It began harmlessly enough: One hot summer day at White Owl Social Club, a few years back, I willingly stood in a line at a bar. The patio was overflowing with sunburnt revelers day-drunk on boozy slushies, but inside it was cool and empty. A handful of thirsty drinkers had formed a tidy queue in front of a lone bartender, ignoring the rest of the uninhabited real estate along the bar’s glossy wood top. Sure, I thought. Why not?
But, not unlike the frog in boiling water, I had no idea this marked a dark shift in drinking culture. Lines started springing up at all my favorite haunts: Kelly’s Olympian, Momo, Prost! ... even the gloriously rules-phobic Spare Room, where there’s nary room to stand shoulder-to-shoulder next to the bar, let alone form a line. Now they appear everywhere, organically, sucking Portlanders into rigid formation, a horror show of politeness. Once, I watched as a lone woman at Suki’s hesitantly wavered around the empty counter, before taking a place behind me—the only other person at the bar. “Is this where the line starts?” she asked.
This must end.
Brunch, Timbers games, freeway on-ramps. Sure, Portland, line up if you wish. But bars are supposed to be a respite from this tyranny of queuing! Bars are supposed to be fun, remember? You weasel your way between sweaty people, belly (or shoulder) up to the bar, and earn your old-fashioned. Sometimes you have to gesture like a crazed baton waver directing airplanes. Sometimes you have to yell your order from behind three rows of people. And sometimes, in Switzerland, you have to snatch your beers between the legs of strangers dancing on the bar, while you duck high-kicking heels and loafers. It’s about strategy, determination, and luck—and the harder you work for it, the better the hooch tastes.
“I absolutely dislike it,” a bartender leery of line-lovers whispered to me at Momo. “It’s a waste of time. I can make eight drinks at once. It’s brunch culture spilling over. You don’t have to wait.”
And yet, there’s light at the bottom of this pint glass. Over the Fourth of July holiday, I noticed a sharp new sign above the bar at White Owl: “Please do not form lines.” For once, I’m happy to do as I’m told.