Belly Up to the Bar, Boys (and Girls)

Last week, in honor of the arrival of St. Patrick’s Day, we talked about setting a story in Ireland. On the heels of the holiday that drives people into drinking establishments better than any other, it seems only natural to segway into a discussion of a locale that also pops up with regularity in storytelling: the bar.

The bar setting has served many a story well, and no wonder. A bar is a meeting place; characters can wander in and out freely, but they don’t have to merely pass through. They can linger a while…or all day. People go to bars to meet up with friends, to find new friends, to wallow in their troubles and perhaps relate those troubles to a sympathetic bartender. Because of this, bars are a fertile place in which to deposit regular characters. Your regulars can hang out in the midst of the bustle, and perhaps interact with new characters or situations at the drop of a hat.

The television show Cheers used this to perhaps the greatest effect. Most Cheers episodes don’t leave the bar at all, and why should they? Characters and conflict come right to the bar, and it feels natural because it is natural. So you’ve got the owner of the bar, Sam Malone, his staff, and some regulars, and then you can introduce new characters and situations every week without having to leave home base. To a lesser extent, How I Met Your Mother‘s MacLaren’s serves the same purpose. While the show doesn’t base itself exclusively in the pub, it uses MacLaren’s as a gathering place where the crew meets new people and situations.

A bar is also a place where one expects strange things to happen and strange characters to appear, making it a logical setting for that inciting incident that opens a story, or for an explosive scene. Moreover, this setting translates into almost any era in which your story is set. After all, Luke and Obi-Wan found Han Solo and Chewbacca at the Mos Eisley Cantina in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, while much of Deadwood‘s action happens in the Gem and the Bella Union.

I had a harder time thinking of books in which a bar setting is utilized, perhaps because a bar is such a visually dynamic setting that it jumps out on film more than in a book. What first came to mind — likely because I mentioned these books in last week’s Ireland post — is the Nora Roberts Gallaghers of Ardmore Trilogy. The Gallagher siblings own and operate a pub, and the trilogy follows each of these siblings in turn, with much of the action in the pub itself. The heroine of the first book wanders into the Gallagher pub one night at the beginning of the story, which is how she meets the siblings to begin with, including her love interest.

What other stories rely on a bar for a setting? Can you think of books that I’m missing?

Posted on March 19, 2012, in Books, Movies, Television and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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