"Wine does of a truth moisten the soul and lull our griefs to sleep."
Pardon the Socrates, but it was the best pro-drinking quotation I could find. Maybe it comes as a surprise, but you have to move pretty far back through the history of literature in order for such pro-alcohol statements to be commonplace. In today's world, our version is a deranged TV star talking about having Tiger Blood and how many ounces of cocaine he can do at one sitting.
We're living in an age where our intoxication is as polarized as our politics with teetotaling on one side, bingeing on the other, and little room in between. Meanwhile, social drinking has kind of taken its seat quietly in the back of the class. The idea of going to a bar and having a few drinks over a couple of hours is outmoded. We're in a time, in other words, where we've lost what's good about a tavern.
Bars are places where people indulge, yes, but they were once a place where people also relaxed and ideas were shared. There used to be no option, but also no need, for the dozen 50-inch HD televisions to keep us diverted from one another. How many bars can you name where instead of live music, or trivia, or karaoke, the patrons are the centerpiece? I love those distractions as much as anyone, but isn't there something in always being so damn active that's antithetical to a bar?
Bars have gradually become that way only because they are, like us, susceptible to our culture at large. Drinking couldn't beat our productivity-consumed society, so it decided to go ahead and blend with it, literally. In vodka/Red Bulls and the like, the sedative of alcohol is mixed with caffeine and taurine, pushing drinking further into benders and the realm of a contest.
Don't get me wrong, I believe even overindulgence is good from time to time. We can disengage from the daily hand-to-hand combat of life for a few hours, and even if it means leaving the best of your night in the alley or on the floorboard of someone's car (though not a cab since we don't seem to have those in downtown Little Rock), it can feel like cleaning out the pipes, physically and mentally. Even the after-effects, the proverbial hangover, can be refocusing. Yet, years ago, it seemed the drinking culture changed. Young people started looking forward to a Friday night so they could "rage," and drinking became an indulgent weekend bacchanal where, within a matter of a few hours, we almost-violently blunt out our work weeks.
Either that or, like most things that lose any practical value in our society, drinking became an art form, a professional hobby populated by dapper connoisseurs. Something precious and expensive, where the premium small-batch vodka you're overheard ordering mustn't be any less impressive than the car the valet brings to you at the end of the evening.
So, then where is there left for the social drinker to go? I guess there's always the coffeehouse, but have you noticed that the ideas are different there? Coffee isn't social. It's invigorating, yes, but it's also agitating, and not all of us are in the mood for revolution on a bone-tired Thursday afternoon.
During Prohibition, consumption of beer, wine and whiskey jumped by 63 percent. For every bar that was shut down, it's said that three speakeasies popped up in its place. There's a different kind of Prohibition now. Social drinking is antithetical to everything else we do and, therefore, doesn't stand much of a chance when diluted and deluged by the competitive spirit that fuels all of our other endeavors as Americans.
We spend all our workdays being engaged, prodded and measured, so we now want it no different in our leisure or our homes. But I ask you to cast off that conditioning, my friends. If not, just consider this is a dirge for the tavern and a toast to long, slow bottles of beer.