Anderson Cooper Walks Into a Bar

A report from the heat and noise of the Republican National Convention

Originally published on OL News Media on July 20, 2016.

The Lincoln Tap House, nestled in downtown Cleveland, shows the heart of the city during the mayhem of the Republican National Convention.

As dawn paints a warm gold over the raw cityscape of Cleveland, the people need a motto, a slogan, a new message for America — and Anderson Cooper needs a diet Coke.

Briana Simmons takes care of both. The pretty bartender sashays by Cooper’s table with a plastic cup of the good sugary stuff, just what the anchorman ordered, before bending down low off in the corner to scrawl a quick message on a chalk board that will soon be placed outside amidst the waves of political crowds.

She writes: “MAKE AMERICA DRUNK AGAIN!”

“That’ll do,” she says.

Sure, a funny pun on a bar sign, why not? But it may as well be a diagnosis for our entire nation: just a little bit of booze to get through tough times.

Meanwhile, Anderson Cooper keeps sipping his Diet Coke, and it doesn’t even matter that he’s famous, that the bartenders won’t stop whispering about him. They’re not allowed to dote, and there’s nobody else here. Nobody to bother him. Nobody to ask for a picture. Nobody but a slumped political reporter scribbling notes on a cocktail napkin at the bar, wondering why the supposedly health-freak Cooper is content to slam three full glasses of Diet Coke in a row.

But so be it.

With the Republican National Convention roiling to full boil, it makes sense that the name of this bar — this quiet, dark, cool bar tucked in the back of the Tower City shopping complex in the heart of downtown Cleveland — is called the Lincoln Tap House.

When the party of Lincoln is sluggishly transforming into the party of Trump, one must find moral redemption, Lincoln-style, in the company of beer draughts and cynical, booze-soaked voices.

And Anderson Cooper, apparently.

But people don’t come here for Cooper. He’s just a ghost, a random shadow — call it a glitch in the Matrix. Because at the end of the day, folks come to the Lincoln Tap House for Sherri Woofter, the wise bartender who should by all accounts be seen as a veteran, an old soul with deep knowledge of this down-and-out city, if she didn’t also happen to be so agelessly gorgeous.

“Oh, Jesus, don’t say stuff like that,” Sherri says, giving Briana a slap on the shoulder.

But hey, Briana assures me it’s true: Everyone is in love with Sherri.

And it should be noted that Sherri has a view of the city similar to that of a baroness, or a tough government worker, or a community organizer.

For example: Let’s say you are a reporter looking for a nice poetic quote about the real heart of Cleveland, ignoring all this week’s political stuff. Well, if you ask Sherri, she’ll simply give you a full history of the shifting ownership of real estate, land and financial interests — cheesy sentimentality be damned.

This massive Tower City building here, for instance, was recently purchased by Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, whose intentions for it remain uncertain, Sherri says. Likely, though, it will be injected with expensive apartments, while the shopping slots and bars remain in action for the sake of presentation. Which means, for now, that she still has a job. For now.

All about that money, is how Sherri sees the world.

And those bars down the street, the ones taken over by CNN and Twitter and other big companies to host elaborate cocktail parties for the week?

“Well, the rumor is CNN paid the Hairy Buffalo a cool million dollars to transform it into the ‘CNN Grill’, just like that,” Sherri said. “We weren’t so lucky here, shit…”

Sherri is chock full of information like that, seamlessly giving you a history of the land upon which you sit, while also sliding back and forth to serve some of the hardened bar and restaurant workers who’ve slumped down for a quick buzz before their shifts get started.

Meanwhile, Anderson Cooper holds up a hand — swish, Briana is already there at his table with another Diet Coke.

So what is the real Cleveland in the middle of this madness? In the middle of the political noise and Cooper sipping soda? Well, if you want that nice poetic quote — and not a cynical turn of phrase on a chalk board, like you would get from Briana; and not a veteran baroness view of the city, like you’d get from Sherri — you’ll have to talk to Dani Taylor, a working chef who sits nursing a cocktail down the long bar.

Dani says, “These visitors don’t see Cleveland. They’re here for what is, really, just a big illusion. The big make-up, the eyeliner and blush and all that over the grimy parts, the parts no one wants to see. But this is a beautiful city, those bad parts too.”

So does she not like the Convention coming here?

“No, I’m not against it,” Dani says. “But it’s kind of like giving a homeless person a million dollars. Cleveland doesn’t know what to do with itself right now, with all this money and attention. It’s used to being left alone. ‘The mistake on the lake,’ what they call us. So it wouldn’t make sense not to utilize all this money coming in during this one week. But I don’t know…”

She sounds uncertain — what’s the problem?

“Look, these politicians, these people,” Dani says, “they’re the same types of people bashing this city, calling it ugly when its beautiful. But honestly, we’re struggling. They give their speeches about helping people like us, but they’re full of shit, all of them. Every single one. I don’t care about your stupid arguments, whose wife plagiarized what speech, who is your damn Vice President pick, who you’re interviewing. It’s all stupid, stupid. Tell me what you’ll do for Cleveland. Tell me what you’ll do for the people I know who are out here having a drink at noon because they’ve got tough lives and they need something, anything, just before they go back to work again…”

Anderson Cooper spins his glass in his hands, the ice swirling in circles like the crowds outside this bar.

The noise, the motion, the suit lapels, the heat.

“Here in Cleveland,” Dani says, and she stands because it’s almost time for her shift to start, almost time to get back to work. “Here in Cleveland,” she says, “we stick up for each other. If one falls, we all fall. The people who grew up here don’t leave. But the people who come here now, this week, the political people, the people you work with in DC, man, they don’t even see us. They pass by and that’s it. But we’re here. We’re still here. And we’ll be here.”

A few minutes later, Anderson Cooper pays his bill and walks out of the bar, gone like an apparition.

Later that night — as Briana is wiping the funny chalk board clean for the evening; and as Sherri is stacking glasses the same way she’s done each night for the past three years; and as Dani is just finishing her shift in the kitchen, tired and proud — Cooper’s face will appear on the TV screen that hangs behind the bar at the Lincoln Tap House, and his voice will fill the room, and maybe the workers there will glance up at this famous man who they once saw with their own eyes… but that’s it: just a quick glance.

Then they get back to work.

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