Friday, October 19, 2012

Beer can bring people together

Beer brings people together, and that's one of the big reasons why I love it. When I wrote for the Philadelphia Weekly, I tried to point out how beer has been interwoven with our history, both real and imagined, getting right down into our myths and legends.

But what's really important is how it is interwoven into our lives on a personal level.

A fantastic example is this news story about a mini-mart -- a damn Wawa, really -- that serves great craft beer and around which a community has formed. It's a mini-mart with beer. The guy who owns it focuses on great beer. And the people in the community have made it a rallying point. Just go read the story to see what I mean, because it's COOL AS HELL.

More than any single part of that story -- more than the rare beer and selection and prices and did I mention the rare beer? -- the part that I love, admire, and respect was this:

Chung had larger ambitions when he tapped that first keg in 2009. "I didn't want the place to be just a convenience store, or a stereotypical convenience store," he says. He'd come to this very store himself as a child. It was part of his upbringing. He knew it had been an understated presence in West Seattle since the 1940s. "You know the old-time general store -- a drugstore that was a gathering place?" he says. "That's the type of feel I wanted."

The community seemed to crave that, too. With their pints, more and more people started to linger. Now in one corner of Super Deli Mart sits a thick fallen-cedar table courtesy of a regular that would look more at home in some Northwest-chic hotel. A regular group of up to 20 locals gather around that table every Wednesday evening to argue beer styles and grouse about the Seahawks' latest disappointment -- as if Super Deli Mart was some postmodern Elks Club.

"My wife and I have lived in the same house for 17 years, and I've never known the people on my street until we started coming here and drinking about one-and-a-half years ago," Cary Schroeder, 43, said on a recent Wednesday while having a beer with his wife, Jody. "It really has brought the neighborhood together."

That's powerful stuff. It's the kind of thing every community needs. Whether a watering hole or community cafe or merely a general store where you see the same people on a regular basis, these are the kind of places that knit people together. You don't know you need a place like that in your life until you find one, or until you've had one and lost it.

I grew up in a small town where not only were there several such places in one tiny community, each watering hole itself was a micro community within an already tiny community. I loved the town so much I wrote a book about it.

These days I live in the midst of suburban sprawl. Subdivisons and strip malls. Places like the ones I describe are few and far between, especially if you live in a neighborhood like I do, where walking or biking to the nearest place to grab a drink or have a sandwich and read the paper involves crossing multiple busy roads.

The POINT, which I left a long time ago, is that beer probably lends more texture to your world than you even realize. Usually for the better. EMBRACE it. Go have a beer at your local watering hole, even if their beer stinks. The beer isn't the important part, it's that you'll be closer to your community and the people in it. And that's not a bad thing.


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