“Before I opened the Tempus Fugit,” the bartender said to me upon my arrival at the bar last night at approximately 3:30, “I was the bartender of another bar. A very popular place, at the time.”
He hustled out from behind the teak and brought Whiskey, who just celebrated her second birthday, a small wooden bowl filled with cool water. Whiskey lapped at it in a desultory fashion, then lay down at the foot of my stool to continue her night’s rest.
Back behind the bar, the bartender expertly pulled me a sweet juice glass full of Pike’s. Not to be fussy about it, I let it sit there a moment before I imbibed. It’s a thing of beauty a Pike’s is, like a Bernini statue, delicate, perfectly-formed, detailed, surprising and as near perfect as anything on god’s green.
“People of course said I was crazy opening the Tempus Fugit in the middle of Prohibition,” he said wiping the teak in a tight circular motion, “and maybe I was. But here we are 90 years later, and business is better than ever.”
I looked around and noticed that once again I was the only one in the place. But I let that go.
“Tell me about the bar you worked at before. Was it like the Tempus Fugit,” I asked. “Did it serve Pike’s?”
“There’s no place like the Tempus Fugit,” he laughed “and no place but the Tempus Fugit that serves Pike’s. Even in Pike’s heyday, even when it was proclaimed ‘the Ale that WON for YALE!’ it was never an every man’s beer.”
I nodded in agreement.
“I’ve searched far and wide for Pike’s and come up empty. I’ve even tried to find out more about it on the internet. Zero.”
He looked me dead in the eye and paused polishing the bar with his damp terry. He sifted his weight a couple times and then responded in a low Gary Cooper voice.
“Listen to me. A lot of things can only be seen by people who see them. The bar I worked in before the Tempus Fugit was a place like that. The Tempus Fugit, even moreso. Even if it’s right in front of you…even if you’re physically in the place, you aren’t there if you’re not there.”
“I think Buddhists,” I said as he pulled me another Pike’s “call it being present.”
“Whatever," he dismissed. "The bar I worked in before the Tempus Fugit, where I cut my teeth you might say, had some things in common with the Tempus Fugit. Most pronounced, it was built in the center of a larger building. It had no windows out into the street. It being a speakeasy, it was accessed via a labyrinth of hallways, stairways, byways and as Sinatra would say, my ways.”
“I see,” I said. I was nearly finished with number two and he drew me a third in a fresh glass.
“We called the bar ‘The Dark Place.’”
“A good name for a bar.”
“It wasn’t a good name,” he said, “it was the only thing we could call it. The bar was completely without lights.”
“You mean it was dimly lit?”
“No. It was as blind as Plato’s cave. Lit only by magnetic forces and the invisible glow of god. The pressure was off in the Dark Place. You talked to whomever, not worrying about what they looked liked, what they were drinking, whatever. It was free from all prejudice and pretense.”
“The Dark Place,” I said stupidly.
“The people who could see it could see it. And those that couldn’t stayed away in droves. But those that saw it fit right in.”
I began putting on my coat and be-leashing Whiskey. I have work to do today and didn’t want to get too far into a drunk. I closed my eyes and pulled out two bills from my wallet not knowing what they were, as if I were in The Dark Place.
He smiled an illuminated smile and pushed them back my way.
“On me,” he said.
"Of course," I answered.
And we walked home in the dim light of night.