Dedicated to Kim and Mike–and the Hemingway staff–for their warmth and acceptance.
“Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You want to be where you can see
Our troubles are all the same
You want to be where everybody knows your name”
I think most readers could sing those lyrics by heart and instantly know where they came from (and for the handful of those of you who don’t, it’s the theme song from the US sitcom “Cheers”, set in a bar in Boston).
However, I am equally sure you didn’t know (like me until I Googled the lyrics) the song also includes the following lines:
“Roll out of bed, Mr. Coffee’s dead
The morning’s looking bright
And your shrink ran off to Europe
And didn’t even write
And your husband wants to be a girl”
The lyrics seem to indicate that last line is a problem…but many of us have the same wish (at least part of the time, if not all the time).
Starting in 2019 I began visiting Hemingway’s Zen Garden, an eclectic bar in a neighboring suburb about fifteen minutes from my home. Hemingway’s was my GG friend Michelle’s favorite bar, and one time when we were together she suggested we go, so we did.
That first year, we had a couple of interesting moments, including a patron who looked like a serial killer. My favorite was my interaction with a slightly drunken middle-aged woman, a/k/a “Crazy Sarah”, who didn’t quite understand what was going on. She was talking to me and somehow the conversation steered to how I was wearing a padded bra, and she asked why. Bemused, I answered honestly, “Because I’m a guy.” She then started trying to take my wig off. Michelle apologized profusely, but I assured her I wasn’t offended. I thought it was funny.
Then came the pandemic and closure of bars. Hemingway’s evolved and for the summer of 2020 created an outdoor area with a band stand. We met a couple of times at the bar, where Michelle’s nickname was “Arkansas” (she has a very strong southern accent).
Michelle began (proudly) introducing me to her friends, who many were more-or-less Hemingway’s regulars. One was Patty, one of the bartenders, who was offduty that night. She was extremely friendly, told me I looked great, and we shared life stories. She said her son was gay and was engaged to a drag queen. Patty showed me pictures of the fiancee, and she looked great (and I realized it would be fun to get a drag makeover). Patty was also extremely supportive of her son and the fiancee.
Mind you, I’m usually a bit reluctant to meet someone new. I never know how they will react to me, especially when they find out my voice doesn’t necessarily match my presentation (no, I don’t change my voice; it’s guy me speaking). But Michelle just barges ahead with the introductions, telling them “This is my friend Dee” and I have learned to expect and accept it and to deal with it.
That’s how I met Pinar and Christy, and have seen them occasionally since (I don’t get out THAT often). They are warm and friendly and when Michelle sees them when I’m not there Michelle tells me they ask about me (which is nice to hear). Christy also owns a black Corvette, and while I’m not a big car guy, Dee would LOVE to go for a ride in the Corvette (hint, hint Christy if you’re reading this).
The more I went, I met more people, including the owners Kim and Mike. They immediately made me feel welcome. Sometimes, it made for interesting interactions. In late 2021, one night I was meeting a couple of Michelle’s friends at Hemingway’s as Dee, then the next Saturday met them again helping Michelle move as the guy me. They were extremely chill about it.
One night, one of Michelle’s friends, who I will call C, was at the bar. C and her husband A are friends of Michelle’s now ex-boyfriend. C was happy to meet me, said I looked great, and then later said her husband had bought dresses and was interested in dressing. I asked C to bring over A and we talked for about 15 minutes. They are both late 30’s, C is supportive, and my message was basically “go for it”. But I could see the fear in his eyes, because for the longest time I had the same fear. I haven’t seen them since, and I’m curious if he’s ever dressed, because being on the smaller side he would have likely made a pretty cute woman.
That night Cassidi, a youngish (27) bartender came over to talk to me and said she really liked my outfit, and said nice things about doing what I want to do. We talked for a while, and she told me to come back at any time.
A few nights later I had been at a dinner meeting of the St. Louis Gender Foundation, but stopped at Hemingway’s for a nightcap. Michelle was there with some other friends, and when I stepped inside the door, it was to the sound of Michelle loudly announcing “Dee’s here.” So much for a subtle entrance. I met the new friends, but didn’t stay long, and ended up driving Michelle and a friend of hers home (a better alternative than an Uber). I had to put up half the back seat in my SUV, and take the front wheel off my bike–in heels and a dress–to fit them, but I managed.
Another time I walked in and saw a group which included a guy who knows the guy me. Michelle stopped to talk to the group; I calmly kept walking and found a place to sit a bit farther away. I tried to avoid eye contact and waited patiently until Michelle came and sat with me, and I explained what was up. The guy gave no indication of recognizing me, and the group left a few minutes later, so the coast was clear. During 2022 I’ve been in a handful of times, including a couple of times solo without Michelle. I would have dinner and chat with Kim or Mike. I also came a few times to discuss some accounting stuff. They made it abundantly clear I was always welcome.
Unfortunately, Covid and the aftermath put a significant strain on the finances of the bar, so Hemingway’s will be closing after New Year’s Eve. I’m sure on one hand Kim and Mike will miss the bar, the bands, and the patrons, but not the headaches of managing the bar. On the other hand, I am sure they will appreciate the free evenings they will now have to do other things. I wish them well.
I hope to make it in a couple of times before they close and I am hopeful I can make it New Year’s Eve. I have the outfit, and Michelle might be available, but I just need to clear it with my wife (we usually don’t go out New Year’s Eve, but my going out dressed is always touch and go with my wife). Anyway, fingers crossed, because getting to wear a cute dress (trust me, it’s cute) on New Year’s Eve is a long time aspiration I never thought I’d be able to do. Maybe this year will be the year (and if it does happen, you can bet you will read about it one Sun-Dee).
Condolences about Hemingway’s closing.