A gentleman should be happy in his work, should feel comfortable and secure in his home, and should, beyond these, have a third place that defines him and his culture.
A third place might be a cafe, bowling alley, bookstore, arcade, elks lodge, or whatever — so long as that place is a place of joy that includes a sense of belonging. The third place is a concept that was named by the social scientist Ray Oldenburg, but has existed since the beginning of human civilization. In his seminal book The Great Good Place, he explained that gathering places, dedicated to leisure and disconnected from work and home-life, are essential to human existence. These are the places where great discussions happen, ideas are borne, friendships and even marriages are inspired.
My third place is commonly a pub. Before I go further, I should explain specifically what I mean by pub. There are clubs, which are frequently noisy and cater to prurient dancing, there are college bars, which are also noisy and encourage excessive drinking, and there meat-markets, which are the hunting grounds for the amorous. These places are fine, and they serve their purpose. However, pubs are not these places. A pub reflects the culture of the neighborhood in which it exists, it is boisterous but encourages discussion, it is multi -generational, its ambiance celebrates the people within it, and above all it, is a place to meet the people you know and understand better the people you don’t.
To begin my most recent weekend, I stepped into a favorite pub (among many) to see family and friends, drink a pint or three, and enjoy a simple dinner. This pub is located in the Irish neighborhood of my hometown, and so the atmosphere of this place need hardly be described to be understood—the floors are made of cobbled stone, the walls are darkly stained wood with black and white photos and antique local soccer jerseys, a small fire crackled in the corner fireplace. Walking in was, and always is, a bit of a homecoming — familiar faces, shaking hands, and the like. There is truth to that famous reoccurring scene in Cheers, in which the character Norm is greeted by the pub’s inhabitants.
After our meal and towards the end of our evening, we strolled from the back dining room through the bar to find two gentleman tuning their instruments. They sat against the wall beside a small lamp looking through their notebooks of lyrics and tunes and plucked and pulled at the strings of their instruments. They began to play quietly and unobtrusively, but still caught the attention of people at the bar who hushed and brightened and turned to listen to them intently. We couldn’t possibly leave.
The two gentleman, with their guitars, mandolas, and banjos played for us old Irish tunes that you might hear in Derry or Belfast. After a couple of songs my mother approached them and asked if they might play her her favorite song — “Do you know Dirty Old Town?” she asked.
The musicians seemed hurt and distressed by her question, as if they might have just received some inconsiderate slight, “Of course we know Dirty Old Town,” they explained earnestly, and without any further discussion, began to play for her their finest.
Those at the bar who knew the words sang along, those who did not swayed, clapped, and banged their pints atop the bar to keep time.
What is special about the occasion is that the occasion is not rare. The pub is always there, so are the families who frequent it, and so are the friends that sang along with the musicians. Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.
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For further reading on our nation’s need for a third place, I recommend Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert Putnam