What all good bars need: Something to read

You hear a lot of complaints these days about the lack of decent textbooks in our city’s public schools. Ancient science books and graffiti-filled history books apparently have parents, teachers and kiddies whining for more tax dollars.

Schools, schmools – speaking as the voice of the drinking public, I think it’s high time the city paid a little more attention to the severe lack of decent books in our taprooms.

That’s right, from corner bars to trendy bistros, the state of reading material has never been worse. Once, you could count on every tavern to own at least two irreplaceable texts:

  1. “The Baseball Encyclopedia,” to settle 90 percent of all barroom arguments.
  2. Today’s Racing Form, for entertainment purposes only.

These days, you’re lucky if you can find a beat-up copy of one of those city weeklies.

To me, reading is as fundamental to the taproom experience as a decent jukebox and a TV tuned to the nightly lottery drawing. Yeah, I like to kibitz and throw darts, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten lost in a good pint of beer and a tasty paperback, read to the buzz of barroom chatter.

Sadly, this is one of those issues that gets ignored by many otherwise intelligent people. They believe society’s obligation to educate its citizens somehow ends once they start boozing. The truth, of course, is that most of us learn far more while perched on a barstool than during 12 years at a desk.

Laugh, but this is an issue of fairness. In Philadelphia this year, tavern-goers will cough up more than $21 million for the schools through the 10 percent liquor-by-the-drink levy. And what will we get in return?

Corny jokes on soggy cocktail napkins. Maybe a grimy sports section from yesterday’s paper, left behind on the men’s room floor.

What are the Republicans going to think when they come to town next summer?

We could shrug and just chalk it up as another case of City Hall dropping the ball on one of its ballyhooed quality-of-life guarantees. We could gripe, though I doubt the Broad Street bureaucrats are paying much attention to the reading enjoyment of its taxpaying tipplers.

Complaining is going to get us nowhere in this battle.

Thus, I offer a modest proposal:

Instead of waiting for government handouts, we must stock the bookshelves of the city’s taprooms ourselves. Go now and rummage through your belongings, dig out a few dusty volumes and haul them down to your favorite hangout.

Consider it a good deed, for by sharing books, you will not only provide your fellow drinkers with hours of reflective entertainment, you will subtly but inevitably raise the level of watering hole discourse.

Plus, you’ll probably make a buck or two, settling those barroom bets.

As self-appointed chairman of the Taproom Curriculum Committee, Joe Sixpack suggests – in addition to the aforementioned baseball and horse racing tomes – any of the following essential titles:

  • * “The Guinness Book of World Records.” How else will you know whether your consumption of three dozen raw eggs is a record?
  • * The Daily News (today’s, thank you).
  • * “The New Limerick,” an out-of-print book that contains more than 2,700 bawdy examples of the purest form of English literature.
  • * A Bible or Koran, for additional inspiration.
  • * A pre-1960 copy of “The Bulletin Almanac,” for the old-timers.
  • * A current edition of Michael Jackson’s “Pocket Guide to Beer” and “Mr. Boston’s Official Bartender’s Guide.”
  • * A box of Trivial Pursuit cards and rule books for billiards and darts.
  • * Leonard Maltin’s “Movie & Video Guide.”
  • * A dictionary.
  • * Random paperbacks by James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Hunter S. Thompson, David Sedaris and any other writer who would be at home at your favorite bar.

Beer run

Joe Sixpack’s summertime beer expedition continued this week into the dreary corporate parks and cookie-cutter subdivisions of eastern Montgomery County. Though largely a land of tasteless lagers served up in boring so-called “drinkeries,” beer missionaries from Chester County lately have infiltrated the region with some fresh spigots.

The lost and thirsty should find their way to either of these:

* The Drafting Room, 900 N. Bethlehem Pike, Springhouse. A fixture in Exton, its Montco site is a tidy bar/restaurant with a nearly faultless taste in suds. On my visit, the worst thing on tap was Amstel (no sight of draft Budcoorsmiller); the best was Sierra Nevada Brown Ale, while the menu listed a handful of bottled Belgian lambics.

* Valley Forge Brewing Co., 799 DeKalb Pike (north of Route 73), Blue Bell. Still brewing at Devon’s Gateway Shopping Center, Valley Forge has taken its huge Imperial Stout and worthy ESB north on Route 202. Head brewer is Jeff Carter, formerly an apprentice at Cherry Hill’s Flying Fish.

Joe Sixpack (written this week with a pint of Yards Saison) appears every other Friday.


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