The Mojo Lounge
Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. Everyone is in that lovey-dovey, stomach aflutter, doves in the air good feeling. Me, I’m in a period of transition and reflection. Two nights ago, my local bar – The Mojo Lounge, aka the place I’ve called my second home for the past 13 years – poured its last beer of the night and closed its doors for the final time.
The Mojo Lounge remained open for nearly 14 years when all the other bars in the area seemed to have an average shelf life of a just a few. You see, it’s not just the beer on tap or in bottle that determine whether you’re in a good bar or a bad one. It’s the people you meet there, the staff behind the bar, the general culture and vibe of the place. That separates your garden variety local bar where you can just go in and get a drink from one where people come together and share experiences, build lifelong relationships and create lasting memories. And of course, enjoy a beer or two.
My first night in the place was actually an error of sorts. I was new in town and had just finished bartending school. I was looking for gigs in the local area and I lived literally two or three blocks away from this place. The operation went like this – I would go into a bar, check out the joint, order a round and see how everything looked before I would inquire about a position. Often if I liked it, I would come back another time and ask about employment. The first person I met was a middle-aged man from Belize named Norm. It was ironic that this guy told me this was the best bar in town, where everyone gets along and everyone knows your name. Sounds like Cheers right? And to have the local barfly be a guy named Norm is just icing on the cake. I went with it. I hung out, met the one of the owners of the place and had a few rounds. Granted these guys didn’t have a huge craft beer selection (and still don’t) but that is beside the point as far as I’m concerned. Turns out my first time there was also their first anniversary party. The place got packed and I met a ton of friendly people, saw a karaoke show and had a blast. This place was definitely worth revisiting.
Fast forward thirteen years. I have been through countless experiences at this place – both good and bad. We’ve had births, deaths, weddings and funerals. Friends who have come and gone, literally and figuratively. The place remained an open door for anyone who wanted a “no frills, no bs” kind of bar where you could just kick back, have a brew and talk sports with the guy next to you while watching it on one of the large screens up above the bar. Karaoke was upstairs two nights a week and after a few years it was voted by AOL as the City’s Best Karaoke spot. It was also voted by AOL as the best Dive Bar in the area. We helped form a co-ed intramural softball league with many of the neighborhood bars participating. We had APA pool league tournaments twice a week, also in conjunction with other area bars. It was a place where people from all walks of life and all different backgrounds could come together and feel an almost instant camaraderie with people they had just met. There were hardly ever fights in the place. If you got into one, once you walked out the door, you never come back. In other words, that kind of nonsense was just not tolerated. Can’t we all just get along?
The point I’m trying to make here is that while you may walk into a bar with the best beers on tap and the coldest beers in the cooler, if it’s not a place that you can enjoy, it’s almost not worth visiting. There’s something to be said for my allegiance to this place for the last 13 years when the closest thing they came to representing a craft beer bar (besides my own home brew on occasion) was Sam Adams on tap/in bottle and Magic Hat #9, also on tap. They had plenty of macro selections, but little in the way of craft beer. It wasn’t about that though. It was about the bar itself, the ambience and vibe in the place – from the photos and posters on the walls to the music on the jukebox to the people who frequented the joint. The bartenders knew everyone by name and were friendly with them all. And believe me, that’s a lot of names and life stories to remember. People would flood in for good times and cheap drinks, but more importantly, they came to interact with each other and let out any of the stresses that develop through your typical day. There was a cathartic element to this place. I often spent hours on the pool table, just letting my burdens and worries melt away. That in itself has an intrinsic value that more than makes up for any shortcomings one might consider.
I’m going to miss that little hole in the wall. It was a place where I had so many memories. From greatness on the pool table to heroics on the softball field to shenanigans on stage, it was a part of my life I’ll never forget and will always treasure. More importantly, the friends I made and experiences we shared are dear to me. Most notably though it was the place where I met the woman who would later become my wife. It also gives me this opportunity to express to you that finding the right place to kick back and have a brew is just as – if not more – important as finding the “best” place to do so. Cheers…