Behind Locked Doors

You don’t know you’re in a lock in, when you’re first in a lock in.

The changes are subtle. You might look up between sips of your pint, perhaps when it’s nearing the end of the glass, to see the blinds drawn tight. The barman, usually standing upright and busying himself behind the bar, might be leaning his elbows on the worn wood, a fresh pint settling in front of him. The music has been lowered or isn’t on at all (was it ever on?). The lights have been lowered. You have been deemed worthy of witnessing the great cultural tradition of the lock in.

Every year around St. Patrick’s Day (Paddy’s day, please, not Patty’s Day), I am asked an inevitable question: what’s your favorite thing about Ireland? My answer probably varies each time I’m asked. Sometimes I might say the food traditions, the brown bread and farmstead cheddar and smoked salmon and endless pots of tea, or sometimes I might say the rich literary and storytelling heritage, the way with words, the attention to the craft of each sentence that is such a norm in Ireland. I might simply say the Irish themselves.
pints of guinness

All of these things that I might mention can be found in the pub.

When a lock in begins, you’re usually in the heat of a deep conversation. The beginning of the night with the chat about work and family and the latest episode of whatever great TV show is captivating audiences at the moment is done, and conversation turns to life. The hot political debates of the day. The struggles that continue to plague our minds. We wrangle with the ins and outs of relationships, personal and professional. At this time of night, when a fresh pint is placed in front of you without you even asking for one, you’re trying to make sense of the world. During the day we move through it. At night, when we are locked in, we can try and create some order and understanding about what we’ve seen.

The barman knew to pour you another pint, because you have the look of someone who isn’t going anywhere. You don’t know where your jacket is. You have been in this pub long enough to find yourself in a prime position, whether that be the coveted snug (that separate nook in the pub where historically, women were separated from the main room to have a drink without being seen) or a central spot at the long wood bar. If you’re hungry, and polite, you might find yourself with a small plate of brown bread and some soft Irish butter the barman snagged from the kitchen. If you stick it out, there might be some music and singing, especially if someone brought a guitar along or there’s a violin somewhere in the pub.

This is hands down my favorite thing about Ireland. This guard down, real moment. No one knows what time it is. Filters are gone from conversations. And no matter how blustery or rainy or bone chillingly cold it is outdoors, that’s a worry to worry about later, because inside, behind the locked door, it’s warm, the last embers of a fire still glowing.

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