The Blind Tiger reinvents bringing children to bars

by Brian Clarey

The Blind Tiger is rocking pretty good with an acoustic band going at it onstage, some action on the pool table and a full slew of bellies polishing the weathered bar rail.

And there’s bodies on the dance floor that twirl and sashay; bodies seated at the booths in huddled conversation; bodies clustered around the bowling machine whipping the big white trak-ball until it hums.

There’s football and golf on the TV sets and John the bartender walks his loop, dumping ashtrays, popping beers, dropping wiseguy cracks and clever asides.

They got crushed last night when a Guns ‘n’ Roses tribute band drew the biggest crowd of the fall, and the bar is reawakening slowly on this Sunday afternoon.

All is as it should be, except for one thing: fully one-third of the crowd stands under five feet tall.

My first-born son is among the short people. He’s perched on a barstool, legs swinging, absolutely devouring a hot dog and a plate of chips, sipping a Coke. His little brother, 4 years old, works the pool table like a pint-sized Mosconi save for the fact that he doesn’t realize what the pool cues are for. His baby sister, who has yet to reach the age of 2, is one of the dancing girls today, her tiny pink sneakers hysterically squeaking spheres on the beat-down floor. Later she’ll unceremoniously drop her pants over by the sound booth.

She takes after her mother, that one.

“We do this the second Sunday of every month,” says Don “Doc” Beck, the Tiger’s no-nonsense proprietor. “The Hometown Boys play, free hot dogs. From five to eight.” And then he’s off to chase his own offspring, a 3-year-old in engineer overalls who treats the barroom like his own living room. Which, in many ways, it is.

My father used to bring me to bars when I was a boy, as his father did before him and all on down the line. When my first son was born I worked in a bar’… kind of a trashy bar’… and in those first few weeks of his life he became acquainted with the neon signs, the smell of beer-soaked wood and the easy laughter that filled the room like delirious music. For all we know he may even have been conceived in a bar, and had we stayed in New Orleans he likely would have grown up in the shadows of the taverns I worked, a precocious child eating cherries out of the garnish tray and hustling pinball with the daytime drunks.

It’s one of the reasons we left, frankly – I couldn’t bear to watch him become a barfly before he would be old enough to drive. And bringing kids to bars has kind of fallen from fashion, like the three-Martini lunch, the three-drink buyback and the sidecar.

But it wasn’t always thus. Bars once served as pillars in their communities, a role shared in equal proportion with the church, where families would gather to gossip and carouse and by the end of the night the men would get blistering drunk after they sent the women home with the kids.

But like I say, things have changed. Bars have changed. Families have changed. And the culture of drink has changed to the point where people get their kids taken away from them if they, say, prop them in a high chair while they pound beers for six or eight hours.

But the second Sunday of every month Doc brings the grand tradition back in much the same way Justin Timberlake resurrected the sexy: more wholesome, less dangerous and with a certain air of Disneyification.

A pre-teen boy wearing those shoes with roller-skate wheels hidden in them glides around the floor. A young mother carries her tiny daughter piggyback and they dance to the happy music. A father holds his little girl’s hands and they two-step, two-step, two-step before refilling their Cokes and plates of chips.

Doc, worried about the integrity of his pool table’s bumpers as they suffer the onslaught of the children, tries to close it down. But my baby girl has the triangular rack in her hands, a newfound toy, and she’s hesitant to give it up.

He puts on his dad voice and extends his hand.

“Can I have it, sweetie?”

She laughs and runs away, then returns to him and offers it to him. When he reaches again she releases another fresh lilt of giggles and runs once more for the corner. Doc stands and watches her for a moment. If this were a college kid at closing time on a Saturday night his fate would be sealed. As it is, Doc smiles, shrugs his shoulders and goes off to find his own little boy who’s busy working the room in those engineer overalls.

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