The other day, while slogging through the rain on Huntington Avenue bearing take-out sushi, Dan and I passed the UNO that has been on the corner of Huntington and Gainsborough for – I don’t know – AGES. Certainly as long as I’ve worked at the theatre, and that’ll be 22 years in January.
Dan: Ugh. I wish that place would GO AWAY.
Me: It’ll never go away. It’s a mainstay for the matinee crowd.
Dan: I guess.
Me: I used to drink there. When I still drank. I would go there and drink after work.
Dan: Oh my God. That’s sad. That is SO SAD. The only thing sadder? Drinking down the street at The Cheesecake Factory. On Christmas Eve.
Me: Bah ha HA! No, wait! Drinking at…at…okay, drinking the night before Thanksgiving in your hometown. AT APPLEBEE’S.
Dan: Yes. That is the saddest of all.
(Actually, the saddest place I drank was not a chain restaurant bar. While there is most definitely something quite sad about drinking in those kinds of places, there are sadder places. Like, oh, supply closets. Public restrooms. Your own couch, in front of your stereo, listening to the same Jayhawks album over and over again. Not that I would know anything about any of that.)
I think I drank in chain restaurant bars because there was something comfortably anonymous and cookie-cutter about them. Whether you’re in an UNO in Boston or a TGI Friday’s in Orlando, you’re staring blearily at the same faux stained glass panels, listening to the same Bryan Adams songs, and squinting to read the same nametag buried amongst all of the same “flair” advertising the same unlimited salad and breadsticks or the same new deep-fried something-or-other. Pudding in a shotglass. Radio Flyer wagons nailed to the walls. Yes, another. Please.
When I drank in these places, I typically stuck to beer. I could count on most of them having Sam Adams on tap, which was the least offensive draught beer in general. Because I wouldn’t go near Budweiser, I felt that I was discerning enough to not have a drinking problem.
Unless I could coerce a coworker into drinking with me, I drank alone, and socialized with no one. You don’t go to the bar at UNO to make friends, or I certainly didn’t. I would typically make a show of having something to read or do. I’d grab a file from my desk and sort its contents, then sort them again. Taking my work with me to the bar meant that I took my job VERY seriously. Or that’s what I thought the bartender thought. In reality, the bartender knows what your deal is, or doesn’t care what your deal is. This was all part of the elaborate system of appearances I spent most of my time obsessing over. How to drink without looking like I needed to drink.
Since getting sober, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been inside that UNO. I’ve gone there after taking family members to a matinee. Doesn’t bother me in the sense that I am not seized with an overwhelming desire to sit at the bar and drink Sam Adams while sorting paper. It’s not my first choice when it comes to dining out, but only because I feel like you may as well order a salt lick and a tub of Crisco than choose something off the menu. The effect is the same.