I’ve talked with several friends about how Russia’s attacks on Ukraine seem to have officially ended all COVID discussions (the deeply cynical part of me wonders if the media would have jumped all over this additional new variant had Putin decided to play nice with the world). Aside from the occasional mask wearer too, when you’re out and about around town, it’s easy to pretend COVID never existed—I’m not complaining, mind you, simply observing and highlighting, I suppose, that it was the exception to wander into a West Asheville watering hole last spring and see signs about masks and social distancing everywhere.
After the events that transpired at this bar, I asked my friend if those signs were there as a joke—I’ll get to why momentarily—but he said to his recollection, this particular bar had taken COVID precautions exceptionally seriously, which made the events of this tale all the odder, but also not strange at all if we’re operating under the assumption that West Asheville is the epicenter of performative wokeness.
I think I officially find West Asheville overrated (remember, overrated isn’t bad…it’s just overrated). I know it bills itself as the weird, quirky, local’s only, cool part of town, but there is decidedly something uncool about trying so hard to be quirky and above the fray.
We arrived at this nameless bar after a pleasant Sunday afternoon spent at New Belgium and the Archetype West’s roof deck (which I consider underrated…it’s never crowded!). Once we saw the multiple signs imploring mask use and social distancing, I was prepared to go back to my car and see what I had in the glove department, but a quick peek inside showed us that despite the signage, no one was wearing masks. I’m vaxed, boosted, and had got COVID over the holidays, so I was fine with that.
My buddy ordered a draft of Whistlehop Pilsner from the woman manning the bar. She filled it up for him and returned to bring us the beer. However, before she could hand it off, another bartender came up behind her, took a sip from the beer, lightly blew across the foam head, and said, “quality control check.”—my gut tells me she’s used to people thinking she’s “sassy.”
“That’s our quality control check,” the bartender who’d been serving us repeated before turning to me and asking me what I wanted. I went with a can. That got a raised eyebrow, and as she went to get my can, we were able to confer and agree that this “QA check” was weird and gross. My buddy asked for a new beer glass when she returned with my can. She obliged, with another raised eyebrow, and leaned over to the quality control girl to loudly whisper, “they didn’t like the quality control.” That got a massive eye-roll—at this point, we were acutely aware that our very polite, very mild dismay at having a bartender drink and blow into a beer we paid for during what is still very much a pandemic spread through breath made us unwelcome.
We got the new beer, and as I paid, I thought I heard one of the bartenders mutter, “fuckin’ squares.” I’m a chronic over-tipper, but didn’t feel bad about leaving just a dollar. I wish I didn’t tip at all because as we went to sit and have our drinks on the patio, we clearly heard the “QA checker” loudly say, “they’re too square to take a joke.”
For those of you who don’t know what a square is, which I wouldn’t blame you for, because this is 2022 and not 1957, the always reliable Urban Dictionary defines it as both “a person who is regarded as dull, rigidly conventional, and out of touch with current trends” and the “opposite of groovy.”
You know what? If not expecting a server to blow into your beverage is dull, and out of touch, I’ll gladly carry that ungroovy mantle. The more I thought about it, the more it pissed me off, and the more annoyed I got at myself for not saying something at the moment, although I think it was just so bizarre I didn’t fully process the inappropriateness of it all till after we left.
I subsequently leaned into my squaredom and the powers invested in me as a middle-class white person and sent this establishment a strongly worded email about the bartender’s odd service choices. Credit where credit is due, the manager promptly messaged me back and was very apologetic about the entire thing. She invited us to come back whenever we wanted, an offer I’ve yet to take up. I just don’t think I’m groovy enough for that super rebellious, stick-it-to-the-man, anarchsit little slice of West Asheville.