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Friday Question of the Day – Debating the roles and expectations of Bars in our neighborhoods

by Prince Of Petworth December 15, 2011 at 10:22 pm 131 Comments


Photo by PoPville flickr user JosephLeonardo

Dear PoPville,

I was wondering if you might be willing to post the following query to your readers relating to an experience I had recently. I think it raises interesting questions about the role of “public” private spaces, namely local bars, and what purpose they serve for city dwellers. Since moving here from New York two years ago, I’ve found that norms and expectations relating to the uses of public spaces are different here and I thought this episode might spur some debate among your readers (I swear this isn’t another “why can’t be DC be as cool as NY” rant).

This week an old friend called and let me know he was in the neighborhood and asked if I wanted to meet up. We’ve had a long-standing backgammon rivalry for a while and so when we decided to head to the Raven, which is just a few doors down from my apartment, I brought the board and we settled into a booth and began to play. Once we got started, we realized that neither of us really felt like drinking, but we figured it was cool to play since the bar wasn’t too crowded and there were plenty of empty booths. However, after a few minutes, the bartender came out from behind the bar and asked us if we were going to order something. This is the question I want to pose to your readers: is a bar a place where people can gather regardless of whether they are “customers” or is there an expectation that they will buy something when they enter the door?

My initial reaction was surprise. I’d always assumed bars are places where people are welcome to gather, regardless of whether or not they imbibe. Space wasn’t an issue since it was a pretty slow night, and we weren’t putting anyone out (although I realize the bartender survives on tips). In New York I’d played backgammon or chess in my local dive many times without buying anything, knowing that the bartender wouldn’t mind since I was a good customer. I don’t claim to be a regular at the Raven, but it is my neighborhood bar and I drink there fairly often. A local haunt was one of the first things I sought out after moving to DC because it’s important to have a public space that you can call your own. What I’d like to ask your readers is this: am I unjustified feeling so annoyed by the bartender’s demand that we buy something?

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