He was the king of the underground.
But not for being particularly challenging or cerebral, instead his poetry occupies a space that is low-brow and self-deprecating.
It’s almost amateur, and that’s the magic of it. And of him: Charles Bukowski.
Tucked away in the Back Bay section of Boston, on a welcomed side-street off of the always messy Bolyston, you have Bukowski Tavern.
The red-lacquered entryway is built into a parking garage and welcomes you with neon signs that read “dead authors club” a homage to their infamous mug club and “to all my friends…a drink”.
There’s no better kiss to his grave and to his alcoholism than a tavern with an exceptional beer list and a combative fuck-you attitude scrawled onto every wall.
Well, not every wall.
Half of the tavern is traditional: cherry-wood walls that display the staff picks of beer with carefully illustrated hops in chalk, gold framed mirrors, a crystal chandelier in the main hallway and the sprinkling of Fenway paraphernalia throughout the space.
And the other half is a complex decoupage of illustrations of Bukowski, overlays and transparent outlines of his poems, his stature, or his natural environment of sitting with a beer and a cigarette.
The colors utilized are deep, rich and royal. Triggering the intimacy and air of a dive-bar, the tavern’s design completely helps attract its patrons.
The complication we all face with the great Chinaski is deciding whether his poetry was ever interesting, or if it became interesting because he was prolific.
Just like Buk, I’ve done my duty sitting on a barstool.
It’s where I’ve learned the language of others and the touching of thighs, where I’ve fell out of love, into friendship, partnership, and have spewed a fair amount of literary bullshit onto napkins meant for IPAs.
I have always found Bukowski to be more of a storyteller than a poet and that’s not to take away from his poetry.
That’s just to say the simple way he communicates is reminiscent of a conversation, not the inner machinations of a syllable.
This makes even more sense, once you learn that he was trained as a journalist.
And just like any storyteller needs an audience, this bar acts as a community place for just that.
One outside the home (cough, think of proxemics) that allows for social interaction to be built and communication to be fostered.
Catching up over drinks or grabbing a beer after work with friends are both just different ways of participating in storytelling.
It’s all around you.
The words of last weekend hang from the mug club mugs strewn across the bar-top.
Now, normally Bukowski Tavern operates with metal or classic rock music that isn’t extremely loud. And this is key.
But if they ever did err on the louder side that would be a personal design choice for the bar to make between creating a community or creating a place to make money.
Psychologically, people drink more in louder bars or equal settings because communicating is either difficult or impossible, and sipping is more frequent.
However due to the fact that the bar is modeled after a prolific storyteller, maybe they would never want to sabotage the storytelling component by altering for the latter.
For now, they chose stories.
Those more versed in the poetry of Bukowski can head to the bathroom, which contains cartoon paintings of Bukowski poems such as,
“there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
“until some man-thing
will take no more
A Radio with Guts:
“and I used to sit in the window
and watch the sun shine all over that thing
while the music played.”
Bathrooms, especially in bars are a safe heaven, and as you may know from my introductory piece, I associate them with comfort, fear, and a place where private life can hide in the arms of public life.
As they constructed the tavern it would have been very easy to write the stanzas on the bathroom wall similarly to the way they adorn the rest of the bar.
But the decision to let the design become an interactive space (they must read the title and recall the poem from memory) when the patron is in private, is constructive and intelligent.
And privacy was important to Bukowski.
The 10 year bum, the rough and tough heavy-hitter, chug a 40 while keeping a wise-ass in a headlock, is a well-created myth.
He kept that facade for the public, but really channeled and operated with a perverse sensitivity most of the time.
Maybe it’s a testament to the still fragile masculinity that drives some men to underdevelop communication skills and drive away any emotions from bubbling onto the surface level of who they are or “influence” their procedural day-to-day.
He revised pieces and recycled metaphors, even though it’s widely claimed he didn’t.
He’s a human. He’s a male. He’s a misanthrope that continually is thought of as a misogynist.
Unfortunately for women, men, and most creatures, he associated everyone with a particular foulness.
And his writings were the scent trails of that odor.
Bukowski Tavern has it bottled.