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87. The Social Contract of The Third Place
Allowing kids and dogs is part of the taproom's unique ability to build community, but people have GOT to be safer and more considerate; plus tarot for making moves and Pink Boots beer.
We’re Going to the Brewery, Bring the Whole Fam—and Some Common Sense
This Saturday, I found myself in a brand new position: a patron in a taproom concerned that their presence could possibly hinder the comfort and enjoyment of other patrons, plus the sanity of staff. We were dog-sitting my friend’s pug Pearl and chihuahua mix Millie, which brought our dog total to three, therefore outnumbering my husband and I. I’m not sure what the social etiquette is on going to public spaces when your animal:human ratio is skewed toward the former, and I became quite self-conscious about it. But within a few hours of us all in our compact apartment, I reasoned that maybe a dog-friendly brewery super close to home—in case we had to make a quick exit—at an off time would be okay. And so off to Endless Life we headed.
It was indeed a quieter time of day, between the early afternoon taproom hang-er out-ers and the nighttime tipplers, so it helps that we didn’t have to sit too close to anyone. And I gotta hand it to the doggos, they were pretty good! I would say for 90% of our visit, they silently stood, sat, or laid down within inches of us or our table. I was pleasantly surprised at how chill the experience was and we even got a second round (SMOKED BLONDE ALE, I REPEAT, SMOKED BLONDE ALE!). But as we got up to leave, something that remains a mystery to us humans set the lil ladies off. Darby and Millie let out a couple of those growl-y, scream-y, snarl-y barks where you know shit is about to go down. We quickly separated them and they pretty immediately calmed down, but I was already mortified. Everyone inside the taproom just seemed mildly amused, which is the luxury you have in this situation when all dogs involved are small enough to fit into a handbag. I got absolutely no shaming, judgmental energy from anyone but myself. And we were leaving. But I still scolded myself, “How dare you think you can roll up to a taproom with three dogs!”
It reminded me of how last weekend, one of my husband’s friends texted my husband a picture of the menu at the brewery he was at with his wife and two young children. It had a message printed on the bottom, “We respectfully ask that kids remain seated during your visit!” He quickly followed this text by informing my husband that his children had, as if knowing the stakes, “gotten crazy,” so they had to leave. We laughed, because knowing this guy and his family, “crazy” probably meant that one of the kids stood briefly or used their outdoor voice. I have my own friend like this, who once apologized several times—to us, to anyone who would listen, really—after we all went to a taproom together and her two absolutely ridiculously sweet and well-behaved kids insisted on going to play an arcade game (supervised!), which is…its purpose. These two friends are extreme examples of careful consideration and courtesy. They’re a step beyond, even, my own humiliation at three small dogs making two seconds of noise as we were leaving the premises. I am actually not a Kids Person, but I don’t think anyone should have to apologize or be too rough on themselves if their children let loose some exuberant sounds or get upset about something or want to play a game or just be their child selves in a taproom. I don’t necessarily want to hang out with your kids, but I firmly believe they should be welcome in taprooms (and I’d love the same support back for dogs). However, this all comes with a social contract.
A couple months ago, my husband, Darby, and I popped into the original, Carroll Gardens Other Half. It was packed, and we found a barrel table to perch at in the back. On my way back from the bathroom, I stopped at the sight of my husband, frozen in uncertainty of what exactly to do, and two toddlers throwing my coat on the ground and putting my phone in their mouths. I got to the table before a dad belonging to one of them did, and he kind of stood there laughing for a beat, absolutely expecting me to be charmed by the situation. Unfortunately, I simply wasn’t born with the skills to fake not being annoyed—it’s a flaw, I know—and I didn’t want to show that because I’m not a monster, so I awkwardly just kind of stared blankly.
But I think his reaction was a perfect example of one of a few ways folks go wrong in taprooms with kids and/or dogs: they think every single other person is as obsessed with theirs as they are. They’re not! Not everyone loves kids! Not everyone loves dogs! Of course you love yours, you should, that’s the point! But you’re not giving your fellow patrons some great gift by unleashing your child or animal upon the taproom space. I challenge you to think of one person more obsessed with their dog than I am with Darby. But you have to come over and express in no uncertain terms that you would like to pet her or interact with her in some way before I give her more than six inches of leeway from my person. That’s not because I’m rude and don’t want to engage with you, it’s because I don’t move through the world assuming everyone wants to engage with her.
