ON & OFF THE BEATEN PATH :: Hey, what’s this all about?

by David Daugherty on January 1, 2011

Early in 2007, having retired from “Gumint Work,” I wanted to do something interesting and informative while, at the same time, having fun in the process. I loved photography, but hadn’t had the time to really explore the interest, so the first thing I did was buy an expensive camera and just started shooting, mostly  landscapes and my son’s baseball games. As my wife and I traveled the country with her job, I’d been to a number of really cool bars, some dives (which can be even more interesting), and others with rich histories dating back to the 1800s. Deciding to focus on this topic, starting in and August-October 2007 trip, with camera in tow, I began my tour of bars and taverns, beginning in Arizona. This developed into a desire to write about my favorite bars, which totaled about 25 at the time, located in Arizona, Colorado and Ohio (where I currently live).

Winking Lizard Tavern, Downtown Cleveland OH

Winking Lizard Tavern, Downtown Cleveland OH

June 2007: Before leaving for our Arizona trip, I drove to downtown  Cleveland, OH, to photograph some cityscape. My wife Judy came with me and we had lunch at one of our favorites, the Winking Lizard Tavern. We were making plans about some of the bars I was going to visit in the Phoenix area when the waitress came to our table and started asking about my camera. As we talked, I decided to ask the manager if I could take some pictures of the bar. He said it wasn’t a problem at all and I went to work. The tavern’s located in an old office building across the street from Quicken Loans Arena, home of the Cleveland Cavaliers. There are currently 14 Winking Lizards in Ohio comprisings one of the few multi-location enterprises  I have photographed, as each Tavern is unique.

That’s as far as I got to photographing Cleveland cityscapes that day… it’s a pretty comfie bar, y’know? While I was snapping and sipping away, one of the bartenders suggested that I go to Put-In-Bay, an island off the Lake Erie coast, accessible by boat from Sandusky and Port Clinton, OH. It’s home to an inordinately large number of bars for such a small area, as well as a brewery and a winery. I’d been there before and thought this was a great idea! We could head out to the island and see what kind of response and yield I could get trying to shoot a large number of bars at one fell swoop. Better to find out now before going all the way out west just to find out the idea wouldn’t be well received.

Put-In-Bay, Ohio

Perry's Monument, Put-In-Bay, Ohio

So now the plan was to get out to Put-In-Bay island, or PIB, before leaving for Phoenix. It was a Thursday and I was glad because having been out on the island on a weekend , I assumed it’d be less packed with people partying and having a good time. Not that this was a bad thing, but I wanted to be able to go to the PIB bars and take pictures without getting in the way of a large number of party people, or they me. I also wanted to talk with the owners and managers to get the histories and stories of these bars. Well, to my surprise, it was almost as busy on a Thursday as it was on a Saturday, but I still managed to get a great yield!

Beer Barrel Saloon, Put-In-Bay OH

Beer Barrel Saloon, Put-In-Bay, OH

While on PIB, I photographed 12 bars and 1 micro brewery. One bar, the Beer Barrel Saloon, has an awesome distinction as it is registered with The Guinness Book of World Records as having the world’s longest bar. The bar is taller than Perry’s Monument, which is shown in the photo of the island, above.

In talking with people who work in the bars, I learned, among a good handful of interesting tidbits, that during Prohibition, authorities didn’t really know who the island belonged to: Ohio or Canada. So, the island didn’t adhere to the laws of Prohibition and was one of the few legitimate places at that time to go and drink without consequence, making it one hell of a point of destination for a lot of folks!

Now, my plan was clear: I was ready to take on this project of traveling to all of my favorite places out west and, as things would turn out, more than a few that I didn’t expect. I began making a list of places I had gone to and reconfirmed that they were still there. In the meantime, I got a call from a good friend who suggested that I add Prescott, AZ to my list for a visit to historic Whiskey Row. After researching Whiskey Row, I became even more determined to write and shoot, making immediate plans to go to Arizona.

The first bar I visited in Arizona led me down a path that would soon spin this project way out of control… in a good way.As I was taking pictures in the first establishment, someone came up to me and asked if I was doing a story about the bar for the newspaper or a magazine. When I told him I was writing a book about my favorite bars and taverns his eyes lit up. He told me he thought it was a great idea and mentioned that if I liked the place I was photographing, he had more suggestions. It was, without fail, like this at every subsequent place I visited! Within less than 2 weeks of starting out on this journey, my list of 25 had grown to more than 40. I now have 80+ bars, taverns, pubs, saloons, micro pubs and microbreweries under my belt with a growing and seemingly endless number yet to do!

In future entries, I’ll write about and share photographs of what I’ve found to be some of the most interesting bars I’ve visited. I hope to get people to think back to a time when the corner bar or tavern was a meeting place, your place. A place where no one judged you and you could have friendly, and sometimes not-so-friendly, discussions over a favorite brew. Bars should not be looked at as just drinking places but as American Institutions filled with memories, history, laughter, love, meaningful discourse, and yes… sadness. We have toasted happy events in bars and have also drowned our sorrows. Bars are the embodiment of Americana and I hope you all think so as well.

Next: Four Peaks Brewery, Tempe AZ.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: