Ideas, Stories and Beer Talks

People want to hear the end of the story

People want to hear the end of the story

I was running errands yesterday afternoon, mostly just wandering through various bookstores hoping something might stand out as a gift for my wife. Just after midday, and in between booksellers, I became very thirsty. As it happened, I was in the neighborhood of one of my old favorite locals, and decided to stop in and enjoy a quick one. The bartender talked me into a precocious honey saison and some chicken-fried bacon (I didn’t come in hungry, but how could I say no to someone who had been so earnest and enthusiastic in his recommendation?).

Halfway through the beer and upon delivery of the bacon, I was asked if his suggestions had been off the mark, and I replied that, no, both were delicious and I thanked him. We got to talking. It had been a few months since I’d visited, and I made note of the fact that they had installed a bumper pool table and had a little alcove where people were playing 8- and 64-bit video games. Given the bar’s décor – slate bar top, copper piping, red brick walls, and reclaimed wood flooring – and its self-proclaimed specialties of whiskey and craft beer, I said these things seemed a little out of place given the desired clientele implied by said ambience.

The bartender, who revealed himself to be one of the new co-owners of the bar, countered that their relative novelty was exactly the point. Why, he asked, did you come to a bar, to any place, really? You came for quality goods and attentive and appreciative service. This part is the relatively easy side of business, he hypothesized. But, he went on, and here is the trick: how do you get people to stay? Calling yourself a good community local is as simple as opening the doors and turning on a lighted sign. Actually becoming a good community bar, earning your keep, so to speak, requires that you foster an honest feeling of community. Between staff and patron, between the patrons themselves. He said he holds tournaments each Wednesday night, with people coming in to play Punch-Out, Goldeneye, and Tecmo Bowl against one another for beer and other prizes. They had pub quiz each Tuesday in which patrons decide what the week’s theme will be. So far, he added, things had been a success. I ended up having another honey saison and a shot of single-barrel whiskey. I thanked him for his hospitality and headed out for the next bookstore.

Whether his ideas for bringing people into his bar and keeping them there ultimately become successful or not, what he’d said to me got the wheels turning in my head. So much goes into securing your customer’s satisfaction and loyalty. This goes for a writer as much as a bar owner.  It isn’t enough to have cornered some niche market or to pander novelty. In both cases, shelf life is ridiculously unreliable and usually short. What is universal, it seems to me, is the story. Being able to capture someone’s attention with a well-crafted story, and maintaining that attention by laying down an architecture that welcomes the listener to put himself inside the story, and later to re-tell it as if it were their own. Or, more to the point, the attention paid when the listener realizes that the story being told is their own.

No matter an area of specialization in our respective day-to-day, it is the story – a story with a beginning, middle, and an end – that motivates us. Capturing hearts and minds, both in the telling and in the hearing it told, is why we commit to projects and struggle to make ideas reality. At least this is the case when something new and enriching is brought into the world.

Then again, this may be the affect of a man who’s had a whiskey and two ales that anticipate sunny weather.

I found a copy of Mallarmé for my wife. I think she’ll enjoy reading it.