Ah, the biker bar. A mysterious creature shrouded in legend, dimly lit dives perfumed with stale beer and oil, filled with mean eyed men you daren’t cross and tattooed women you definitely daren’t cross, wild music pouring from every opening and the constant sound of bikes firing up and screaming into the distance. A nerdy civilian walks in and the jukebox screeches to a halt, insults fly, and out he’s thrown ass over teakettle into the parking lot to a chorus of jeering laughter. Every guy looks like he invented cool and each woman behind the bar is hotter than the last in clothing straight out of BDSM culture. Something like that, anyway.
That’s the Hollywood fantasy, one I never quite got. Biker bars are absolutely nothing like that. Sure, you have the big scale jokes who set up some sad version of the above to make a quick buck off the suckers, but those barely constitute a real bar, much less a real biker bar. They’re more en par with the flash in the pan nightclubs who fashion themselves around the latest fad and vanish with that fad.
Because young artists have to pay rent, I bartended throughout most of my twenties and not surprisingly worked in a few biker bars. Some were great, some not so much, but they all had the same thing in common: they are just another bar. I may have just burst someone out there’s bubble, but it’s true. Most are standard dive bars, albeit with slightly more leather clothing, garage paraphernalia on the walls, and specialized parking in the front. Sometimes they’re fun, sometimes not, and unlike the movie version, typically no more raucous than any other bar. Truth be told, the only time I’ve seen biker bars get really unruly to the point of being semi-dangerous is when some unfortunate with a need to compensate for their myriad life deficiencies are disappointed the bar isn’t like what they wanted, steeped in booze, fights, and machismo, so they act an absolute fool, mean mugging, getting drunk, and starting fights usually with one or more of the people you really shouldn’t start fights with. But these are the same kind of people who need to buy all the accoutrement they are sure the real bikers don, the kind of sad people who honestly believe those “biker” t.v. shows, the kind of guys who brag constantly about all their riding experience (check their odometer) or gals who think they are the first woman to ever ride a motorcycle and proclaim so obnoxiously loudly in a pathetic bid for attention. Basically, the kind of people who make the rest of us cringe.
The reality of the biker bar is laughter and music, dirty jokes and playful joviality, comradery and a rowdy yet friendly environment for everyone. Biker bars may be one of the last bastions of people interesting in engaging with each other, not their phones. The crowd shifts rapidly on warm days as people stop in for a single beer or glass of water and are gone again, just needing a break and a little social interaction. Yes there’s a certain social etiquette specific to a biker bar, but it’s set on a rapid learning curve. They are the last places you would want to start a fight and less people overdo it on the drinking than the myths imply as they love their bike too much to risk her. (On hot days, you mostly get requests for water.) And that big scary guy who just sat down next to you? You should say hi. Better still, throw out a genuine compliment toward his bike. He probably has some great stories if you’re interested.
These days I don’t frequent bars of any kind much, partially from burn out after years of having to be in them and partially because I’m not a big drinker, but neither of us is completely antisocial and I’m almost always down to check out a new spot when on a run. Besides, I get a kick out of stumbling on some great little hole in the wall on a new backroad. That in mind, I’ve decided to start an “Eats & Dives” section for those little outposts worth the stop, some a piece out, others in town, each one worth a stop in while you’re on the road.