Friday, June 26, 2009
My wife's uncle Cliff died last Saturday at the age of eighty-nine. Today is his funeral. He served in the Army Air Corps in World War II. After the war, he came home to Hutchinson, Minnesota, took a job that he would work at until retirement, got married, and never ventured far from the area again.
He and his wife moved into a house that they lived in until last year. Visiting it was like entering a time machine set to 1962 or thereabouts. Very few things in the always clean house were acquired after that, although since everything was in such good shape you could almost understand the couple's reluctance to change. The coffee pot may be forty years old, but if it still works why get a new one?
Not surprisingly my favorite room in their house was their basement "recreation" area. The prominent feature in this room was Cliff's basement bar. I've long held a theory the basement bar boom was the product of WWII. Vets returning from overseas had the desire and opportunity to settle down in the wave of new homes built after the war. And after having served far flung tours of duty, they also wanted to have the comforts of life close at hand. Thus the birth of the basement bar. I think the whole sociology of the basement bar would make for an interesting study, one that I'd like to pursue some day.
In order to have a basement bar, you obviously need a basement. Which means there are certain geographic restrictions to where they appeared. However, it's amazing how prevalent they were in homes here in the Upper Midwest built during particular time periods (40s-60s). When we were in the market for a home in late 2007 and 2008, we looked at many that had basement bars. The house that we live in now has one, although its not really the classic version. Cliff's was.
It's hard to appreciate the pure glory of his bar and the entire room for that matter without actually experiencing it in person, but since that's no longer possible, pictures (taken a few years ago) will have to suffice.
The first thing that you notice is the knotty-pine panelling, pretty much a standard in these parts for the basement rec room.
Over the years, you can build up quite a collection behind the bar.
Glasses, knick-knacks, and bottles.
Interestingly enough, I have this same Florida souvenir bottle in my bar.
No bar is complete without a beer light (or several of them).
What really sets it apart though is the little things.
Anything that plays on words is popular.
Another classic: the drunk hanging on the street lamp.
It was always happy hour at Cliff's.
Flavor of the South Seas. Why? Because.
A family of Old Crows and another beer light.
Of course, not everything works.
Gee, thanks for the hand-crafted poodle.
Another must have in any classic Midwest bar--whether on Main Street or in a basement--is a collection of wall signs. Use of off color language and adult humor is strongly encouraged.
As are cracks about sex.
("Sex" It's the most fun you can have without laughing)
(I don't ask for much out of life
Just a little beer money
Just a little food money
and every now and then
JUST A LITTLE)
As I said, it wasn't just the bar either. Check out this corner of the room.
Teal colored walls. Checkerboard floor tiles. Vintage chair and ottoman. Cool light. And the girly calender.
Yup, that is indeed a Grain Belt calender from 1977.
In this corner, we find another chair and more to appreciate on the walls.
Another must-have for a Minnesota basement bar, a Hamm's sign.
What's that underneath the speaker?
Yes James, that is the work of one Art Frahm.
These wicker bar stools now seat people in our basement bar. One sure way that the memory of Cliff's bar will live on.
Here's a toast to you Cliff. R.I.P.