Thoughts on the Neighborhood Pub
There is work, there is home. What else is there?
The closing of Walden Grille has precipitated a lengthy exchange of opinions on Patch. It seems that people miss the pub atmosphere the grill offered; they miss the gathering place.
In his book, "The Great Good Place," Ray Oldenburg contends we all need a spot that is free of expectations, where no business need be conducted, where you can put aside the business of the day and talk without the structure of home or work. Or where you could find a corner table for serious conversation. He calls it a third place, a place where conversation is lively, information flows, or the patron can sit in a corner and think. Walden Grille filled that need. It was a place in Concord Center where you could drop in, sit at the bar and find people to talk to; where everybody knew your name; and non-designer jeans were common.
Oldenburg writes that the sidewalk cafes of France, the Viennese coffeehouses, the bier gartens of Germany, and the Japanese tea houses fill this need for a third place in other countries. In the United States, any town center could be that third place if it has a place to gather. Homes on large lots, however, create isolation. Longer work hours make downtime harder, and the demands of keeping physically fit, and children organized, rob the time we may need to keep our brains alert through conversation.
Oldenburg puts conversation as the main activity of that third place: “lively, scintillating, colorful and engaging.” And he uses two Concordians to make his point. Richard Goodwin, in a Jan. 1974 New Yorker Reflections essay wrote: in the suburbs there is no place where neighbors can anticipate unplanned meetings — no pub or corner store or park.
Goodwin contrasted the bustle of modern U.S. cities with the end of the day in Renaissance Italy when “…the day’s work is done, everyone collects in the piazzas. The steps of Santa Maria del Fiore swarm with men of every rank and class… A thousand minds, a thousand arguments; a lively intermingling of questions, problems, news of the latest happenings, jokes; an inexhaustible play of language and thought, a vibrant curiosity…”
In his essay "Table Talk," Emerson, an earlier Concordian, wrote that Paris had become the “social center of the world,” because, “…it is the city of conversation and cafes.” From the corner of the bar at Walden Grille I read the paper, met friends, eavesdropped, watched sporting events and inaugurations, bantered with the bartender and the clients, and read. I could bring my book to the far corner of the bar and read knowing that my personal space would not be invaded.
The last time I dropped in, a week before the grill closed, a Vermont friend I had not seen in several years was sitting at the bar with a friend. She said she always stopped by the grill on her way from Boston to home because she always met someone she knew. It was a place of infinite variation of client and conversation. It filled my need for a third place and I hope that its replacement will bring back the staff and try to emulate those great third places of Europe: the café, the pub, the coffee shop, the great good places.
Some quotes on conversation:
Bronson Alcott, "Debate is masculine, conversation is feminine."
I think he’s on to something. Conversation is preferable to debate.
Alexis de Tocqueville, "An American cannot converse, but he can discuss, and his talk falls into a dissertation. He speaks to you as if he was addressing a meeting; and if he should chance to become warm in the discussion, he will say 'Gentlemen' to the person with whom he is conversing."
I have to assume that de Tocqueville missed the informality of his French sidewalk cafes.