Why do I never check? I should know by now. But for the third time, it's happened.
I find a place to live. A cool place. A place I like architecturally, a neighborhood that's not too fussy and not entirely dangerous. A place I can afford. A place I can paint. A place that, conveniently, has a walkable neighborhood bar. The bar part, that warms my heart.
The first time, it was the Red Lion. Kitchsy beer steins all over! Dark wood! Waitresses wearing dirndles, like living St. Pauli girls! A bar smack-dab out of the '60s, with nary a wink of irony. Just glorious dorky sixties kitch with heffewiesen on tap. Even a back patio -- while you'd think Los Angeles would be full of bars taking advantage of the fantastic weather, it isn't. A good patio with shade, a serving bar and the warm afternoon desert breeze is a rare thing. The Red Lion had it all. What's not to love?
The second time I walked from my house to the Red Lion, I drank late on the patio. I was heading inside to the bathroom when a trio, quartet of men came staggering up the angled stairs. I heard them before I saw them -- and before they saw me. "That's what's wrong," one was saying loud enough to carry ahead, drunk. "All the fucking Jews." As they rounded the bend of the stairs his friends shhhhshhhhd him. They were holding him up. He was obviously wasted. He was also obviously a regular, and an anti-semite. Me, I didn't go back to the Red Lion again when I lived nearby; I waited years, until after ownership had changed hands.
It happened again in Brooklyn, with a darling bar near the Lorimer subway station that turned out to be a mafia hangout/front. The only time I went in there was the weekend I moved in. It was immediately clear that I wasn't welcome. Returning would merit a stern warning.
And here I am in Pittsburgh, with a bar tucked into the residential neighborhood 2 blocks away. My sister and her boyfriend checked it out while they were here, lauded the $1.25 happy hour beers. A few days later and I truck over there after an afternoon of painting. I happily take a seat and order a beer. I'm the only girl. I'm also the only person, save one customer and the bartender, under 40. Could be fine. Should be fine. But not 20 minutes later, as one of the patrons watches an international weightlifting competition, it falls apart. "Look there!" he shouts, pointing at the TV. "No Blacks doing that!" We look. At the enormous puffy white men on TV. I try to imagine I've imagined what he's said. I even stick my finger in my ear, like I can block it out. Who am I kidding? "Only Europeans!" he shouts, and it's a challenge to the bar, a call to fight. He wants to fight. I'm small, I'm a chick, I have red hair that makes me a freak. If I fight, I'll never be able to come back here. And I'll likely get my ass kicked. "No Blacks can do that! No Blacks!" I don't fight him. I don't take his bait.
I knew that I would never go back there. But still I couldn't see what good fighting would do.
And yet, I should have fought. Instead, I finished my beer quitely and left.
Maybe someday, struck by inspiration and purpose and gifted with a golden tongue, I'll walk back into the neighborhood bar I never really called my own and I'll bring them all around. I'll take away the fat man's anger and ignorance. I really should. It's the only thing that would make walking away OK.