Visiting Durango last week for River Days was one of the best weekends I’ve had in a long while. Making it through Santa Rita unscathed was definitely a highlight, but visiting all the bars and restaurants that I love reminded me of all the things I miss about Durango. It’s so homey, so cozy, it really felt like I never left (I even had an awkward interaction with an ex-girlfriend, so yeah, it’s exactly the same). How close and tight-knit the service industry and brewing community is, blows me away. It really feels like “Cheers,” the ’80s and ’90s sitcom set in a basement bar in Boston, where everybody knows your name.
I felt like I was a character in Cheers at numerous bars in Durango. This past weekend, I saw all of my favorite bartenders and servers: Andrew, Lucas, Sara, Elias, Jess, Greg, Angie, Aisha, Rocket, and god I know I’m forgetting so many others. There’s just so much joy when you can walk into the back bar of Carvers on a Saturday or Sunday, and see Greg, starting to mix me that bloody mary with the bacon in it before I even sit down. Or being greeted with a hug at El Moro by the service staff, and know that I’m going to get a lesson in booze by the bar staff. You can drink on the deck at The Balcony for hours and soak up all the excellent tunes and all the tequila and all the sun you can handle. Out of all the places I’ve lived and all the bars and coffee shops where I felt like a regular, most of them are in Durango.
I have had other regular spots. Beulahland in Portland, Oregon, was a good one. They opened at 8 a.m. and served breakfast and coffee everyday. They were a regular bar on weeknights and would turn into a dance club on Friday and Saturday nights. On Sundays they had Video Request Live, which would play your requested music videos on numerous projected big screens. I never really got to know the bar staff, but my fellow patrons were great. There were a lot of poets and artists who would sit outside, drink coffee or booze and watch cars try and parallel park on the street.
In Southern New Mexico there was El Patio, a divey bar on the square in Mesilla, a small little colonial town outside of Las Cruces. The adobe walls inside were decorated with chipping murals of Apaches on horseback and Puebloan dancers in full regalia. The evening and weekend bar staff knew me by name and so did the regulars, but I was still an outsider in Mesilla; I was not a Mesillero. I was still a tourist, a gringo, a guero, even though I lived just a block away, in my own little adobe, for three years. I’m sure it would take decades to earn the title.
Where I am now, I have a bar down the street, Radio Bar. I know all the bartenders; they all know me. The beer is cold, the drinks are well made, and the patio with a ping-pong table and palm trees is great. I’m friends with a lot of the patrons. In a very conservative state that regularly tries to deny the bodily autonomy of women and imposes incredibly stiff penalties for drug offenders, the people of like-mind usually stick together. Radio Bar is where we congregate and commiserate.
Even though I found a small nook in the city where everyone knows my name, it’s still a far cry from Durango, where I feel welcome, where I feel like family, where we know each other’s names.
Robert Alan Wendeborn is a former cellar operator at Ska Brewing and current lead cellar operator at Tin Roof Brewing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.