Bar Exam is a compilation of the bar paintings of Carl B. Johnson, along with his musings on the disappearing neighborhood tavern, old man bars and pub history.
Carl B. Johnson has spent countless hours on a bar stool observing human nature and quenching his thirst. He has finally discovered a way to write his drinking binges off as an income tax deduction!
Bar Exam is a collection of his personal paintings depicting various drinking establishments mostly in the south Jersey and Philadelphia area. All paintings are full color reproductions. Also interspersed throughout are photographs of bars from Bayonne, New Jersey to Key West.
Interspersed are famous drinking quotes and his musings about the disappearing neighborhood bar. These have been culled from seven years of articles he wrote for the underground arts newspaper, Inferno. The book bears little resemblance to the original articles.
Pubs have been in existence for at least a millennia. Yes, that is 1000 years. In the eleventh century, pubs were usually a person’s household, which would welcome passers-by. It was not uncommon for a weary traveler to be invited into a house, seated in front of a warm hearth and offered a brew.
As the New World was populated, hospitality was among the amenities imported from the homelands of the settlers. In colonial Massachusetts, it was ordered that “one sufficient inhabitant ” maintain an “ordinary”. The General Court of Massachusetts mandated that a town would be held liable if it did not provide a public house. The purpose was to provide for the welfare of travelers.
Long before the Internet, before the 6 o’clock News, even before the daily newspaper, taverns were central to the life of the community. A gathering place, they served as a hub for personal deals and a central location to dispense news and gossip. Taverns played a key role in the American Revolution. The Indian King Tavern of Haddonfield New Jersey was the official meeting place of the general assembly that ratified the Declaration of Independence in 1777. It was in fact New Jersey’s first State Historic Site.
Paul Revere wrote of a tavern, where, on the outset of the American Revolution, he set out, “to inquire the news; when we got there, we were told the troops were within two miles.” Taverns played a key role throughout colonial America. In Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Newport colonists congregated, their anger towards British rule fomented into a revolutionary zeal that was the catalyst for independence.
John Wilkes Booth built up his courage at the Star Saloon before his great act of ignominy. His first stop after the bloodshed was at Surratt’s Tavern in Surrattsville, which is now Clinton, Maryland. Okay, this might not be the brightest example of the role of taverns in American history…
In the early twentieth century, pubs and drinking in general came under attack by narrow-minded bigots, people that could not be satisfied with living their own life and minding their own business. They felt compelled to control other people’s actions through legislation.
Overbearing house-frau’s and obese gluttonous meddlesome do-gooders engaged in wholesale fraud, disseminating lies and propaganda. They succeeded in creating a moral dilemma where there was none, raising the issue to a hysteric crescendo until they were able to force their will onto an unwilling majority. In the end they also succeeded in cultivating a ground ripe for criminal enterprise.
In the end, the Prohibition was certainly responsible for more ruined lives and premature deaths than the ban on alcohol could have ever prevented. The moralists refused to acknowledge human nature, instead preferring to ride roughshod over the basic human right to seek happiness.
Just as the anti-gay preachers and lawmakers today are turning out to be closet-queers, the temperance movement was populated with hypocrites. Just as priests demanding total abstinence from sex are being outed as pedophiles, and preachers hawking abstinence have dalliances with hookers, the prohibitionists refuse to face the reality that banning something does more harm than good.
But I digress… the pub today remains the last vestige of community. As neighborhoods turn into bedroom communities, impersonal shopping malls replace the downtown of our youth, and people spend more time commuting than working, the local bar attains more importance as a social outlet.
Unfortunately the local pub is once again under attack, not by puritans, but by heavy-handed bureaucrats and corporate Amerika. Instead of targeting repeat offenders, underage drinking and problem drinkers our politicians create problems by decreasing the level at which one is considered drunk (.08 BAC), and creating situations where a person is considered intoxicated after merely two beers. Face it, these laws are aimed not so much at reducing drunk driving, but purely at padding the state’s coffers.
A bartender will be held liable for allowing a customer to over-indulge (no such thing as personal responsibility here) and yet parole boards and judges can release violent criminals who will surely commit another criminal offense, without any fear of repercussion.
The costs of insurance and regulation are driving the small neighborhood bars out of business. Big-box restaurants are snatching up licenses, destroying the small pub atmosphere while serving up mediocrity.
My prediction is that in my lifetime the local pub will be a hazy memory, a relic of history. Until that becomes reality, however, I will do my part to document the fading ways of American life. I urge you to visit your local neighborhood bar, have a cold one, engage in interesting conversation, and do your part to be a part of history.