The second and more obvious way people go wrong is that they treat the third place that is a brewery taproom as free range for their kids or dogs. They think the walls of a taproom act as some magical barrier where, once you pass through it, you can kind of just release your children or animals and everyone just kind of…collectively cares for them and watches out for them. It takes a village, right, and here is said village? (Like, bad news, friend, but these village people are consuming alcohol…) I truly can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at a brewery when a kid way too young to be flying solo has wandered up to my table or spot at the bar and when I look for where they came from or who they belong to, there is truly no one in sight. I once gathered a very uncharacteristic amount of quick reflexes, agility, and strength to avoid dropping two heavy, frothing seidels when two kids racing through a non-spacious, table-cluttered taproom playing tag bumped into me, and as I recovered, I glanced around and saw their dads across the room playing pinball. I have also seen a friend save an entire tray of beers she was bringing to a table with Baryshnikov-level grace when a loose golden retriever bounded into her.
People, what are we doing here? A place that serves alcohol, a place where hard edges abound and glass is literally everywhere, this is not a place anyone should run free, let alone our uninhibited, carefree, and naive children and dogs. This endangers staff, it endangers other patrons, and, hello, if none of that moves you, it endangers your own children and dogs.
When Connecticut’s Fat Orange Cat stopped allowing children and dogs in the summer of 2019 (before it ceased on-premise business all together), I was admittedly disappointed. I had seen that space, almost entirely outside with farm animals and places to gather and picnic, be this platonic ideal for a family and pet-friendly third place, where truly all could gather for the whole day. But then I quickly remembered I had also seen children taunting the farm animals, and I’m more than willing to bet there had been situations with dogs and the animals, too. Having interviewed lovely founders Mike and Sheila Mullen once, after this decision but for an unrelated story, I think I can safely gather that they’d wanted that idyllic, family-friendly space for their beer to be enjoyed, but did not want chaos and complication, and it just proved impossible to have the former without the latter. And that’s unfortunate! A classic “this is why we can’t have nice things” moment. If everyone could just take care to mind their kids and pets, we could hold onto these very special, precious, necessary third places.
There’s a lot of talk about what a true third place is, especially in terms of being accessible to the entire community, and especially since the pandemic temporarily took them away and, more long-term, also helped in our capitalist society’s sad, steady picking off of them. What do we have, really? Churches are outdated as a realistic, welcoming-for-all third place for many, many people for decades now. Community centers and the like feel equally irrelevant for different reasons (this is a whole other discussion, and comes back, again, to good ol’ capitalism). Restaurants and bars and coffee shops count, but have plenty of limitations, from how long you can really hang out in them to how expensive they are to who you can really bring—I lived in Park Slope long enough to see children in bars they very much should not have been in; that’s not the norm nor should it be. Breweries are fantastic options, like the big German beer gardens of 19th- / early 20th-century America, where entire families can gather together and just hang for the whole afternoon. There’s so much potential for events and activities to bring the community together—it’s a big reason why we expect our breweries to advocate for good causes, and also a big reason why losing inclusive events like drag story hours is tragic.
One local article about Fat Orange Cat’s decision spoke to other New England breweries to discuss this very distinction. Breweries are not just places that serve alcohol. They’re community gathering places. And welcoming people with kids and dogs is a huge, vital component of being fully inclusive. As mentioned in the article, Greater Good Imperial Brewing Co. has a full play area for kids so that technically, people can let their kids run off, but to a safe, designated space—and they’re definitely not the only brewery to do so. I don’t think it’s necessary for every brewery to go this far, and it definitely depends on who your patrons tend to be, but making sure there’s both space and safety for people who want to come with their children is part of being inclusive. I recently overheard someone in a taproom asking for toys for their kids (who, for the record, were tearing through the space, knocking into people juggling glasses, and creating general mayhem) and the staff member seemed a bit irritated as they told them they did not. I don’t think it’s a brewery’s responsibility to entertain kids—or dogs, obviously—but I think it is important to create safe space. Anything beyond that is just a smart way to stand out from the pack of other breweries and make people want to keep coming back.
It’s of course important to note here that within the ways a brewery plans to be accessible to all, including people with children and dogs, there will be rules and restrictions. Not every brewery can allow dogs based on local health codes. And when they can, many wisely and understandably choose to limit them to an outdoor area. Plenty of breweries cut off kid-friendly hours at some point, and I think that can be a great compromise speaking to both families and people who want to drink with grown-ups.
However breweries chart their own inclusive, third-place course, what’s important is that this isn’t a one-way street. They’re running a business and figuring out what works on their end, and it’s patrons’ responsibility to not just the brewery but to fellow patrons to be aware and considerate. I mean, look, this all also very much (more so, really) goes for adults who are not towing children or animals but act like drunken fools. None of it is okay! We are all entering into a social contract here. We want inclusivity, we want safety, we want community. But that is not 100% on the business. It’s on everyone. I wish it didn’t have to be said, but staff deserve every iota of safety and consideration that any patron does. If you think it’s more important to let your kid have free rein and revel in being a plastic toy-wielding tyrant than keeping a staff member’s path clear and safe, if you think it’s more important for you to be able to drink without worrying what your dog’s getting up to than making sure a staff member isn’t being barked at, growled at, or god forbid, bitten—stay the hell home. Or only bring yourself, but tbh, you don’t sound like a real picnic, anyway.
