There was a bar in a small plaza at the end of the road where a few coworkers hung out after work. I never went.
We were cooking in a steakhouse. I was a butcher and line cook and I got there early every day to cut huge slabs of beef into steaks and ground the rest into burgers and then cooked it all up for hungry patrons. By the end of the night, I was usually pretty beat.
The job wasn’t all that bad honestly and my coworkers, a group of young and hilarious cooks lost in life as to what they really wanted to do, were my whole life at the time. I loved those guys. We were family.
But they liked this bar up the street that some of them would go to with the wait staff after work and they often invited me. I was sweaty, stinking of meats and fryer grease and tired. I much preferred to stop at a bar closer to my house where I knew practically everyone for a few pints before heading home to take a shower and then eat cold Lo Mein from the fridge.
But one night they convinced me to go. There was a dartboard and they wanted me to play. I decided to join them.
The plaza was small and the bar was neatly tucked into the center with neon beer signs in the window. One of the signs was for Miller High Life and for some reason I had been drinking a ton of the stuff recently. I went inside with intention of ordering one. I may have even said that to my friend Brenden as he held the door for me. It was a nice big open bar with tables on one side and a dark brown bar on the other. We walked up it to order.
The bartender, a tall man with a goatee, asked what I would be having and I responded with Miller High Life. He said they hadn’t stocked it in years. I looked at the sign in the window, pointing over my own shoulder and said, “False advertising”. He apologized for the inconvenience.
I looked up at the wall of beers behind the bar. A lot of bars put beer bottles up behind the bar so you know what they have and don’t have to ask for a beer menu. I saw Miller High Life in the lineup.
I pointed to it, “You said you were out.” He laughed, saying he’d have to climb up there and take that down and that I didn’t want that one anyway because it was so old. I was not going to be deterred.
“The sign out front says you have Miller High Life and from where I’m sitting you have one left”, I said.
“That bottle has been up there for ten years, man! You don’t want that. What else would you drink”, he said.
“I’ll have a Miller High Life please.”
He looked annoyed. He wasn’t in the mood to argue about a warm beer from last decade above the bar. I could tell. But at this point, I had an audience and I can’t resist being a spectacle. I sat silently and stared at him. He leaned on the bar and brought his face closer to mine.
“If I climb up there and get that Miller High Life you better drink it. And don’t puke all over my bar”, he said hoping that this would be the deterrent. It wasn’t. We went back and forth one last time with some “are you sure” and “this is what you want” type stuff. I never wavered. The audience grew.
He climbed on the bar and brought the bottle down. It was dusty and the beer looked more yellow than I remember but it could have been the lights. He set it down in front of me and popped the top with a bottle opener he had in his back pocket. He had to wipe his hand on a bar rag after.
The bottle was covered with a sticky dust. I wrapped my hand around it like it didn’t bother me but I could feel my greasy fingers sticking to it. It was warm too. Maybe around 85 degrees. It was summer and the bar was hot, especially up near the ceiling where this bottle had resided since before I could drink legally.
Everyone stared at me with bated breath. Everyone wanted to know if I could go through with it. I picked it up slowly and put it to my lips. I upended the bottle in a few large gulps. It tasted ok actually. But the thought of it was going to make me sick.
I slammed the empty bottle down. Everyone leaned in, including the bartender. They wanted to see if I would barf or not. I made a face like what I drank was the poison and let out a large burp. Everyone jumped back.
I smiled. There were equal guffaws and cheers from the little crowd that had amassed. I felt quite pleased honestly to be the funny spectacle at a busy bar on a hot summer night.
A few months later they talked me into going to J.B. Quimby’s Public House again. The same tall bartender was behind the bar. When I walked in he pointed at me and said “That’s the guy! That’s the guy who drank that old Miller High Life I was telling you about!”
Some folks at the bar turned and watched me walk by. I waved. They waved back. The story was still alive! It felt good.
The other day I read that J.B. Quimby’s Public House closed due to the pandemic. I felt sad. We started frequenting that bar not long after that.
The food was good and the beer, if coming from the tap or cooler, was cold and crisp. I realized that it had been over a decade since I had gone to that bar and it had been longer since the Miller High Life incident. I’m glad I got to know that bar and contribute something to the legend of J.B. Quimby’s Public House.