah/Flickr CC

On par with being dumped by a long-time girlfriend is the feeling of losing a beloved drinking hole. At some point in your life, barhopping just seems overly complicated and you settle down. The bartender knows your name. You've met the other regulars and now revel in the sameness, day after day. Comfort is, well, comfortable. So why change?

Unfortunately, it's not always your choice. Change is the only constant, argued Greek philosopher Heraclitus. Every bar must eventually close--the old mahogany pulled out from under our elbows--and that's it. Last call gains the ominous ring of eternity.

Within the last two weeks, I've lost two of my regular haunts in Washington, D.C. Timberlake's and Bar Pilar's "Tuesday Cocktail Sessions."

We would argue, laugh, drink, and roast each other. Occasionally we fought, mourned, and sang karaoke despite not having a karaoke machine.

Timberlake's: 1978-2009

For years I went to Timberlake's and drank with other restaurant employees after our shifts, late on Saturday nights. We would argue, laugh, drink, and roast each other and those not present. Occasionally we fought, mourned, and sang karaoke despite not having a karaoke machine.

The bartender served us drinks in a pint glass while offering his best Sean Connery impersonation. He was a good guy but a bad impersonator. Of course, that pint was simultaneously washed down with a pint of cheap beer and followed immediately by another round of the same. This improved the bartender's imitation considerably.

When closing time came around, the barkeep always shouted, "Two minutes," indicating the time frame we had to finish our business. We often employed subterfuge and shouted back, "two minutes" long after last call. Generally this would be good for another 20 minutes, after which we'd stumble out of the bar.

I walked rather upright on the last night of Timberlake's and mumbled "two minutes" to myself. Usually the joy in leaving Timberlake's was the reward in knowing you'd come back again. This exit was joyless.

"Tuesday Cocktail Sessions," Bar Pilar: 2008-2009

Bar Pilar is still around, but its bar manager, Adam Bernbach, has left. It remains a good bar with great food. However, Adam equalized this equation with his handwritten cocktail tasting menus on Tuesday nights. Every Tuesday, Adam served five carefully crafted drinks--omakasi style--based on a theme (some of which were small portions, an opening and closing taste). While this sounds a bit obscure, the place never lost its feel as a local's bar. It was a rare example of something both clever and common, ahead of its times and yet accessible to all.

That night was also populated with all of D.C.'s most talented bartenders and drinkers. This made it an instant success in my book. These are the people I like to drink with. Not to mention, the drinks were always incredible if not sometimes profound.

On the last night, Bar Pilar was filled with regulars except for one rather annoying girl who had wandered in Bar Pilar for the first time and, with a four-deep bar, wondered aloud why it took so long to get a Red Bull and vodka. I wanted to scold her, but I knew that she would be there for nights to come and I would not. That effectively closed the bar in my mind.

Heartbreak and denial follow, along with the other requisite stages. Despite "change" being a buzzword, it also has lasting repercussions. No matter where else you go--no matter how many times you try to relive the memory--you are left without recourse. However similar a bar may appear, every bar is different. Made so by the peculiarities of its denizens. While some of the characters may seem alike, no two are the same.

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Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He sits on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail. More

Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He travels throughout the country and around the world in search of great drinks, and the stories behind them. Derek's methodical approach to cocktails was profiled in the Wall Street Journal's "A Master of Mixological Science" and his martini lauded as the best in America by GQ. He's been in numerous media outlets featuring his approach to better drinking, including CNN, The Rachel Maddow Show and FOX. Derek is a founding member of the D.C. Craft Bartender's Guild and on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail.
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