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My friends and I like to play this game. It doesn’t have a name. There are no winners or losers. And at the end of the game lies only the fun of accurately reading a room.

We play it whenever we convene for drinks at Sun Liquor, which happens maybe once every three weeks. Which Sun Liquor? There are two, both on Capitol Hill, and the difference is key. There’s the one we frequent, the original, smaller spot at the quiet northern end of Summit, and there’s the newer Sun Liquor on Pike. One is a neighborhood bar and one is not—and that is at the heart of the game.

A group of patrons files in and one of us nods in their direction, a nod that over time has come to mean, Those guys are at the wrong location. The newly arrived appear perplexed, squinting in the dim light, unable to square the scene before them—a full but almost catatonically mellow room of thirty- and fortysomethings—with, say, the text message from their buddy, which I often imagine reads something like, “Dude. Sun Liquor on Cap Hill. Hurry. Hot chix.” 

If our guess is right the party doesn’t take a seat and soon troops out and on to, presumably, the big new Sun Liquor nine blocks south that’s but one stop along the gauntlet of revelry on Pike and Pine—where, it should be mentioned, the smell of copious amounts of cologne is surely more welcome.

So what’s the difference between a bar and a neighborhood bar? 

Darren Davis and Allecia Vermillion take on that question in this month’s cover story. The original Sun Liquor is in there, of course (Davis dubs it “Little Sun”), along with more than 50 other spots. But even if you’ve never popped into a bar that isn’t attached to a Cheesecake Factory, you know what a neighborhood bar is. 

You know what a neighborhood bar is because you know Moe’s Tavern—or Paddy’s Pub, or, showing my age a bit here, the Regal Beagle. The watering holes on The Simpsons, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Three’s Company offer a blueprint, albeit a warped blueprint, for spaces where the handy work of civilization is on display—spirited conversation without the overt peacocking.

More importantly, neighborhood bars reflect, easy enough, the neighborhood they’re in. That’s why you’ll find friends quietly talking and sipping negronis in a darkly lit room on Summit, the scent of Axe body spray a faint memory, and why Jack Tripper and the Ropers seemed to begin every madcap social misadventure down at the Beagle.

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