A Local Problem by Trevor Plumbly
It’s a black day on the street: ‘Sliders Bar’ is closing; they’re going to convert it into a ‘family restaurant’, which I reckon just about qualifies as community vandalism – surely there’s enough of those bloody things around already? If people want to feed their offspring’s faces in public, why don’t they go to McDonalds or KFC? That’s what they’re in the world for isn’t it? Sliders was a decent little bar frequented by people who liked a chat and a quiet pint; Shane, our host, was a man for all seasons, well versed in the intricacies of wine, food, music, politics and sport, a true rarity on the Auckland café scene. Whoever said ‘everything can be replaced’ obviously didn’t enjoy a sociable pint on Ponsonby Road. Finding another ‘local’ isn’t proving easy, despite early evening forays into all manner of licensed premises. I do have some limitations: being pretty much blind makes crossing the main street a bit of a gamble, so whilst I enjoy a pint I don’t really see the point of dying for one. The second problem is the white cane: it’s a bit like the elephant in the room where pubs are concerned, some seem fascinated by it while others studiously ignore it, either way ‘it’ never gets mentioned in conversation.
At the Coal Face
The first candidate qualified geographically but sad to say that was about it; drinking at the street tables was out as they were a smoking area where the faithful sat clouded in enough smoke to cure bacon; the interior décor seemed more suited to a rest home for bats rather than a place where people actually connected; the music was played at stadium pitch thus further destroying any chance of social contact for those lacking night vision goggles and sign language skills. Number two was widely regarded as the ‘in’ place to go, a bit of a barn but light and airy; the staff, though polite, conveyed the impression that they’d been sprayed with some sort of sealant to stop their personalities from getting out. As soon as I settled with a beer, the torture began: the ‘regulars’ arrived and claimed the next table. Some people feel that raising their voice lends weight to their wit and wisdom and ‘Gary’ was such a one, regaling his friends and half the pub with tales of his sexual and alcoholic antics over the previous weekend. After about 10 minutes of listening to this twerp’s testosterone tales I left to the choruses of his acolytes proclaiming, ‘You’re a hard case Gary!’… Yuk!
Stools of Thought
As I continue my pilgrimage, I have discovered that there are bars out there without bar stools, just like a chemist’s dispensary (whoopee guys, nice one!). There’s an entire sub-culture out there friends: I discovered female Gary equivalents, just as boorish, sexist and foul-mouthed as the male; half-assed ‘celebrities’ hoping to be noticed but not actually spoken to; garrulous drunks and the solitary brooders, reduced to almost leper-like status because social drinking on Ponsonby Road appears to be a team-only event. There’s variety on the other side of the bar too, with duty managers paying more attention to lap-tops and smart-phones than the people that actually provide them with a living; all manner of bar staff, some like clockwork toys that chirp ‘how was your day’ in an ingrained, mechanical way that indicates they don’t give a stuff if you had lost your legs in a train smash that very morning. It seems strange to me that people in such close contact with the public have a sort of uniform blandness, almost as if the bar itself has become their personal barrier rather than a common meeting ground. You’ll be pleased to know that it’s not all gloom: I’ve stumbled across a couple of possibilities that warrant further visits; research of such import as this must be extensive and I will file a comprehensive report as soon as this local problem is resolved.