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November 17, 2009

Dispelling the myth about "Cheers"


Over the years, I've asked plenty of bar owners and bar-goers what the ideal neighborhood joint is like.

One answer that keeps popping up is Cheers. Like, the bar Cheers on the show "Cheers." You know, where everybody knows your name and stuff.

Today, I thought about "Cheers" and something occurred to me: As a bar, Cheers wasn't all that great.

Think about it: Aside from the main characters and maybe a couple random people sitting at a table in the corner, there was never anybody in the place. It was empty pretty much 24/7 ...

Everybody knew your name because "everybody" was, like, seven people.

There was hardly ever any music, either. Cheers was empty and quiet. Well, there was Norm's griping. Remember Norm? He was the portly, unemployed fellow who was always complaining about his wife.

In retrospect, Norm was kind of pathetic. He had his tab he never paid, and there were plenty of yuk yuks over the years, but I don't know if I'd ever like to hang out with a guy like that in real life.

Cheers was a great show. But I don't think it was that great of a bar.

What do you think?

(Photo by Ron Cobb/St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Caption: Formerly called the Bull & Finch Pub, this bar on Boston's Beacon Hill was the inspiration for the  TV show " Cheers." )

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:50 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


In defense of Norm.

Don’t know if you’d hang out with him? Kind of Pathetic?

I was a little young, but I have a lot of fond Cheers memories. Norm was the center of a lot of those.

First off, he WAS funny. People liked listening to him bitch about Vera. Every mention of her was a joke. His complaints were meant to entertain, not belittle. A more serious patron wouldn’t spend the time coming up with a new way to call her fat, he would just call her so. How many people do you know that would drop a NEW joke every time you met them?

AS for being unemployed, he wasn’t throughout the whole series. In addition he used his accounting skills to help out Sam on several occasions. Post HopeNChange I've seen more than a handful of people I know in that position hanging around ye olde waterholes...

Never paid his tab? It’s an extreme example, but I’ve seen quite a few bars in Baltimore that comp the crap out of popular regulars. Fun people at the bar encourages others to come in and stay. Norm was throwing back cheap domestics which might have actually cost the bar $8 -$12 a night… and yet how many people showed to hang out with Norm night after night? People who paid their tabs.

Additionally, there were more than a handful of times that any who needed any kind of help, Norm was there.

Norm is my kind of patron. Norm is a guy I would hang out with.


My hormones must be out of whack because, Otter, you just had me tearing up over Norm.

There were definitely other people in Cheers than just the regulars. There were always people sitting at the tables and boothes in the background and up by the piano as well.

Granted when it got to closing time, Norm, Cliff and Fraiser (and maybe Paul) were the only ones left, but it was rarely empty.

Sam, Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got. Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot. Wouldn't you like to get away?

Actually I have long been making this same argument!

They also only ever had ONE beer on tap.

I suppose it all depends on why you go to a bar. You could easily turn this paragraph around and describe what I don't like about a lot of bars:

"There was always loud, obnoxious music, too. was noisy and overcrowded. Well, there were the frat boys pounding Miller Lites. Remember those frat boys? They were always hitting on anything that moved and constantly felt the need to involve themselves in everybody else's conversations, often loudly and with the insight of a paperweight.

In retrospect, the frat boys were kind of pathetic. They had their dollar beers, and there was plenty of vomiting over the years, but I don't know if I'd ever like to hang out with guys like that in real life."

Honestly, when I go out I want to be able to hear the person next to me. I like to be able to get a drink without waiting for 20 minutes. Sure, it's weird when you're the only person in the place. But there's certainly a middle ground, and that's what I look for.

I think it depends on what you're looking for. Cheers was basically a family, a spot where you could walk in at any time and find a few friends. Music often isn't conducive to that particular atmosphere. . . kinda hard to have a conversation if there's a jukebox blaring or a band banging on a set of drums too loud.

If you were out for a night on a town, Cheers wasn't your place. If you're out to pick up the opposite sex, Cheers wasn't it either.

Cheers has to be quiet and somewhat dead, otherwise the long and/or intense conversations that "create a family" would never be able to take place.

It may not have made Sam a lot of money (hence him losing it several times), but that was never the point. It was a family for people who, for whatever reason, didn't have one.

If that doesn't sound interesting, you're simply looking for something else that night. Nothing wrong with that, different bars different folks.

Carla does remind me of a lot of the type of service you get here in the local establishments.

There's a band from Pittsburgh called the Iron City Houserockers who covered this topic well in a pair of songs called (IIRC) Junior's Bar and Old Man's Bar, each of which is sung from the perspective of a young man going out for the night to one of the bars.

The first is an up-tempo song about going out to the local "happening" spot that's packed wall-to-wall, meeting girls, dressing sharp, and hoping to get lucky - the tag line is something like "I hope I don't go home alone tonight".

The other is a slow song about going to the largely empty (except for regulars) local bar where the beer is cheap and the old men hang out, drink beer, and remember their glory days, the war, and whatever. The tag line is something like "I hope nobody sees me here tonight".

It's only after a couple listens that one notices that it's the same tune for both songs, just at different speeds, which lends greater subtlety to the two songs considered as a single package.

I went to the Cheers bar in Boston. It obviously is loaded with tourists so I can't say much about an authentic bar experience. One thing that struck me was how much smaller and bar-like it was. TV sets need big open spaces to roll cameras around. So for a TV show bar, Cheers was plenty full because it was really meant to hold half the capacity that it appears to hold. Make sense?

"I went to the Cheers bar in Boston. It obviously is loaded with tourists so I can't say much about an authentic bar experience."


It's funny you say that, because there are several airports that even have their own Cheers bar. I almost missed a flight out of Anchorage because of one.

this was many years when the show was probably still on the air. I vaguely remember airport Cheers (how lame) opening up with mechanical versions of Cliff and Norm.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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