There was a time, once, when I became a regular at a bar. It was not a situation in which I had a favorite bar, and I went there quite a bit. No, I was a regular, there every night, just because you never knew who’d turn up or what would happen.
Of course, Rudy’s was the kind of place where almost everyone was a regular. It was the kind of place where the regulars would play the Replacements’ “Here Comes a Regular” on the jukebox, because it was more than partially true.
But Rudy’s was a proper bar, the kind you really find only in the Northeast anymore, if at all. It was the kind of place that gave you a free drink when your pour emptied the bottle and where there was a bell a bartender rang loudly when he got a good tip—the kind of place that hired only male bartenders, at least in those days. In short, Rudy’s was an institution.
Rudy’s was also one of the few places in New Haven where townies and Yalies mixed in harmony—that is, if the Yalies were 21. Underage townies that were friends of friends were allowed in, but not underage Yalies.
I was a Yalie. I was 19. And I didn’t have a fake ID.
I was also that rare Yalie who pretty much only hung out with townies. And all my townie friends hung out at Rudy’s.
Rudy’s had a few different guys who worked the door, checking ID’s. I knew some of them, because before I became a regular at the bar, I was a regular at a couple of coffee shops. If one of those guys was working the door, I was in. And if I showed up with my townie friends—Nate and Rees, Ben, sometimes Phil, all regulars who spent a lot of money there—the doorman would generally ignore the fact an underage girl was slipping in with them.
But there was one guy, Eric, who was pretty moody. Sometimes he’d let me in, and sometimes he wouldn’t, even if I was with Nate and Rees. One night, he begrudgingly said he’d let me come in with my friends if I agreed to go on a date with him. I didn’t think he was particularly serious, so I said yes. He asked for my phone number at the end of the night, but I never thought he’d call. (No one ever called.)
I feel like we may have gone out two or three times, but I can honestly remember only one date. Eric came to pick me up. He rang the buzzer, and I came down to meet him. He walked around the car to open my door first—a novelty, still, at 19. I got in. It was winter, and the car was cold, and I snuggled into the fur collar of the 1960s rust wool car coat I had bought at Goodwill for $7. Eric got in the car and glared at me, but it was dark and I barely noticed.
We went somewhere—dinner, I guess, although I’ve blacked it out now—and ended back up at Rudy’s after. Eric was surly all night. He had a chip on his shoulder about how I was a Yalie and he was a townie. He called me a princess. I couldn’t understand what I had said to put him in such a bad mood.
As he walked me back to my apartment, just around the corner from the bar, Eric finally told me that he was upset because after he had unlocked my car door for me, I hadn’t reached over the seat to do the same for him. He told me his mother had always told him this was the sign of how one could judge the true character of a woman.
We did not go out again after that.
But Eric still worked the door at Rudy’s. And I was still 19.
An awkward purgatory ensued. There were several nights I was denied entrance to my haven, left standing uneasily alone on the sidewalk in the cold as my friends vanished inside. I quickly learned Eric’s schedule, so I would know to find something else to do on those nights he guarded the door.
Finally Eric found some other girl to obsess over. He started bartending more and stopped working the door shifts. Rudy’s became mine again—a good thing, as I had moved into an apartment directly across the street.
I turned 20, and by that time I spent so much time at Rudy’s no one even asked for an ID. By the time I turned 21 I forgot that you could even still get carded. At some point Eric was fired. He got into a fight with someone, I think. I moved away, to places where ID’s actually mattered, to places that wouldn’t sell me one beer two days after my driver’s license had expired at the age of 33.
I was never a regular at a bar again, not in the same way. There didn’t seem any point, after Rudy’s.