The long, slow death of our watering holes



Not exactly the same, but related:


Please, tell me of some place which is accessible and accommodating. I haven’t found any place which quite fits that description. Even home gets the daily painhammer from trucks backing up.

I wouldn’t really say the “third place” is dead, I’d just say its a bit more restricted now. Thinking back to when I was in college (all three of them), the whole place could have been considered a third place. Our neighborhood bars have a large circulating group of regulars who play poker, wear sweat pants, and drag their children along while listening to the worst of the 90’s. The local nerdy game store has a constant crowd of people who seem to pretty much live there.

The last two places I lived (in a poor fringe, and in the middle of town) both had hopping bars that did very well at this task for everyone (serving equal amounts of PBR and fine whisky). But living in the most white bread of suburbs (a white, evangelical, late-30’s-to-mid-40’s, 2.5 child mono-culture), I find that this third place idea doesn’t really exist (at least in the inclusive sense, there are the aforementioned bars, and of course the several local mega-churches).

Sadly none of these places are for me. I miss sitting around a select Denny’s, or the strange independent coffee shop.


I don’t think water holes are dying, I think people don’t have the extra money to afford to go out as often.

Currently I have my main watering hole where everyone knows my name and there is a large active core group there. Most of the regulars I know go a lot when they have money and have to pull back when money is tight. In the past year 1 I have started being a “regular” at 2 other spots, Each has their own group of regulars w/ some cross over.

Maybe since I get out and see the world I don’t realize how many people are at home and not leaving. But to me, Watering holes are not dying any more/less than in line w/ the economy.

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I hang out with a regular group of work friends and we rotate thru a selection of local sports bars/brew pubs near the office for happy hour a couple times a week. What bothers me the most is the inability to actually talk as the owners start cranking up the music to attract the younger crowds. Before you know it you’re shouting at each other over the din.


My local Unitarian church fits this bill.


My local watering hole is The Rhino in Parkdale. First place in Toronto to offer free wifi and with a huge selection of beers it easily became my “second office” and is where I go to write, draw or just relax. It’s become a semi-official meeting place for my colleagues too. The evenings are too crowded and noisy for it to be of any use to me - but the mid-afternoons are perfect and quiet and, yes, they know my name.


Our favorite watering hole just opened 3 years ago. It almost immediately developed a core of regulars, many of which live in the surrounding neighborhoods. The instant loyalty probably has a lot to do with their excellent brewing skills and the very affordable lifetime membership, and the bartenders go out of their way to learn the names of the regulars.


Isn’t that pretty much the description of the BBS?


Most people here seem to have glossed over the second attribute, “it’s inclusive and doesn’t differentiate based on social status.” You are already an elitist if you are at a coffee shop with wi-fi, or at a bar with craft beers and “good” kinds alcohol. It is social status that got you there in the first place. The new “great good place” needs to be extremely low-cost or free, and the poor people you invite there need to have a reason to come back, such as interesting conversation or ways to make connections between the haves and have-nots.


Actually I know of a few places that still fit most of the criteria. A British friend of mine who now lives in Kentucky has a “local” he goes to at least once a week to meet up with friends and talk face-to-face. Maybe it doesn’t exactly qualify, but is it a requirement of the “third place” that it’s the place itself brings together strangers?

I also have a problem with #3: “It exists for conversation.” Even though Cheers and The Local Perk were fictional businesses they were still businesses. They existed for profit, as do some businesses that still exist–like local coffee shops–that need to make money to stick around, but still provide spaces for conversation. Some even have meeting rooms that can be used for free when there’s no demand or rented out by groups for specific occasions.

Heck, if you loosen up on the criteria a bit the city bus I regularly ride to and from work is, at times, a “third place”. It has regulars who know and converse with each other.

I also know of a knitting group that meets in various places–their preference is a non-chain coffee shop, but since the members are pretty geographically spread out they’ve met in different Starbucks or Paneras. They don’t have a single “watering hole”, but move from one to another based on need.

There are also amateur sports teams and other groups that bring people together. [Radnor Lake State Park][1] has a monthly volunteer day which, I can tell you from experience, brings together a group of “regulars”.

If “watering holes” are disappearing it’s probably, in part, because, unfortunately, they just don’t get enough business to keep up with costs. I’m sorry to say I’ve seen a few places go because the neighborhood demographics changed and the rent skyrocketed.

I’m afraid where this article really loses me, though, is this:

I’m always wary of broad pronouncements about “kids these days”. I work on a college campus where I see everything from the dining halls to the libraries to the taco place across the street serving as communal spaces where people half my age, or less, gather in groups to talk, study, or work.

Yes, the way many of us interact has changed because of technology, and it’s often more obvious in the younger generation, but human contact is still very much alive and still valued by people across the age spectrum.


Certain parts of the Internet are this for me. I’m sure we lose something in the asynchronous nature of the communications, but it works for me. My parents went to work and then spent their time with each other and with us. I basically do the same. The Internet allows me to be with outsiders in my spare time.


Surely the decline, or at least the repurposing, of disposable income is a factor here, and in many other things we claim to be problems. You need money to burn for third spaces to be viable. But for the average working person, once you’ve paid for the internet and cable TV, or increasingly the smart phone, what’s really left? Who has the money for books, or movies, or music, or espressos, or bar tabs, or even hobbies? Sure you could give up the TV and just go with the internet, but then because of bundling you’ll end up paying almost as much for just internet as TV plus internet. And maybe you could give up the smart phone, but for half the country that’s the primary way they access the internet. Maybe I’m just that poor, but it seems to me like we’ve seen both a decline in disposable income (c.f. The Over-Consumption Myth, Elizabeth Warren, 2004), and we’ve collectively decided that the internet is where we should be spending what little is left of our disposable incomes.


Seriously. In New York the bars are wayyyyy to loud. I’ve started inviting friends over to my apt to hang out so we can actually talk. I’d love a more quiet bar. There are a couple bars that don’t play music… Mcsorleys, but it’s full of tourists and burp castle, but it’s kinda small and has expensive drinks.


As a teenager I spent a lot of time logging on to local BBSes with my 1200 baud modem. Because they were local groups of us who’d only gotten to know each other through the BBSes would often go to each others’ houses or, more frequently, to restaurants where we could hang out with each other for several hours.

This BBS has allowed me to interact with a much more diverse group of people which, I hope, has enlarged my worldview and made me a better person. And I don’t miss the petty fights and jealousies that developed when people got together. But I do miss spending a week talking to people through a keyboard then getting together on Friday night to dance on the tables at Fuddrucker’s.


I don’t go out at all now, mainly because people baffle me. I guess I’m somewhere on the spectrum!

I’d rather be safe at home than spend a night ducking pint glasses and watching people puke.

In America I always felt that everyone was constantly being shamed and ompeting on social/economic status. America is not a safe place to have fun for many people and the rare Cheers is not something that you should hang out at all night while your wife/husband/SO and kids are at home alone.
That and the predatory pricing at watering holes, not to mention DUI awareness.


The new third place is Facebook, at least in some sense, and even if some of us (cough) never go there.

I’d imagine that Facebook’s rebuttal to the “physical-to-virtual” comment in the post is their purchase of Oculus. Facebook no doubt believes that their problems are strictly technological.

Yep. The noise level in most bars destroys any attempt at conversation. And at most coffee houses, you’re expected to stay quiet.

I think use of space is important here. How do you break up a space so that’s there’s a sense of enclosure where people can talk, but don’t make it boxy and claustrophobic, and potential introduce business problems by not being able to see everything at once?

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