One of my favourite TV sitcoms of all time is Cheers! For years I had a thing for that Boston bar, and the incorrigible Sam Malone. I loved Carla’s attitude and figured Cliff to be one of most entertainingly boring guys that ever walked a postal route. But Norm, he was my favourite.
It wasn’t so much the story line (what story?) but the sense of community it portrayed. That quintessential meeting place where ‘everybody knows your name’. For a while I harboured dreams of having my own pub, where I would reign in the same supreme fashion as Sam Malone, minus the balding spot and the male equivalent of the irritating Diane. One of my favourite men in the whole world has a bar in San Francisco that is a little along the Cheers line in that he knows his regulars and his regulars come in because of him. And when I go there, they know me, too. It’s nice.
I’ve reinvented myself enough times over the last twenty-five years to know that having my version of ‘Cheers’ in whatever city I’m currently living, is important. That feeling of walking through the door and being greeted by name is something many bars don’t give enough credence to. When I first moved to London, every day for a week, at the same time, I stopped in the same pub to have a pint and a cigarette before heading back to my digs. Every evening, the same bartender was on duty and every evening I was his only customer. I ordered the same thing each time and when, on Friday, he still asked what I would like, I gave up.
Back after seven years in Alaska, I was in Dublin on the night of the Ireland/Scotland rugby game. Out on the town with my mate Macker, I had one goal: to find someone who remembered me from seven years before. We visited all my old haunts. In Neary’s on Chatham Street, I recognised the bartender – Pat Lennon. He asked for my order without blinking an eye in recognition and I was so disappointed. But when he returned with our drinks and said: ‘Well, Mary Murphy! Long time no see. Seven years? Where have you been all this time…’ he made my weekend.
Now some would have it that I live in Jack Doyle’s – my Budapest version of Cheers. Some believe that I’m a regular and spend far more time than is good for me propping up the bar seven nights a week. Truth be told, I might venture over every couple of months or so to catch the Jookers on a Thursday night, or to watch a match. I’m more likely to drop in for lunch or coffee during the day, especially when I get a craving for Elek’s goat’s cheese salad. But every time I go there, no matter how long it’s been since my last venture forth, I’m greeted by name. And I’m looked after.
There was some debate when Charles and Elvi first opened the place as to how authentically Irish it was. Certainly, it’s a far cry from the traditional spit-on-the-floor shebeen, decked out with wooden booths and red-headed, freckled bartenders that some might see as the epitome of Irishness. But as I pointed out then, there’s more to an Irish pub than traditional wood panelling. What makes a good pub of any nationality is its sense of community, its regulars, its staff. Such places are hubs where people connect on many levels and divulge as much or as little of their personality as they are comfortable with. When you’re not living amongst kith and kin, pubs like JD’s in some, odd way, can often substitute for home. Maybe I should start going there more often!
This week, after popping into JD’s for lunch on Thursday and catching up with Elvi and Viktor, I’m reminded of how grateful I am that in my travels over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to find my version of Cheers! in whatever town or city I’m living in at the time – that place where everybody knows my name.
Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52