“My husband cannot stand crystal people,” “Leslie” told me. “He’s sweet, kind, caring, open-minded … but if he meets someone who starts off about the healing power of rose quartz or whatever, he’s not going to be able to be polite. He’s just not. I don’t have many crystal people in my life, but the ones that I do, I can’t introduce him to. It’s not that they’re bad people, it just won’t go well.”
I nodded and considered. “I used to be like that, but I’ve gotten a lot better about nodding and accepting it and still seeing if I like the person.”
“Maybe I should have my husband talk to you!” she said.
“I’ve just had so many strange and inexplicable experiences in my life … I don’t feel like I have any room to judge the strange and inexplicable experiences of others as long as they seem at least marginally sane.”
We were sitting at a table in the back patio of Casements on Mission between 19th and 20th. Casements actually advertises itself as having a “socially distanced back patio,” so we’ve reached that point in the pandemic where bars are overtly saying “come drink with us — you won’t have to meet people!”
I hate that. But it’s perfectly rational. So many loathsome things are perfectly rational.
This was the second day we all had to show proof of vaccination to get in a bar — which is a very rational but less loathsome thing.
“This one time,” I told Leslie, I had been at an event with a large group of people in a wilderness site, late at night. My friends had lost track of me, and wanted to do something with me, but there was no phone service and they didn’t even know if I was still there, or if I’d left. They were going to give up, but one of them said “no … no … what we’re going to do instead is we’re all going to gather around this keyboard, and we’re going to play and sing Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah,’ and this is going to be a magic spell that summons him over to us.”
So they did … and, from far in the distance, I heard the song, and felt utterly compelled to go over and find the music. I tried to fight it— I really did— but eventually I walked over near the clearing where they were playing. It was just at this moment the piano player — yes, a piano in the wilderness — asked if anybody knew any more of the lyrics, at which point I walked over and started the next verse. Only after the singing was finished did I realize that all my friends were there, and they explained that the whole purpose of the song had been to summon me.
“I mean, after an experience like that, I can’t get too judgmental about someone telling me that their rocks do weird things,” I said.
Leslie laughed and nodded and considered. “There’s a quality in your life, and your writing, that finds something irrational in the world that is worth holding on to,” she said. “I really appreciate that.”
Casements is a place that I wish I had visited under other circumstances. The Irish bar’s front room looks like the lobby of a small, very cool theater company; the passage out back looks very much like a backstage area where you would expect to see wigs and costumes piled onto shelves; the back patio has the ambiance of the messy backyard of your disorganized artist friend who never quite gets the place cleaned up but loves to host. I could get into that.
There was even live music on the patio: generally a nice touch.
But the patio had table service for menus that you accessed through your phone, and no one was mingling, and no one was connecting with strangers, and so right now it’s basically just a restaurant, because it turns out we’re not out of the pandemic yet; bars have been replaced by isolation booths in which you can order overpriced drinks.
For some reason, it was easier for me to give up bars the first time than it is the second.
At least Casements has good overpriced drinks. I started with a “Running on Island Time,” (Glendalough Poitin, Chinola passion fruit liqueur, lemon & honey curd, chamomile flowers, and organic cava; $13), which was so good I damn near ordered another one, but decided to switch it up for the sake of variety, and ordered a “Silkie Smooth” (Sliabh Liag [silky dark peated single malt whiskey], Lillet Rough, Cynar, Bordiga Bitter liquor, and saline; $13) which wasn’t quite as good, but was still quite satisfying.
I didn’t do quite as well on the food. I ordered the fried mushrooms and the salmon scones, which were fine. Leslie did much better with the French onion soup and the butter leaf salad, which looked absolutely delicious.
The music played, the weather was warm enough … it was all perfectly good. But it wasn’t a bar. Bars are social experiences, even if you’re sitting by yourself.
“I saw my first play in a theater recently,” Leslie said, “which maybe now will be my last for a while. But it really became apparent to me how much the act of getting to a theater is part of the experience, and the way in which, when you’re there, you make this compact with all these strangers that you’re going to sit here in the dark and let what’s happening unfold and not interrupt it. You’re not even talking to these people, but you’re engaged with them in a common effort. You’re in it together. I’d never realized how important that was to the experience until I tried watching plays on Zoom and didn’t have it.”
That’s exactly it. Bars, at their best, are a collaboration between strangers that restaurants, especially socially distanced once, are not. “Every great bar experience I’ve ever had,” I tell Leslie, “involved meeting someone.”
A few of them were crystal people. Most of them were looking for something they couldn’t quite explain. I fear, right now, we are all a bit farther from it.