I was young, didn’t look like a local and didn’t know what I wanted. I’m still fairly new to the bar scene and still technically new to drinking unless you count the hunch punch created by a panel of confused college students. I handed the bartender my ID, and he examined it three times over because I still look like a child.
“Rum?” I asked.
“Sure,” he said.
“You got anything to put in it?”
“We only got coke,” he said as he pursed his lips.
This was the first interaction I had on my self-titled, “Educational Bar Crawl.” I decided that my first stop would be Brackens, a local blues bar on the downtown strip of Maryville. Dr. Carl Gombert, professor of art at Maryville College who teaches a class I am in, was performing bass there with his band.
As soon as you walk in, you immediately notice the unmistakable smell of stale cigarettes and spilled beer. Most of the faces in the bar were aged and tired. Everyone was bundled up and confined in this small space, each wrapped around his or her choice of drink for a sense of false warmth.
My bar crawl companion and I were also draped in layers in an attempt to stay warm. As we sat, I noticed a woman next to us sitting alone. Her hair was bleached white, and a glass of red wine sat in front of her while her hands were placed neatly in her lap. An odd drink for a dive bar. A dive bar is the perfect description of Brackens. It’s layered in local history, which I did not get to delve into other than the surface level grime. The walls behind the bar are covered in dollars, and all the liquor was nothing more than what you would find at your corner liquor store.
There’s a room behind the bar that appears to have been added on much later and is consumed by a pool table and a makeshift beer pong setup in the corner.
However even though its appearance isn’t necessarily impressive, there is something that keeps the locals coming back. Everyone there was obviously a regular because communicating with the bartender didn’t seem to give them any issues.
It is truly a dirty old bar, but that’s the charm. It’s the kind of place you might see in a movie. You could imagine it as a backdrop to some sort of ‘80s southwestern movie were some handsome guy in a jean jacket and cowboy boots shows up to save a woman at the bar. Maybe that’s who the lady with the red wine was waiting on. Maybe that’s what this place needed was some type of “bar-hop-hero.” But this place wasn’t dead–the locals are the beating heart of what has kept this place thriving all these years. For some, Brackens is a place of refuge, an escape from the everyday mundane. Sure, the drinks may not be top-shelf but it’s not always about what you’re drinking, it’s about who you’re drinking with.