I’m nursing a $10 beer in a bar called Beers of the World at St. Louis Lambert International Airport. My flight home to Minneapolis is delayed at least half an hour as storms move in from the southwest. I’ve already had one $10 beer, but what else is there to do? The knowledge that a six-pack of any beer available here would cost less than one 16oz pour keeps piercing my brain. Still, I can’t resist the inexplicable pull of an airport bar.
Beer selection at airports is improving. Denver has two New Belgium outposts. MSP has Surdyk’s Flights. But this particular bar is a bit behind the times. We are in St. Louis, so it’s all pretty much AB-InBev products. They do have the ubiquitous Samuel Adams Boston Lager, safe harbor for many a grounded, beer-loving pilgrim.
You meet people in airport bars. Everyone is moving on to someplace else. It’s easy to strike up a conversation with people you will never see again. I was drinking a pint of draft Heineken in an airport bar once when a guy sat next to me and ordered the same beer in a bottle. Why would someone order a beer that is guaranteed to be skunky when the same beer is available on draft? This made me curious, so I asked him.
He explained that he was concerned about germs from dirty draft lines. The germs, he said, gave him a more devastating hangover, so he always drinks bottles. He told me about parties he’s thrown at which he gave his Bud swilling friends the “much stronger” Heineken. They apparently didn’t understand what they were drinking and got completely wasted. “Because it’s 5%, you know.” I didn’t feel like telling him that the alcohol content of Bud and Heineken are pretty much the same. I just listened, and nodded, and laughed at his lightweight friends while continuing to sip my own pint of pale lager.
Today there are a lot of stranded travelers sitting at the bar with me. Valerie is the only woman at the bar. She’s headed to Atlanta to visit a cousin. She’s on her third Shock Top. She didn’t really want the third one, but Paul bought it for her. Paul is a business traveler headed to Newark via Charlotte. He’s quaffing Bud Light. A couple of folks across the bar are drinking Stella from a fancy glass—a waste of fancy glassware. Although I’m told that Stella was once a fine beer.
Hotel bars are another good place to converse with strangers and overpay for beer. Like the airport bar, the patrons here are the temporary residents of a community of transients. The population is constantly in flux. Everyone is looking for a way to fill the time. Chatting folks up is easy and the conversations can get weird. A friend of mine once wiled away a couple of hours over a couple of beers talking to a man who claimed to have shot John F. Kennedy. You just never know who you might meet.
Hotel bars are like a refuge. In locales where you’re a stranger and outside entertainment options are few, a beer at the bar is the perfect thing to fill the abyss of boredom. The momentary fellowship alleviates the subtle disorientation that comes with sleeping in an unfamiliar place. And let’s face it, catching a little buzz doesn’t hurt.
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