October 6, 2011

Queen City Pub Crawl: Riverside

Riverside is another community on the west side of Cincinnati spooned by the Ohio River. If you look at the map, you'll also see it's the longest Cincinnati neighborhood. Nestled between Sedamsville and Sayler Park, Riverside is clearly about location, location, location.

3.129 square miles and only 2,500 residents is a bizarre combination. That's about 800 people per square mile. Compare that number to Cincinnati's overall average of 4,250 people per square mile, or my neighborhood's (Clifton) 3,400 people per square mile.

Where's the beef (and by beef, I mean people)?

It's obvious that Riverside is an industrial town. If you've never made the drive down 50 West, it's worth the trip. Many well-known companies line the streets of Riverside. It makes me wonder if Riverside and Sayler Park are part of Cincinnati because the city benefits financially from that row of businesses. It seemed odd that two neighborhoods were so disconnected from the rest of the city, but I should have known it had something to do with money. Doesn't everything?

For the first (and only) time on this journey, I visited two different bars in the same neighborhood. My first stop was Drew's River Saloon, a bar that desperately tries to transport customers from the banks of the Ohio River to the Florida coastline. Neon lights, fake palm trees, and beach flare add to the ambiance, which, honestly, is pretty close to hitting its tropical mark. If you let yourself believe the fantasy, it's easy to imagine Drew's River Saloon as a beach bar.

My time at Drew's was mostly uneventful. The bartender was nice; the server was nice. We made casual conversation about their lives. Interestingly, the bar is named after the owner's first grandchild, Drew. He died at the age of two in a tragic accident. The owner, George, named the bar after Drew in 2004 to keep his memory alive. Born and raised on the West Side, it was easy to see how important community is to George and his family.

Speaking of community, that leads me to the second bar on my Riverside adventure. Jim and Jack's can best be described as a cure for Attention Deficit Disorder. I have never been in a bar that had so many disjointed activities going on at the same time.

First, there was a typical bar-top filled with locals. And, like everywhere I have been in West Side, everyone knew everyone else. I walked to the far side of the bar and sat next to a handful of older locals who were obviously close friends. Fifteen minutes later, I saw one of them motion in my direction and say something about "running him out of here." I was so shocked that I said, "Are you guys talking about me?"

She apologized immediately, saying there was a different guy who always sat on that side of the bar, and because their bowling league was beginning the following week, they would likely have to run him off.

"Oh, okay, I was just ... wait, what? Bowling league?"

That's right. Every Wednesday night at seven o'clock, the Dream Team competes against other west side bowlers for fabulous prizes. But no one is throwing balls down oiled lanes in this league. Instead, these women (yes, women) focus on the trackball of Silver Strike Bowling (an arcade game). I was a week early to catch official league action, but the Dream Team did let me watch them bowl a practice game. 

On the other side of the bar, the seven o'clock line dancing session was about to begin. Approximately forty women flooded the dance floorsome quite old, almost all women, many dressed as cowgirls, one little person, and everyone was an expert in line dancing. The organizer tried to get me on stage, but if there is one thing I don't do, it's line dancing. The atmosphere wasn't exactly conducive to a newbie anyway. Those ladies were there to line dance, and some uncoordinated blogger wasn't going to get in their way. 

I walked back to the bar and realized someone I saw at Drew's had made the trip to Jim and Jack's. Another pub crawler? Doubtful. I'm pretty sure he just likes beer. And I'm also convinced he likes one other thing ... community.

A couple of weeks ago, I compared the Pub Crawl to my Church Experiment. More than ever, I'm beginning to believe most people want the same things out of life—whether they seek them in a church or a bar is almost irrelevant. 

People want to fit in. They want to belong. They want friends. They want community.

You can get that at churchBible studies, picnics, services, outreach events, etc. Jesus is great, but I wonder how many churchgoers are really interested in finding their savior, and I wonder how many are simply interested in finding a few friends?

Bowling leagues and line dancing are about finding community. Maybe I thought bars were about getting drunk. I know a lot of my Christian friends feel that way. They avoid bars because they don't drink. But bars are filled with regular people just trying to make life work. Maybe the rest of Cincinnati isn't like the West Side. Maybe other bars will be filled with young people getting drunk and trying to get laid. We'll see. But, for now, it's obvious West Side bars are about something else. Hard-working people needing a place a unwind and bond with friends. That's not so bad.