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Friday, July 06, 2007

The Session #5: Atmosphere

Al and Ron over at Hop Talk are hosting this month's edition of The Session and have picked an interesting topic for the fifth installment: Atmosphere.

Here's the challenge they tossed out to the beer blogosphere:

"Beer is about more than flavor, IBUs, and the debate over what is a craft beer and what isn't. It's about Life. It's the proverbial icing on the cake.

So, we want to know about the "Atmosphere" in which you enjoy beer. Where is your favorite place to have a beer? When? With whom? Most importantly:


Because while life isn't all about beer, beer is all about life."

It's a bit off the normal beer/style review nature of The Session, but it should cause us all to pause and think about where we drink, the people we drink with and why we enjoy beer.

For me having a beer is about pausing to taste life and reflect on the day. My favorite bars are not over crowded, but they are not empty. They have friendly and knowledgeable staff. They are inviting the very first time you walk through the door. After all, a tavern should be an accommodating, welcoming place for everyone. It is a hospitality business.

Good food can really add to the atmosphere. The menu can be simple, like the roast beef sandwiches at Clark's Ale House in Syracuse, N.Y., or intricate, like the beer cuisine of Tim Schafer's at Lake Norman in Sherrills Ford, N.C.

A bar with a history or legend is a big plus. Places like U Flecku in Prague, Great Lakes Brewing in Cleveland and Henry's 12th Street Tavern in Portland, Ore., bring a level of interest to the experience. The place does not have to be old, it just has to respect the heritage of beer.

The older I get, the more I feel that clean air adds to atmosphere. Recent laws passed in many places to ban smoking in restaurants and bars have greatly added to an enjoyable atmosphere. This has not reached my current home state of North Carolina, so I still smell like an ashtray after visiting many bars. Cigarette smoke interferes with the senses and makes tasting good beer more difficult. If they can go without smoking at the pubs in Dublin, we can do it in Charlotte. It is not an individual rights issue, it's a health issue.

I'm not against music, but unless it is a good live band I don't think you should get blasted out of the place by recorded tunes. A television for sporting events and bar games can help you kill some time and add to the experience. But for me, the true test of atmosphere is how conducive is the place to a conversation between friends? A great tavern is a social gathering spot to meet old buddies or to make new friends. You cannot do that while yelling.

I published a post back in February as a Weekend Watering Hole entry titled "100 Places to Have a Beer Before You Die." You can check out the list and get an idea of what I hold near and dear when it comes to atmosphere.

Defining great atmosphere is a very personal thing. You know it when you see it...or hear it...or taste it...or even smell it. It is also situational. Sleek and modern is great some times, while historic is perfect for other occasions. An outdoor deck is the ticket one time, a cozy indoor setting with a roaring fire another time. The mix of people and the staff on hand at any given moment can change the atmosphere. Even the type of day you happen to be having plays a critical role.

In the end, the atmosphere can change like the weather. Factors similar to the temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, wind speed and direction, cloud cover and the chance for precipitation are all constantly changing and alter the atmosphere. In the end, the only controllable part of the equation is the attitude we each bring. So whether it's a night on the town or a Saturday afternoon on your deck, bring the kind of mood you want to find when you walk through the door. Set the atmosphere.

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