The Watering Hole: Canterbury Ale and Eats, 534 15th Ave E, (206) 322-3130, CAPITOL HILL
Jeremy at his post. He claims he was "not having the best hair day," but was kind enough to let me take his picture anyway.
The Atmosphere: Nestled on top of Capitol Hill on the northern edge of the 15th Avenue business district, the Canterbury is an elder staple of the neighborhood -- they just celebrated their 35th birthday in October. On weekends, the whole joint from the table-service alcove to the bar to the cavernous southern room is packed and rowdy, but weeknights usually see a different crowd. On this particular Sunday night, even just the group seated at the bar is across the board, ranging from a woman in her early 20s having a few drinks to a bearded man in his mid 50s having breakfast for dinner by the light of a Toy Story marathon on the muted television. One outspoken regular occasionally poses discussion questions like, "What's your favorite movie of all time?"
One patron pestered me no less than three times to include him in this column once I had shown my cards, eventually handing me a sloppy chain of glow bracelets in the most pathetic attempt at a bribe I have ever seen. (To be fair, apparently it worked.)The jukebox is scant but packed with quality as only those few remaining manually-filled jukeboxes are. The selections are as diverse as the crowd, jumping from Gimme Shelter to My Boyfriend's Back to Run to the Hills. While chatting around the bar about the soundtrack -- at that point some Sonic Youth -- a regular asks the bartender if they have My Bloody Valentine. "I'm glad My Bloody Valentine isn't on the jukebox," he says, "I would never wanna get sick of My Bloody Valentine."
Those sitting at the bar seem so at ease it's like they live here -- and why wouldn't you? They see you through your long, whiskey-soaked nights, then pick you back up the next day with a nice, hearty brunch. Plus, they have all your favorite tunes.
The Barkeep: That My Bloody Valentine fan is Jeremy Read. He's been working at the Canterbury for just under twelve years, over a third of the establishment's history. He sees regulars, weekend drunks ("we get attacked by jocks and bros"), and pool enthusiasts come in, but it's really the people who come in multiple times a week who stand out: "Some people, if you don't see them for two days, you get worried about them."
The Canterbury fits Jeremy like a glove, at least at this weeknight level. He's obviously accustomed to remembering people, and I witness him regularly joking around with customers -- even recognizing one just because he had come in the week before. The flock around the bar addresses him by his first name.
"I like that I don't have to wear a uniform," he says, adding, "it's kind of a joke but it's true."
He describes the place as "family-esque" (at this point, the outspoken regular chimes in, "pirate utopia!"). The owners are awesome, he says, plus, "I like the atmosphere a lot... I totally dig the mazey castle thing. I sometimes take that for granted because I've been here too long. I forget what it looks like on the inside."
The Drink: Jeremy does not fuck around; when asked what he would be drinking right now were he not on the clock, he tells me that it'd have to be a mind eraser and a pint of Strongbow.
For those not familiar, a mind eraser is equal parts vodka, Kahlua and tonic water, chugged quickly through a straw to get a layered effect. The culminative taste is not unlike root beer, but the effect is... well, like chugging around four ounces of liquor in one go. Strongbow, by contrast, is a UK-manufactured hard cider now ubiquitous in American anglophilic bars and pubs. It's crisp, moderately sweet, and accessible.
The Verdict: While they seem like an unlikely combination, on a practical level the pairing of the mind eraser and the Strongbow makes sense. Once your mind has been erased, an unobtrusive comfort drink like hard cider is certainly welcome.
On a deeper level, though, the combination of the mind eraser and Strongbow speaks perfectly to the Canterbury's varied identities: the life of the party and a warm, boozy blanket of a neighborhood watering hole. Since Jeremy's been here for so long, one has to wonder: has Jeremy evolved into this kind of drinker because of the Canterbury, or does the Canterbury fit both these choices so well because of Jeremy's influence? The world may never know (because our minds were erased).