So most of you know now that the Gin burned down last night. The greatest bar in Oxford history, hands down, and if you’ve been to Oxford you know bars come through there like drunk frat boys on penny pitchers night. Even though the place has been abandoned and defunct for years, which was a tragedy in itself, this is still truly the end of an era.
I think I said everything I had to say in my farewell to the place three and a half years ago, but I think it’s worth posting some pictures of the firefighting effort, and some pictures from the Gin, and reposting my ode to the place where I really learned about a lot of “grownup” things.
And we were so young. We thought because we were old enough to drink or bartend, that we were big kids, but you realize when that place that was so much a part of all of us burns down, and everyone refers to it as “The Old Gin,” and kids from Oxford now don’t even realize what it was, that we’re grownups now, and there goes an important part of our youth.
(Photos in the old blog ~ written in June of 2006 ~ from me and Jessica or the Facebook group I worked at The Gin… or at least drank there all the freakin’ time… )
Ode to the Gin.
Though the name is losing its legendary status as the population of Oxford gets younger and younger (some of us refuse to believe we’re actually getting older), it’s a place that will stand firm in the hearts of people who went there to drink and socialize, to party and commiserate, to enjoy a beer, the scenery, and good company… well, for decades.
Talk to almost anyone who was in Oxford before 2001, and you can say, “I used to work at the Gin,” and their face lights up. Invariably the answer returns, “I used to love that place!” or “The Gin rocked!” The discussion turns to penny pitchers, former employees, nights on the patio, bands long forgotten by so many other people, and inevitably, to Darryl, the guy who ran it, and subsequently, ran it into the ground.
The Gin was the first bar I ever went to in the “Going Out” way. I remember I went with some friends and ran into Steve Lindsey, Stuart Brown, Derek Jones, Alundis Brice, Shannon Provencher, Richard King… all these Ole Miss football players, and many of whom ended up my dear friends, and though I wasn’t a drinker at the time, I remember thinking, “I like it here. These people are fun. Maybe going out isn’t so bad.”
And then I got the job there, the summer of 1996. I worked the door, I was a cocktail waitress, I bartended… pretty much whatever was needed was what we did. I was there the night 800 people showed up to see Tyrone play, and fire code was around 500-600 (I really don’t remember that part clearly). I was working a beer tub and when I ran out of beer it was so crowded I had to climb the back fence to go around to get cases of beer. Yeah, that spikey wrought-iron one. Either that or get Jonny to walk in front of me and blaze a trail while I held on to his shirt.
I laughed there, more than probably anywhere else in my adult-childhood. I cried there. I did shots and drank beer and learned to drink Goldshlager from the bottle. Cindy and Jennifer and I met and bet on boys there. I learned how to mix Beam 8 Star and Amaretto to make it taste like Crown. Buck and I established a system of making money off gatorade shots: On my off nights I’d sit at the corner of the front bar, and guys would come up, and I’d talk them into buying shots for themselves and me, and then at the end of the night, we would split the profits. We made out like bandits. Sometimes I came home with jewelry and baseball caps I’d taken off the poor guys we’d conned out of $50 worth of shots. And of course, I always went home with a good buzz.