Writing that last line just made me think, who am I speaking to when I write an issue like this? Considering who reads this newsletter, I’m probably mostly preaching to the choir. But the conversation still feels very important to have because of the greater third-place, inclusive-environment, social-contract dynamic at work in taprooms. It’s unique, it takes effort on both sides (and is rewarded with fun!), and it’s so very worth preserving. Maybe that means you find a tactful way to have a tough convo with a friend (yikes, good luck) or maybe it means you reconsider where you do take your kids or dog, maybe it just reminds you of the taproom’s role in our communities. At the end of the day, be nice, tip well, and probably don’t bring more than one animal per person in your party.
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This week, I pulled the King of Wands.
Wands is the suit of communication, intuition, and travel, and the King of Wands comes up to signal the following qualities in you or that you should be ready to call upon these qualities: a natural leader, a go-getter, resourceful, resilient, a visionary. What this often means is that it’s time for you to step into this role and take action on something. Been chewing on an idea or a goal for a while? Step up to the plate, my friend. Life is short. Time is of the essence. The time is now. Etc., etc., etc. The King of Wands is not one to sit around daydreaming. They’re like, “Okay, I’ve got this idea, let’s fucking DO THIS.” They’re not just good at planning, they’re good at executing that plan. They’re also quite good with delegating, which is something I think many of us struggle with. Assigning components of a plan or project to members of a team is not weakness, it’s not you saying you can’t handle it all—it’s strength. It’s having the confidence that your contribution is of paramount importance, but that you can’t do it alone, and you see the equal value in what other people bring to the table. Team work makes the dream work, and the King of Wands makes the team work, dig?
When you lead with this sort of passion, the people you do recruit to this team—which, btw, can be anything from a formal work team to the friends you ask to help you with something—catch that motivation. They’re inspired, they believe in the mission, too. It’s a beautiful thing, and it gets results, results everyone’s happy about. Honestly, I personally needed this card. I’m really good at making lots of plans for projects and goals, writing endless pages of notes and timelines in a notebook, working so much on that planning process that I never actually start doing the damned thing. The King of Wands is a mover and a shaker, and injecting our energy with theirs can really take our lives to the next level of what we want them to look like.
For this tarot, I wanted to go with a Pink Boots Society collab beer, because that—like really any community-oriented, inclusivity-driven collaboration—is a good example of people coming together and making good shit happen. So, I would say go drink whatever your local PBS chapter has brewed up, and I’ll give a specific shout-out to Blooming Boots from Lawson’s Finest Liquids, because it’s a cold IPA and I love cold IPAs.
This Week’s Boozy Media Rec
I’m going with two this week because both are important and very relevant. The first is “God Bless Your Transsexual Heart — The Pub As An Unlikely Sanctuary,” an essay by Lily Waite for Pellicle, about the sanctuary pubs can provide for a transitioning woman. It’s beautiful, and vulnerable, and honest, and transports you to different memories and places Lily ventures to.
I’m including this second rec because the issue at hand has been playing out this week, because it sits at that intersection of “depressingly unsurprising” and “shockingly appalling,” because we all need to be talking about it, and because this particular writing on the matter comes from a writer who is always, like Lily, vulnerable and honest and smart and passionate. Ruvani de Silva has written for her site about the deafening silence from the beer industry and community in regard to the Essex pub where the owners’ disgracefully racist doll collection was removed by the police, which has become a whole politically fueled shit show that naturally involves the pub owners claiming they’re not racist (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAA), a whole army of trolls coming forward to argue in favor of them and their fucking disgusting racism, and even CAMRA giving a day-late, dollar-short response to this when meanwhile, they’d included this pub in their Good Beer Guide with a reference to the “toy” collection as if it was a draw. Woof. Ruvani not only writes about this specific situation, but about DEI burnout and the all too predictable but infuriating-and-discouraging-nevertheless disintegration of allyship—it’s a very urgent read.
Ex-BEER-ience of the Week
I beg your pardon for this awful photo, but also, I do not care. I wasn’t about to spend too much time and effort setting up some fantastic shot when there was babka—from Mekelburg’s, to boot—to be eaten and Grimm’s Sumi Babka stout to be enjoyed. The beer is made with Mekelburg’s babka, in particular, so the pairing literally could not be more precise or more out of this world. I miss them both, gone too soon.
Until next week, here’s Darby at Endless Life embodying some zen state of which frankly I am jealous. And, shameless plug (plea?): don’t forget to consider upgrading to a paid subscription! You’ll be supporting this newsletter and its mission, you can get your own tarot reading, you can access exclusive content as it comes, you can get free swag, and more—all for just $6/month or $60/year.