In a recent edition of "Esquire" (no, I don't have a subscription; I read it at my gym, where I can puruse the ads for clothes and automobiles I cannot afford while I am on the treadmill) there is an atricle concerning the best bars in the U.S. I have already forgotten which establishment won, but I am certain it was some metrosexual watering place wherein the champagne costs at least two hundred dollars a magnum and everyone mentions who their parents were, some place far from France yet bearing a French name. It doesn't matter what the winner was, for it was surely someplace I will never go.
For my money, the best bar I have ever been in is the Buckhorn Bar in Laramie, Wyoming. Originally catering to railroad workers, (the U.P. tracks are visible from the front windows) the Buckhorn features a wide array of wildlife, some it stuffed and mounted on the bar's walls but most of it seated at the tables in the form of aged cowboys, forty-year-old college students who will never graduate, and an assortment of drunks no twelve step program could hope to cure. The bar forever won my heart the night a young co-ed from the local university wandered in and asked Gabe, the Mexican-American bartender if she could have a martini; Gabe sighed and told her: "I'm sorry, Miss. The Buck isn't that kind of place." The kind of place it is one where the clients buy beer by the gallon pitcher and tell stories about the bullet hole in the mirror behind the cash box. (Some say the shooter was just taking a practice shoot at a patron at the bar and that the second shot hit home. Some claim the gun man shot an image in the high, long mirror by mistake. I was a college student in town at the time and know in fact the shooter was a husband trying to kill the man who had stolen his wife. The gunman had paused long enough to down a half-price pitcher the Buck serves at five o'clock, and the drinking had thrown off his aim. Since his wife was a regular at the bar, I suspect that like most of women one meets there she was hardly worth the trouble.)
I had to clean up the bar one morning after another man had been stabbed to death inside the front window of the Buck. I was a student working part-time for a local industrial laundry and was sent down with extra towels to clean up the mess after the body had been taken away. The owner and I scrubbed at the floor with soapy water for a good hour, but we could not get the red stain out of the old wood, so we moved a table to cover up the spot. "No one can see much when we turn the lights down," the owner told me. He added, with considerable regret, that the dead man had been a good drinker and would be much missed.
There used to be a chess board on one of the Buckhorn's front tables. Both the red and white sides were kept laid out, although no one ever played a game or even pretended to do so. Two retired railroaders usually sat there and kept track of the trains as they roared past. ("There's the 11:50 manifest," one of them would say as he checked the train against his pocket watch.) When two drunken frat boys sat at the table while the old railroaders were away and actually moved some of the pieces, the old men declared that the world had gone to hell, and they never again returned to the Buck.
The best aspect of the Buck was that no one who writes for "Esquire" or has a subscription for the magazine would ever go there, not if they objected to having the hell beaten out of them.