Wednesday 23 September 2015

Death becomes the Pine Box

‘Bruce Lee was brought here when he died and his coffin was carried out by Steve McQueen and Lee Marvin.’ A pause in the conversation. A sip from a glass of Speedway Stout — chocolate, vanilla, booze, darkness visible. I looked at the man next to me at the bar, friendly, tattooed, probably politically aware in a way I’m not, willing him to continue the conversation, he was drinking North Coast Old Rasputin. ‘I guess there would have been others helping to carry it but the Cooler King and the Wand'rin' Star man are the guys.’

In Seattle at May’s end, stumping the streets, listening to the singing fishmongers in Pike Place Market and asking the barman at the Elysium bar Avatar why the place was so quiet on a Wednesday night, I went up the hill to Pine Box. A former funeral home (this brief home to Bruce Lee), this was the bar that most people I met recommended I should visit. So I did.

Inside, there was hip-hop in the background, which I always used to enjoy, and stools at a long bar, with 30 taps behind, the steel glittering in the light. Robust, young, friendly, lively, noisy — I liked the noise, the starling like chatter, it reminded me of a Brit pub on a Friday night, people unafraid to have a few beers and make sounds that might frighten those who come in with a smartphone and a list with which they would like to tick off in silent. This was smart beer drinking, enjoyable beer drinking, pleasurable beer drinking, beer drinking as a joy rather than a duty (which is what I’ve always said), beers from the likes of Rodenbach (Grand Cru), 21st Amendment, Hopworks Urban Brewery (Kronan the Bourbarian Baltic Porter) and Hair of the Dog (Session IPA), all thrusting their way forward, all vying for space in my glass.

‘Any ghosts here,’ I asked the barman. He handed me my serving of Kronan and smiled and went on to serve someone else. I relaxed and listened to the river run of voices and wondered which one was the one who wasn’t really there.

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