I learned there that your first love (and first of a lot of other things, too) can shred your heart and the next week tip you a dollar, laugh in your face, and tell you as his buddies whisper about you, “Don’t spend it all in one place.” I learned at the Gin that being a bartender gives you a status tantamount to being a college cheerleader or athlete in some people’s eyes, and I loved it. I learned that just because you work with someone doesn’t mean you can trust them. I learned that a cute girl bartender can get away with saying, “I don’t know how to make that. Can you order a drink with the ingredients in the name?” (And that’s irritating, too.) I learned that there are guys who WILL hit girls, and how very angry it made me when the girl was someone I love. I learned that I have a tendency to run into the middle of fights between guys, like I could actually stop them from killing each other. I learned it’s not always a slap-worthy offense when a guy grabs your butt, and sometimes it’s even kinda fun. I learned that dirty dancing with a handsome stranger was something I’d thrown stones about, but it sure was nice in that glass house. And I learned that a bar is never just that. To some, it’s almost a living thing that gives nourishment and life in a very, very weird way. It was like home to some of us…
So many memories there that I’ve recounted time and time again: It’s like the stage on which the drama of my college social life played out. I remember when I carded Eli Manning when at a swap, and when he gave me Cooper’s I.D., I marked him 18 for being a punk about it. (Darryl didn’t like that, and Ben or Jonny or Jonathan or Buck or Howie served him anyway, I’m certain.) I saw Lance Bass and that girl who played Topenga from “Boy Meets World” one night, when they came through town, and I remember thinking, “So what?” I remember I met some guys from Georgia who were gorgeous, and it was the first time I actually thought about leaving the bar with strangers, even though I didn’t. I saw some stupid little frat boys try to set the Gin on fire when some football players wouldn’t fight them and we asked them to take it outside. I met the guy who, to this point, has been the greatest love and the greatest heartache of my life. I watched Corey Swain slide on his butt down the little steps on the different levels because he’d stepped in the beer that Lane Pippen and Randall Green and I had been throwing all over each other. I remember Richard King telling me his little brother was dating Madonna’s daughter. And all these things happened at the Gin.
Last night was different.
Jessica and I went in there, and we found broken glass everywhere. The furniture is torn up, the bannisters are torn down. Our names were still on the wall in the front foyer, but people who have no respect for or concept of what that place was to so many people have broken in and graffitied the walls. There are clothes all over the floor — someone’s been living there, and it wasn’t just Rufus. Everything is covered in a layer of dust that brings to mind that nasty gray film you saw in the pictures after 9/11. And as we noted as we wandered around by the light of my camera phone… it rather looked like a hurricane had hit. We remarked that it was like rooting through the wreckage of the Titanic, or the city of Pompeii: It used to be so amazing and grand (at least in our memories, years later) and now it’s so silent and still and devastated. There’s not an intact window in the whole building. All the doors save one have been ripped off their hinges. And we wanted to cry.
I had been there once before during the day not long ago, and it had been upsetting. Travis McGraw had told me he won’t even look off the back deck of Murff’s because it’s depressing. But going back with a friend who shared the love for it was worse. We stopped at the different places: “Do you remember when stupid Phil tried to fight with me here?” “Oh! Look! This is where I sat that night Taylor Hudson and the guys were going to beat Brian’s ass!” “Wow, I have so many memories on this patio…” “Do you remember when we used to put a band back here and people danced all throughout this room?”
We found our names on the wall, along with the people that we worked with, and so many who came before. And it was weird… there were people we knew we were supposed to know, but we couldn’t remember the face that went with that name that was scrawled on the wall. And I faced again the place where my ex had signed the wall, and I’d written, “Therese loves” above it, and I thought about meeting him for the first time in that very hallway… and how our relationship pretty much ended up looking just like the Gin. And if you sat silently and closed your eyes, just the being there brought grainy mental pictures of those years back like pictures from one of those old silent film reels.
That place was filled with so many ghosts and memories, and that was with only Jess and I there, and we frequented there for maybe 6-7 years altogether as employees and patrons… I know a man who bartended there in 1975… can you imagine how many people could have taken that same trip with us down memory lane, and how many people who smile nostalgically when you talk about Penny Pitchers; or if you mentioned seeing Better Than Ezra, Pat McGee, Super T, Wayne Mills, Coldwater Independence, Josh Blackburn or Northpointe or any number of the bands, well-known or not, that played there? Can you imagine how many people would feel just the same way we do — like there’s been a death in the family — if they could see it now?
Last I heard, they’re going to tear it down to build condos. And I can’t even start to elaborate on what a hideous, horrible waste that is. I can’t even begin to express the heartache I know I’ll feel the first time I have to drive by whatever monstrosity they put there so more silly rich kids can live in apartments downtown where they can walk home from frivolous bars that in the grand scheme of things mean nothing in the wake of a place like the Gin.
And if you never loved it, you wouldn’t understand any of this, but if you did, I’m pretty sure you’re with us on this one. And I think it’s fair to say none of us will ever forget that great place, no matter what kind of fancy-pants overpriced apartments they put up. To some of us, it was our youth.
RIP, Gin. Thanks for the memories.