Look, I’m 33 years old. Typically by 11 p.m. I have slathered on my anti-wrinkle moisturizer and thoroughly chewed two melatonin gummies. But here I am on a Sunday morning, out way past my bedtime and six cans of Diet Coke deep, in an effort to get to the bottom of a question that no one seems to know the answer to: What time does The Tavern close?
I had ended up at Bon Secour’s The Tavern only once previously, after being kicked out of an Applebee’s. That’s pretty much everyone’s story of how they got to The Tavern. They ended up there. Because when every other bar or chain restaurant in town has turned on its lights at the end of the night, The Tavern is still dark. In fact, it continues to stay open for hours and hours after everyone else’s last call because The Tavern, supposedly, straight up does not close.
At least that’s what everyone thinks. Someone told me The Tavern doesn’t have to close because it’s outside city limits. Someone else told me that it does actually close, but only for an hour, and it lets everyone stay inside for that hour, with the doors locked. That sounded like a fire hazard to me, but I’m not a firefighter. So I had come to The Tavern to find out the truth.
I texted my friend Mike (name changed to protect the guilty): “Wanna go to the tavern? Lol.” He wrote back immediately: “omg I swore I would never go back to that place and I have to be at church at 8.” “Perfect!” I responded. “I’ll be out front to pick you up in 15.”
This is the common refrain about The Tavern by people from around these parts. They’ve either never been to it and never plan to, or they have been and never plan on returning. Harsh, but I was about to patronize it for the second time! And Mike was too, even if it was against his will.
Located east of the Dollar General on County Road 12 South, The Tavern resembles a barn — pitched roof, no windows — and its parking lot is a field. We each paid a $5 cover to get inside, although we weren’t sure what exactly that covered. Perhaps the privilege of having somewhere to drink in public when no one else would have us.
Inside, there is a room of pool tables, dart boards and gaming stations. Then there’s a circular bar, dance floor and stage (the bar hosts weekly drag shows) illuminated by neon and black lights. There is also a patio out back, which has a second bar. We sat at the far side of the inside bar, near the stage, and I watched a man order a Hennessey and Red Bull, which I have never before witnessed in my life. We got Fireballs and Cokes.
Mike had actually been to The Tavern more times than he had let on. He admitted that he’s seen the sunrise there. As he smoked his third Marlboro Ultra Light, he clued me in on the scene. “People come here when they don’t want to feel alone,” he said. “I’ll give you the story, there is no story, and if you quote me on that I’ll sue you.” I believed him and I’m broke, which is why he’s known as Mike in these pages.
The crowd was diverse but cliquey. Half of them appeared to be here on purpose, the other half on accident. Insular groups hung out in different corners of the space, playing games and conducting business. But if you were there by yourself, plenty of people would approach you to chat, Mike said. Well why wasn’t anyone coming to talk to us? They just seemed to be staring. “Your getup.” I was wearing a pink Hawaiian shirt. I didn’t see the problem. “You look like you’re either the law or you’re here to buy cocaine,” he said.
A DJ on stage played Afro B and French Montana. Couples danced. Women in tube tops and knee-high boots checked their makeup in front of a large mirror leading to the bathroom. A half-dozen people wandered behind the bar and I couldn’t figure out which of them worked there and which of them just lived there.
We walked to the outside patio. A chalkboard was scrolled with the phrase, “Sexual harassment will not be reported but will be graded.” The space had cornhole boards, a grill (the bar hosts weekly cookouts) and, for some reason, a washer and dryer.
Full bottles of Corona Extra were scattered along the bar, abandoned. A couple made out. We thought we recognized someone we went to high school with but didn’t say hi. A girl wearing a velvet scrunchie and an inside-out Old Navy tank top kept bumping into Mike. He was getting agitated. “You gotta get away from me so we can start getting into trouble,” he told me. I wasn’t sure I wanted to get into the kind of trouble you can get into at The Tavern, and I knew Mike would regret missing the early service, so I instead suggested we go home. He thanked me later.
I had wanted to watch the sunrise from The Tavern’s patio. I thought it would be poetic. But I didn’t catch the sunrise at The Tavern. At 6:47 a.m., when my weather app tells me the black sky faded to gray, I was asleep in my bed and Mike was safely back at home on his couch.
I had failed the mission I had been so set on executing. I cannot answer, with absolute certainty, what time The Tavern closes. But there are a lot of mysteries in this world that I cannot explain. For instance, how did the universe come to be? And why was I so sure, for so long, that the love of my life worked at the Navarre Pizza Hut? I do not know, I may never know and at this age, I’m OK with that. I’m OK with failing and I’m OK with feeling alone and I’m OK with not knowing everything. But that’s not to say I won’t end up back at The Tavern next weekend, trying again.
Alyson Sheppard is Lagniappe’s resident hangover specialist and Boozie’s most unreliable Baldwin County spy. Find her on Twitter: @amshep.
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