How to Kill a Bar

Dave Sim, creator and writer of the cult comic Cerebus, despite going completely around the bend in recent years, once wrote something very sensible. “Never fall in love with a bar.” This is good advice. Hang around one place long enough, and that bar a person has come to spend so much time in will do the unthinkable. It will change. Favorite staff will leave, choosing to get on with their lives rather than spend their nights feeding the regulars drinks. (Who can blame them? Spending too much time in a bar is bad for a person’s health. Working in one is just no way to live.) The owner will get it in his head to remodel this or that, making everything clean, polished, and prefab. Maybe they will even install windows in the front where there were none before (A truly seismic shift. Depending on how one feels, this is akin either to a facelift, or a horribly disfiguring car accident.). The point is, to a person in love with a bar, any small change can feel like a betrayal. Months or years have been spent acclimating to a bar’s very specific atmosphere. It becomes the reason to go to that particular spot, and when it changes, the process has to begin again. Eventually, change accumulates to the point where a person has been abandoned by their bar, and they have to seek out someplace new.

It sounds personal, and to a person in love with a bar, it is. But how ridiculous. The personal attachment people can have with a bar ignores everything there is about running a successful business. Most bars don’t make a lot of money, and most of a bar’s sales don’t come from the regulars on a Monday or a Tuesday night. Profits come from the weekend crowds, and owners and managers tinker with their bars to pack more of those people in.

Of course, every bar with a bit of longevity to it has found its niche, a slice of mood that a person can seek out depending on their general temperaments. A huge determining factor for atmosphere is music. In most bars, music is a constant presence, and it is as wrapped up in a bar’s identity as the format of a radio station. Change the music, and a bar can become unrecognizable overnight. Mostly, changes to music come in small increments. Something new is added to the jukebox, replacing something that never got much play, or just got played out. The overall sound of the bar remains intact. It stays consistent. For the best bars, a unique jukebox, one with real thought put into it, is a prime draw. A jukebox lacking in mindless shit is a sign that the owner has respect for their business and their customers. They have opened a place where the first priority is to make money, but it is also the owner’s dream bar, the place in which they would like to hang out.

That illusion is destroyed when one walks into a bar one evening and sees a great jukebox replaced with an internet jukebox, one that pulls in an extra couple hundred bucks or so a month in revenue. Now, instead of customers having access to a thousand or so tracks, they can hop online and select almost anything they can think of. Sounds great, at first, until a genre busting tune comes over the speakers, and one wishes the owner had spent his money installing windows instead.

Annabell’s is a rare one in Akron. A dive bar with cheap drinks, live bands in the basement, and a punk DJ every Tuesday. The jukebox was a godsend for anyone sick of the same old, same old. Black Flag and Misfits, The Cramps and Circle Jerks, alongside early rock staples from The Who and contemporary albums by The Black Keys. All of it blasted over the speakers at deafening volume. This wasn’t a box full of bands a person had never heard of. It was a box that focused in on music that represented the core elements of rock and roll. From big acts to small, all had one thing in common. They kept it simple and loud. It was a great jukebox, one that could stand tall with any box from any bar I’ve ever been in. It was a defining feature of Annabell’s, and now it’s gone, replaced by an internet box. There’s still a list of albums that management plugged into preferred slots, but the threat is prominent. All it takes is a buck and a little navigating, and 20 Eyes can be followed by Single Ladies.

The information age can be boiled down to one word. Choice. With the internet, our options on so many things have increased. Shopping, news, entertainment, jobs, etc., but, now that we have so much choice, we all seem to be choosing the same things. What I don’t like about something like the internet jukebox is that when provided with almost unlimited choice, most people choose the familiar. It’s an eroding of the one feature — music — that can distinguish bars from one another. Once every bar in the country has an internet jukebox, another coup for the homogenization of human experience will be complete, and another blow to individuality delivered.