The History of Americantom.com

 

 

I grew up in a small town of less than 1000 people.  There were a few churches, a post office, gas station, barber shop, store and a bar.

The town taproom was small - literally a bar with stools and just a few spare tables that nobody ever really sat at.

As kids we would ride our bikes around town and wonder what went on inside.  In those days nothing in town remained opened late except for the bar. Even then the place would often shut down by midnight but that was still hours after the store closed.

The tavern was not the absolute center of town interaction but it was one of them.  For year's the owner raised the town flag every morning and took it down every night.   That is definitely something you just don't see very often.

The barkeep ruled the roost in his establishment.  He wasn't a big or tough man but you just knew not to cause trouble. Some nights he would grow tired and would silently make his way to the door.  It would be swung open and he would stand by it - no words spoken but the patrons knowing it was time to finish their conversations and beverages and get the heck out.

Through much of American history almost every town had a bar just like this one.  They were places where young males went to become men.   Walking in to buy a first six pack or beer - no longer having to hide in the corners of cornfields drinking liquids swiped from someone's father or grandfather.

Even as a young man I sensed that these classic slivers of Americana were endangered. That my sons may not grow up in a small town with a small town bar.

When I went to college I had to do a sociology project and I chose to look into hometown taprooms and juke joints.   My research included having to actually go into bars and evaluate them from a strict checklist that I developed for the project.  That was tough duty for a young man.

The project went well and I received an 'A'. 

Eventually I moved away and somehow over 100 hand written reviews were lost in the transfer.

After years of barely giving the old project a thought, but continuing to watch many small-town bar vanish, I decided to revive the project.  This time it would be purely for fun and wouldn't require me to count neon signs or  measure the volume and temperature of beers.

My second generation project was compiled solely as a Word document.  Someday I hoped to print the information and give a copy to the historical society. 

Then, a friend said she would publish a website if I bought the name and space.  So I did.

Her initial website was good but not the vision I had for my future masterpiece.  And it was a pain in the butt to email her the reviews and photos and wait for her to post them in her spare time.

So, I taught myself the very basics of setting up a website and began working on the modern incarnation that you see today.

Little did I know that the demise of our small town bars would begin to accelerate rapidly.

Today many factors contribute to the change in the politics of the American taproom:

  • Higher costs of food and alcohol

  • Overall busyness of the average family

  • Lowered DUI limits

  • Ability to transmit news and gossip electronically rather than over a cold mug

  • The loss of the hometown pub

The sight isn't about drinking.  Anyone with half a brain is smart enough to know that excessive drinking causes untold sadness and grief.  

It's about socialization and hometown unity and the rugged American individualism that all too often seems to be fading away.

It's one of my many hobbies and is open to anyone who cherishes neighborhood bars and the fun that can be found just by stopping into one for a cold brew and conversation. Although I am not afraid to point out things I feel need improved, I always try to to highlight the positives.

Generally,  I do not review chain bars, bars that are an afterthought to bowling alleys or places with a primary role that is something else or private clubs.

 There are no ads or sponsors. All the costs to maintain it are paid for out of my pocket. Feel free to contribute - photos, reviews, stories of a bar that meant something to you.

I hope you enjoy this humble project.

America is the greatest nation on Earth and one small reason why is because of the people and places in this 'book'.

---AmericanTom

 

   

My evaluation of a taproom  has many criteria - all subjective:

 LOCATION & APPEARANCE

  • I'm sure you have seen a country bar at some point in your life. The type of place where you round a corner and see it or maybe it is framed by large trees covering people sitting on a deck or some other unique feature.  The building and grounds should look at least somewhat inviting - not a location that makes you feel like drinking a beer there might cost your life nor too slick and polished.

  • Neon signs in the windows are good as is the delicious aroma of food cooking as greasy smoke flows outward from the exhaust vent.  A lack of neon on the window is the first sign that an establishment is taking itself too seriously.

  • General impression. What is your first thought that crosses your mind as you enter? Is the entrance so tricky and confusing that only well-practiced regulars can safely navigate it? I am convinced that trick entrances (steep stairs, curbs, doors opening opposite ways, etc) are an easy way to identify newcomers - by their crashing, flailing and cursing.

  • When you finally open the door do you hear good music and people being happy or do you feel like you have walked into the silence of an art museum? Do all of the bar-sitters turn and stare at you?

  • The approach to the bar itself.  Does anyone at the bar say hello or even acknowledge that you have arrived? Do regulars get better service than visitors even if the visitor was dry long before them?  If you have ever been in Maryland and had a barmaid bellow out a warm welcoming "Hello Hon!" you know that the greeting is important.

  

THE STAFF

  • Does the bartender make eye contact and greet you?

  • Worse of all, do they make eye contact and look away without saying a word? I don't go to a bar to hear a barmaid's life story or to tell mine but a bartender is not doing their job when they have zero interaction with their customers other than plopping down a glass and collecting money.

  • If the room is mostly empty of customers, are the workers BS'ing about their own problems and gripes?  I don't want to hear that. A tavern is an escape for the customers and they do not need or want to hear the bitches of the people who work there.

  • Does the staff smile? 

  • Physical appearance. Of course it is more pleasant to be served by a beautiful person than someone who appears on deaths door. That is a given.  If the barmaid is not "pretty" - does she have a lively and upbeat personality? That can certainly equal or exceed the benefit of a gorgeous human container.

  • I guess the same is true for a male bartender although I have never given that one any thought.

 

THE BEER

  • This is probably what you came here for. How is it served? I like the glass and the beer cold. The money-saving trick of keeping the cooler temperature higher to save money doesn't fly with me.  

  • The empty mug.  When the mug, can or bottle is empty is when the lightweights are separated from the pro's. A great bartender will be right on it - happily tapping another beer. A poor one will practically need you to throw the container across the room before they realize it. 

  • A lot is said about a server and a bar by what happens when the glass is emptied. 

  • As you can probably tell, liquor isn't mentioned much here.  That's because when I do drink I almost exclusively drink beer.  I'm not anti-liquor.  Just working from my base of experience)

 

Anyone have any other thoughts?

tom@americantom.com