Now, 72 hours might seem like a short amount of time to make a sweeping judgement about a society, but coming from someone who usually makes these types of judgements within seconds, 72 hours is practically a lifetime of study and analysis. And so here's the thing about Salt Lake City, a place where the tallest building is the Church of Latter Day Saints corporate headquarters (not joking): without the hypocritical, rather f*cked up wackness that is the LDS, a group that shuns coffee due to caffeine but eats enough caffeine-saturated chocolate to make a fat kid sick, I don't believe the non-Mormon residents of SLC, who are actually the slight majority within the city limits (although definitely not in the state at large), could've created what I think is the f*cking coolest dive bar scene in America...
Or perhaps I mean it's just better than what exists (or doesn't exist) here in DC. Seriously. Forget about the oppressiveness of the LDS or the fact that in Salt Lake City bartenders must pour their drinks through specially designed mechanical spouts, which meticulously measure out half-shots, meaning to get a full-strength drink you have to order "an extra shot for your friend," the fact that any place in Utah has a better dive bar culture than DC is what's truly f*cked up.
And let's look at that for a second, before returning to the symbiotic relationship between the LDS and the normals in Salt Lake City and how that enhances their bar culture. Why is it that DC's dive bar scene sucks so hard? For one, it's pretty much non-existent. There aren't neighborhood bars here in the same way there are in most other cities. Sure, we have the Red Derby, the Raven and maybe a handful of other dimly lit, well-priced bars with a decent background playlist, but these places are few and far between here. Instead, most every bar in DC relies on some sort of scene or gimmick. Craft beers, fancy cocktails, the bar where all the lawyers go, the lobbyist place, etc. Unlike the dive bar scene in most cities, a bar's clientele in DC doesn't usually have anything to do with the neighborhood in which it exists. Take Stoney's, for example, in Logan Circle. This is probably the closest thing I have to a neighborhood dive bar, although I actually think of it as more of a restaurant. Personal experience shows that I'm as likely to meet someone who lives in Arlington there as I am from around the corner.
Which brings me to the other problem when it comes to dive bar culture in DC -- the people. And it's not that I think everyone is horrendous or someone I wouldn't want to befriend (although it's questionable whether they'd want to befriend me), it's that people don't seem to go out to bars here to do that without some sort of pretense, prereq, or status-seeking motive. Think networking crews, coworker happy hours, kickball teams, etc. It's hard to go out individually here because when you do, it's rare that you'll meet anyone else doing the same. Save for a few exceptions, there are just no "regulars" here to become regulars with. So unless drinking in silence in the corner is your thing...
And incidentally, that was actually becoming my thing until I visited Salt Lake City to see a recently re-located friend last weekend and realized what exactly we're all missing here -- unpretentious, laid-back, genuinely friendly (read: not necessarily sexually motivated), neighborhood-y interactions. And here's where I think the Mormon Church becomes important when it comes to formulating Salt Lake City's awesome dive bar scene: While the LDS will strong-arm you from entering many of their buildings if you enjoy a tipple now and again (or, I guess, even a cup of tea), the bars there welcome anyone with open arms, albeit half-open, carefully measured bottles. In fact, if you're not religious (read: not Mormon), the bars are where you bond. That's where you'll meet your non-LDS neighbors you can later grab coffee with, your future friends you'll not only party with, but be able to have decent conversations with. I suppose this could just mean everyone's a lot friendlier out West, but I can't help but think that this welcoming attitude among Salt Lake City's non-LDSers is extra prevalent because of the domination of the Mormon Church. Hell, I'd probably bond more with my like-minded neighbors if half of the population thought I was seriously going to spend my afterlife trapped alone in a vacuum of outer darkness simply because I don't think Joseph Smith actually talked to God.
Now, I'm not saying everyone who isn't Mormon is going to automatically be besties, although it seemed that way in the three days I was there, nor am I saying anyone who is Mormon isn't worth pursuing a friendship with, although locals tell me it is much harder. What I'm saying is that the very fact that one goes to a bar in Utah means you already have an important life-defining commonality with the person sitting next to you at the counter. In a way, I suppose there's no metaphorical ice to break, which means the moment you step into any given dive bar in Salt Lake City, chances are you'll see a very different situation than you'd see in DC. That is, you'll actually have fun.
And so where does this leave DC? Do we need an overly conservative and religious "other" to come to power in order
Unfortunately for that plan, though, Prophet Beck is already all tied up in building his compound in the Middle East (sorry, guys...), so it looks like we'll have to think of a plan B. For now, I guess, I'll just embark on an obnoxious crusade of my own. I vow to make a goddamn friend randomly in a Logan Circle bar. I'm sure I'll probably creep a whole crapload of people out with my non-sexual come-ons, but I imagine for me, that'll just be part of the fun. And really, think of the alternative. I'm sure most people would rather have me interrupting their networking happy hours with offers to play nerd games than deal with Mayor Beck and his offers to do amateur porn.