Movie Review: The Best Bar in America

This movie opens with the following quote, by Pete Hamill, “The Culture of Drink endures because it offers so many rewards: confidence for the shy, clarity of the uncertain, solace for the wounded and lonely, and above all, the elusive promise of friendship and love”

After watching the movie, I had to find out more about that man who wrote that quote, and as luck would have it, I found him with one google search. Pete, it turns out, is a world-famous journalist and novel writer. Then I purchased one of his books, the one that most likely had that quote in it. Again, I was lucky. The quote at the beginning of the movie is the second sentence in Pete’s book, “A Drinking Life,” which became a national bestseller.

Taken out of context the quote would lead you to believe that drinking large quantities of alcoholic beverages might be a very successful way of life. In context, one might draw an entirely different conclusion. Here it is,

THIS IS A BOOK about my time in the drinking life. It tells the story of the way one human being became aware of alcohol, embraced it, struggled with it, was hurt by it, and finally left it behind. The tale has no hero.

The culture of drink endures because it offers so many rewards: confidence for the shy, clarity for the uncertain, solace to the wounded and lonely, and above all, the elusive promises of friendship and love. From almost the beginning of awareness, drinking was a part of my life; there is no way that I could tell the story of the drinking without telling the story of the life. Much of that story was wonderful. In the snug darkness of saloons, I learned much about being human and about mastering a craft. I had, as they say, a million laughs. But those grand times also caused great moral, physical, or psychological damage to myself and others. Some of that harm was probably permanent. There is little to be done now but take responsibility. No man’s past can be changed; it’s a fact, like red hair.

More than twenty years have gone by since I stopped drinking. My father died at eighty; my mother lives on. I’m happily married to a wonderful woman and work even harder than I did when young. But life doesn’t get easier when you walk away from the culture of drink; you simply live it with greater lucidity.

Hamill, Pete. A Drinking Life. Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.

Humility is defined to be freedom from pride or arrogance.

Anyone who doesn’t sense a large amount of humility in that introduction by Pete for his book needs to read the whole book to distance themselves quickly from the effects of drinking!

However, that is not what the movie is about. It’s the opposite. A quick sketch follows,

Writer, Sanders, is working on his book, “Guide book: best bars in the west.” His wife rides in the motorcycle sidecar as they set out to visit western bars. The motorcycle is a 1960 BMW R 60/2 which needs constant repairs.

In the middle of a western desert, during one of those repairs, Sanders wife says she’s had enough and starts walking. Sanders gives her his wedding ring back and leaves her in the desert because she refuses to get back in the sidecar. At the next bar, a truck driver who rescued Sander’s wife tries to beat the motorcycle and alcohol out of him.

He can’t do it because the bartender will not cooperate. There is a little bit of gunplay here, and this is where Sanders meets Northway.

We are told that “it’s the mind that creates the bar. And many factors influence that creation including the bartender.” From what I know, that seems very reasonable.

Sanders sleeps on the ground in the desert and shoots his watch in reaction to his book agent who is looking for the book. So, the laptop disappears, the writing ends, and the drinking begins.

At the next bar, the bartender is a woman who must be ovulating because she convinces Sanders to play a unique game of pool with her on the empty bar pool table.

It’s about now that I recorded another quote, “Catholics go to church. Bikers hit the road.” I’ve had the feeling on long hikes, long bike rides, and other long journeys that spiritual enlightenment is present in a way I never found it in a church.

Then, Sanders finds a bar that includes a church. But they only serve beer and no whiskey. He doesn’t stay long. I’m sympathetic with this.

Then he finds a bar that requires he become a member before he can order a drink there. The membership fee is high, so he passes.

Now, Northway, from the first bar shows up at a gas station driving a Volkswagen Vanagon. I owned a VW Camper Van and a Vanagon. I wish I could purchase another one right now. Some of the favorite parts of my life were spent camping all over the United States in those vehicles with my wife, kids, brothers, and sisters. So, instantly, I liked Northway.

I’m not going to tell the whole story. Hopefully, I’ve said enough to get you to watch the movie, The Best Bar in America,  included in Amazon’s Prime membership.

Many words of wisdom found their way into the dialogue. I’ve mentioned a few above, but probably my favorite is, “He who knows he knows doesn’t know. But he who knows he doesn’t know, knows.” The writers of the film know humility!

The Best Bar In America, A Feature Film by Eric and Damon Ristau took home the Feature Narrative and Best Of Festival awards at the 1st Annual Motorcycle Film Festival.