Cakes and Ale for Shut-ins

“There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.”  Samuel Johnson

Hermitic homebodies might not go along with Boswell’s drinking buddy. It’s the wayfarers who can all agree: Johnson is as right in 2020 as he was in 1791 when his life story hit stands. Cabin fever is about the next worst thing to the coronavirus. Card-carrying true believers in hitting town and throwing down would even say that that order is reversed. There are healthy herds in every hamlet who’d be willing to take their chances bellying up to the bar tonight. In the meantime, no one has got a clue how long going out will continue to seem like a distant fantasy. People who used to get every meal at a public table are learning mysteries of the microwave. George H W pegged it 28 years too early when he said: “We are enjoying sluggish times and not enjoying them very much.”

Roadhouses have staged English-speaking culture’s rowdy animation for centuries. Prohibition and government goons could only drive communal boozing slightly underground. The American Revolution got a lot of it’s rolling steam in The Green Dragon of Boston. Places like it all over the original 13 served a similar function. Chaucer begins his tales in the seedy and sordid Tabard Inn. Henry Fielding’s rascals and anti-heroes, from Joseph Andrews,  Tom Jones and elsewhere, were constantly conniving ways to fund another pub crawl. Their escapades would deliver a lot less color without louche dives as backgrounds. The Micronutrient Mira... Calton CN, Mira Best Price: $5.13 Buy New $12.95 (as of 04:55 UTC - Details)

Languid hours in front of laptops, even when bottles are on hand, supply sorry substitutes to fancy French joints, pretentious bistros, greasy gin mills and everything in between. Friends, strangers, and often foes, provide a lot more entertainment, not to mention potential adrenaline, in the flesh. Meanwhile, as the shutdown continues, George III’s henchmen’s successors, in a federal snoop center near you, are in on every conversation.

Public eateries, like everything else on the planet, are always going through changes. Since the ‘70s shifts have accelerated and not necessarily by popular demand. Computers frequently stand in the way of ease in communication. Culinary trends and exorbitant rents have driven places that thrived for decades out to be replaced by others, more “conceptual,” that never make the first penny before closing shop. Government intrusions and litigious havoc place elements of fear into environments designed, theoretically, for relaxation.

Dietary alarmists don’t improve the climate selling faddish myths that accuse commonly consumed foods of being poisons. Their hypochondriacal disciples tend to arrive in packed houses, otherwise, tyrannical demands don’t get the full effect. Ravenous—and emotionally healthy–guests, placing naïve trust in a kitchen running at full tilt, will just have to wait. Pompous patrons who enjoy throwing weight around were once allowed only so much leeway. Social media sites, that put cranks on a par with the Michelin Tire Co., enable pathological vipers’ free shots at victims that can’t strike back. It’s a modern convenience that allows everyone–from proprietors to the dishwasher—to be a subject of anonymous sadistic humiliation. The 30-Minute Autoimmu... Thompson, Connor Buy New $17.99 (as of 02:51 UTC - Details)

The cultural carnage of coronaphobia will hit hardest in places where people once felt at home—in no few cases more at home than at home—when they are not there. By the time regular haunts are ready for haunting again that barkeep who made the place might be found under the bridge. What is likely to remain standing when this gale subsides will look familiar—in ten thousand or more locations around the continent—a board room will decide what is good enough for you. Pre-programmed, depersonalized and bland to the level of your highschool cafeteria may be the next phase. Soylent green brought to you by a kitchen with shares traded on the NYSE.

In some ways the dining out scene has been trending towards one size fits all without Wall Street’s help. Before the turn of the latest century, lively debate—between strangers or regulars–was thriving in public spaces—including ones that served alcohol. A stirring level of civil confrontation was a reason to go in.  Shrill, sensitive personalities felt social pressure to restrain themselves rather than everybody else. Bartenders could be erudite souls with wry punchlines…and some patrons might object. Other options were just steps away. It’s getting harder all the time to find places where witlessness is not a requirement of welcome. The moment an exchange becomes interesting you’ve crossed a line. Among other things, a good tavern can be perpetual performance art. Why go to the Bauhaus gallery when you’re keen on Norman Rockwell?

How to Cook Everything... Bittman, Mark Best Price: $24.05 Buy New $11.65 (as of 04:05 UTC - Details) Restaurateurs are suffering waves of pressure to be all things to all people. It isn’t just the political correctness and creative angles of taking offense. Receipts barely keep pace with bills, particularly the landlords—on that count South Manhattan is not necessarly guiltless—so management begins to bend to all comers. The demands of eccentrically insecure people paint the experience gray for customers who know why they are there and what they want. If you don’t know the Barbizon School from the Ashcan, maybe Olive Garden’s “hospitaliano” will hit your special spot.

In a high-stress environment like a restaurant, wherein a clutch things must stay in rapid motion, one dunder-head–and that head doesn’t have to start with “dunder”–goes an enormously long way. That’s something to keep in mind if there’s any hope that our once rich nightlife culture might revive. Never invent a problem that doesn’t exist.

Informal public spaces to convene—coffee shops, pubs, dining establishments—are vital to healthy society not just for the commodities they purvey but because they help make people think. If the British really recognized what they were up against their dragoons would have torched the Green Dragon—before Sons of Liberty mobs sparked the homes of Crown revenuers. East India company tea would have steeped at 212 degrees Fahrenheit instead of floating in the icy December waters of Boston Harbor. Anyone finding happiness basting in his own unconfronted thoughts makes a subtle distinction with misery.

While everyone is stranded the truth will founder in clutches of algorithmists at Google, Facebook, Twitter and their kindred. An isolated population makes an ideal audience for central sources of propaganda. Virtual human contact is a recipe for virtual human happiness. In that stage of civilization, Dr. Johnson’s notion of bliss may come to resemble poetry from an untranslatable dead language.