Saturday, June 6, 2015

I would go out tonight, but...: Why I'm totally over bars (but not bartenders!)

It's finally happened. The moment I once thought would arrive when I turned 30 has belatedly -- very belatedly -- come knocking.

And this moment of truth has brought with it a dose of hard, cold reality: I'd rather have all of my teeth pulled out with pliers and inserted into my rectum than ever spend another night in a crowded (or even merely bustling) bar or pub.

Yes, I'm officially old, and I'm ready to embrace it. I have Zanzibar, billed as the best rooftop bar in Sydney, to thank for my new unrepentant-homebody attitude.

Last night I met up with an acquaintance there, at his suggestion. At first, I had my reservations. Zanzibar is not exactly a hop and a skip away on foot. I'd have to travel more than a few blocks to get there, and I was venturing into the great unknown, which I typically enjoy unless it requires changing trains.

My colleagues at work all said I'd have a great time there, though, and it is in Newtown, Sydney's hipster central (though unlike Melbourne's Fitzroy district, Cape Town's Observatory, and Buenos Aires's San Telmo, in an utterly mainstream Epcot Theme Park sort of way). I've been meaning to branch out of my inner-Sydney social rut and a world without 1.30am lock-out laws, so I agreed to drinks there. Still, I couldn't shake those nagging reservations, which extended beyond the effort it would require to get to Zanzibar.

How far I've come from the days when I loved discovering new bars and didn't mind dragging my ass halfway across town to get to them. Once upon a time, I described myself as a barfly and meant it. Then on my birthday last month, I ducked out of a bar work party after one drink (Did I mention that parties have fallen out of my favor lately, too?) and cancelled plans with a friend so that I could spend the night alone watching my American soaps on YouTube instead of making pointless small talk while sipping champagne. That's when I realized this ex-barfly had lost his wings. I was grounded and ready to start my descent down Barstool Mountain.

With the exception of one memorable night at Sixth of May in Jerusalem two summers ago and a first date at an empty five-star hotel bar in 2012, I haven't really enjoyed myself there in years -- especially not after dark, when all the other barflies start buzzing about. I hate the crowds, the pushing, the prodding, and the people stepping on my shoes, spilling drinks on my clothes, and pointing their cigarettes in my face.

Is that supposed to be fun? To be honest, the only reason why I go to bars at all anymore is because I know that I'm unlikely to meet a decent guy while I'm at home sitting on my couch (my favorite place in the world, regardless of where I happen to be calling home) or on Grindr. So off to the bar I go…with no expectations, only a glimmer of hope.

Lately, the glimmer remains, but the motivation has more or less left the building. I already gave up clubbing years ago, and I doubt I'll ever step foot into the nightlife again if a dance floor is involved. I've continued to drag myself to bars, though with decreasing regularity. As I looked around at all the people who seemed to be having such a good time at Zanzibar, I felt a pang of jealousy. That used to be me.

I can't say the thrill is completely gone. Windsor Castle in Melbourne is almost always a guaranteed blast, but that has everything to do with the company I keep there and the fact that my friends and I always go on weekends during the day. I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be on a Sunday afternoon in Melbourne than with friends on the back patio at Windsor.

Alas, I haven't found my Windsor Castle in Sydney...or a group of friends I'm dying to spend Sunday afternoons with. Not yet.

At the start of last night, I hadn't given up trying. I was going to Zanzibar. I wasn't crazy about the island off the coast of Tanzania when I went last year, but perhaps this Zanzibar would be more to my liking.

I couldn't believe I was going to a rooftop bar in the middle of winter. Oh well, this is Sydney, a city where people are prone to eating on the sidewalk and running around in shorts and t-shirts in June, apparently oblivious to the fact that summer's long gone. But when in Sydney...

So up up up I went, to Zanzibar's rooftop bar. The place itself was nothing special. As seems to be custom in Sydney, the patrons were attractive, the bartenders attentive but unengaging, and the decor makeshift. The latter was a mix of tacky and tropical, with a big-screen TV on which a football match was playing, three plastic flamingos plastered on the wall, and several heating lamps intended to ward off the chills but only making me wish I was in front of a home.

I kept thinking how much I would have loved this place circa 1995, maybe even in 2010. It reminded me of one of the rooftop bars I used to go to in Buenos Aires with Mariem and Cara. The only thing missing was Mariem and Cara...and the surplus of energy I still had in 2010.

The drunk girl didn't help, though I probably would have LOVED her in 2008. In fact, I met someone just like her on my birthday that year who turned out to be one of the biggest nightmares of my four and a half years in Buenos Aires. But I was absolutely enthralled with that one in the beginning. Yes, she was brash and aggressive, but at least she was entertaining.

Seven years later, a drunk person slurring and talking at me is no longer entertaining. Last night's girl -- woman, for she appeared to be at least in her mid-thirties -- was just annoying. Sure I appreciated all of the compliments she was throwing my way, but I could have lived without the constant puckering up. It's not like I didn't tell her right away that I'm gay, but then, I doubt she would have demanded kisses from a straight guy. I can kind of see why Stephan Jenkins from Third Eye Blind once joked that I only pretend I'm gay to get girls. I'm surprised more straight guys don't play that angle. Ugh. Bar tactics.

But I'm not really interested in meeting girls. I'm still interested in meeting guys, but it's been ages, perhaps years, since I've met an interesting one in a bar. So there goes that motivation.

I have no desire to talk over loud music, constantly having to lean in and ask people to repeat themselves. Last night at Zanzibar I didn't even bother to do that. I could barely make out the Aussie accent of the guy I was there with, and at a certain point, I gave up and just nodded and laughed when his vocal modulations suggested it was time to do so. funny. I probably spent more time looking at the hot footballers on TV than I did looking him in the eye.

At 10pm, I announced that it was time for me to bolt. A few years ago, I wouldn't even have showered to go out until 11. Now 10pm might as well be way past midnight!

I think I may just have to make peace with giving up my cool cred. I had a good run, but I've earned the right to bow out of bar hopping gracefully. I've earned the right to be able to tell my colleagues that I have no nighttime plans for the weekend and not feel so guilty for not being more social. I work hard. I work out...sometimes. Every day I earn the right to spend my evenings sitting on my couch writing, reading or watching American TV on my computer. Right?

Right. If anyone's looking for me tonight, that's probably exactly where I'll be.

5 great bar songs (If only more bars had better music...or a jukebox)

"Please Mr. Please" Olivia Newton-John

"Barstool Mountain" Moe Bandy

"I'm Gonna Hire a Wino to Decorate Our Home" David Frizzell

"Set 'Em Up Joe" Vern Gosdin

"Lived in Bars" Cat Power

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