A few weeks ago, I had to endure the beating of same-day round trip air travel. This should have been something I dreaded, and normally I would. But I was headed somewhere familiar: John Wayne Airport in Orange County, CA. My favorite airport on the planet. The quiet halls, empty terminals, and non-existent security lines take almost all the stress out of traveling in and out of it. I know the flight from Oakland to John Wayne very well; I frequented it when I was living down there and visiting up here. I once took it four weekends in a row. Southwest miles for days.
When I book for my return flight, I always get there an extra hour early. But why? I just said it’s a breeze to get through security. I’ve gotten on my flight when I arrived at the airport 5 minutes before my plane started boarding. I get to the airport early so that I can go to what might be my favorite bar in the world: The Stella Artois Bar at the John Wayne Airport.
This place is one of the saddest places on the planet and I cannot get enough. It looks like a pop-up tent that no one ever bothered taking down. They have two things on tap: Stella, and IPA. Just IPA. I don’t know what it is about airports that turn all of us into goblins. Any time of day, you can find a solid 4 people. I once saw a woman make a “Scorched Orchard” in the bottle. For those of you who aren’t trash people, a scorched orchard is an Angry Orchard with a shot of Fireball in it. She said it didn’t work. I’ve watched the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the World Series, and the Kentucky Derby at this bar. I love it so much.
Imagine my surprise when I walk out of my terminal into the barren halls of John Wayne when I see there’s a change to the landscape; A large Stella Artois sign towering over the starbucks next to it, with shiny metal accents all around. They have rebuilt the Stella Artois Bar. I had to rush to my meeting because of delays, but it was all I could think about all day. What if it’s actually nice in there now? Will it be too busy? When it was time to get back to the airport, I knew I had to go check out the new establishment, if not to accept the fact I’d have to find a new place to get drunk at 11 am. I got through security, and once my shoelace broke while I was retying my dress shoes, I knew one thing for certain: I was going to take the promotional offer if they still had it. The promotional offer had been the same for the two years I frequented this joint. When you buy a beer, you can get a sidecar of anything at the bar for 7 bucks extra. Some Johnnie Walker Blue was in my future.
I walked up to the shiny new facade and sat down at the bar. I looked up, and smiled. A frizzy haired sixty-something woman looked at me, and I knew I was home. This is my home girl. She’s the heart and soul of this place. You can give the place a facelift, but if she’s back there, it’s her show. She asked me what I wanted, and sure enough, I got IPA and Johnnie Walker Blue, neat. Unfortunately for me, it was a lot busier than it used to be, but I didn’t mind too much. She still loudly complained about their new jiggers (used to measure shots) because the new ones she had to do it twice. She demonstrated on my drink, and the jigger might as well not have been there. I got about an inch and a half for $7. Deal of a lifetime. She then started to tell me and one other patron sitting at this corner of the bar that they have to keep their scissors on a string, just in case someone were to try to take it and use it for stabbing purposes. She followed that up with what I can only classify as advice, explaining that if you took a beer bottle and snuck it out you could break that and stab someone as well. I felt great knowing that the place could never change as long as she was at the helm. Also, a lady ordered beef jerky. I didn’t know they had that.
Just as they say you’re always 17 in your hometown, you’re always 21 at airport bars. So do your thing, order 4 Stella Artois and finish them before your flight boards in 20 minutes. I’m making this trip again in two days, and I’m flying out on a Friday and getting picked up at the airport. Send your thoughts and prayers to my girlfriend who will be picking up a hammered 26 year old acting like a pledge to an off campus frat; because we know that the 1 hour flight isn’t enough to sober me up.