Watering Hole. Saloon. Bar. Pub.

Each name carries a specific image but they are all public meeting places. Where disputes come to a head, ideas are stretched and tested, friends look into each other’s eyes to gauge their friend’s okayness.

And people imbibe.

They relax, giggle, open their souls a little … and maybe say a little too much.

It’s what makes a village.

I first walked into The Kelsey Creek Brewery in Kelseyville, California many years ago to meet a friend. As so often occurs when men and women become friends in a small town, rumors had been building about the intimacy of our relationship so my friend said, ‘why not just meet at the brewpub? If something were going on between us, we wouldn’t meet in such a public place, right?’ Let me not be unclear: my friend is entirely gray and 15 years my elder. Neither of us could remotely be considered “hot items.” But rumors will occur where conversations lack content, where no higher purposes arise. And I’ve been tempted to fuel rumors with slight innuendo just to see whether, like the game of telephone from our youth, the message will return full circle and if so, what form it will have morphed into. Sure enough I was soon informed by my second cousin’s wife that I’d been sleeping with the guy. Amazing. Cue Bonnie Raitt’s “Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About.”

If you do not bring your own, intimacy is just what you’ll be served at the Kelsey Creek Brewery.

Guards are dropped, hair is ruffled, bar stools are rocked back a notch so people can talk to the next guy over, people lean on their elbows, revealing just how flabby their arms have become. Not much can be hidden by the second round. And that honesty is what I crave. I’m a no-makeup, rarely hair-brushed, feet on the floor kind of person. I generally tell the bitter truth and I can deal with the consequences.

And I don’t care if the bartender wants to wear a tight t-shirt with a neckline dropped precisely to the point of no return. It’s not my business. She can be whoever she wants to be.

When the Brewery in bustling downtown Kelseyville changed hands, feathers were ruffled. People are change averse. But I soon became a great admirer of the new owners.

An Irish woman of serious demeanor whose sense of humor dares past that point of no return and her pony-tailed partner of some considerable beer-making talent welcome all equally. And no fake smiles come from the woman we’ll call “Caroline.” You have to earn them. And when you do, everyone at the bar roars with delight.

And her assistant, who we’ll call “Holly” carries a certain spirit all her own too. Recently Holly got carried away betting with a patron, an accented fellow we’ll call “Xavier,” over a sports team. That was why, she explained while washing a glass, she was wearing a Dodgers jersey.

She didn’t learn her lesson. Next time I went in she had died her hair blue. And Xavier wore a huge grin.

I never imagined I’d become a barfly. But when the kids went off to college and I realized my husband, who was gone more than half the time on business overseas, wasn’t really present anymore, I decided to move back west–at least part time. And living alone is not something I’d done for 30 years. Loneliness and a weakness for India Pale Ale takes me to the brewpub with a regularity strong enough that I know someone every time I go in. And when the brewmaster, who we’ll call “Jason,” makes a new IPA that Caroline thinks I’ll like, she has poured a taste for me before I’ve chosen my barstool. And she can tell who I’m going to sit next to too. If the guy we’ll call “Shorty” is there, I’m likely to sit next to him. She knows I like his voice.

If it’s Paul or Xavier or Rick or Jim or Tim or Tom or Scott or Pat … I like every one of those guys too. Maybe not Paul so much—he brought in a fart machine one time and teased me with it for 15 minutes before I caught on.

One time Shorty (who is 6’10”) and I were talking about hair and he leaned back to better evaluate then commented, “You have gray hair.”

I love that kind of honesty. I entered a discussion about it. “No, it’s actually turning white.” I leaned my ear forward to show him the edges of my face where it is snow-like.

He looked at me for a beat.

“No,” he annunciated. “I said ‘You have GREAT hair.’”

But my favorites are the women. Kim and Julie and Jess only laugh if I am actually funny. And they sure don’t care if my cleavage is or is not showing; or whether my hair has leaves in it; or whether I have clay on my nose from the pottery studio.

If it weren’t for these watering holes, where would we go to confer? Churches? God forbid!

And what better antidote to conflict than alcohol? It relaxes everyone AND it reduces their ability to function. That is just what war needs.

The pub is a deliberately casual place with peanut shells on the floor. The bar is dotted with baskets of peanuts and popcorn. But they’re not over-salted as I’ve seen other establishments practice–in order to make people thirstier.

Dogs dragging requisite leashes wander among customers. Especially customers who bring in food—burritos, pizza, sandwiches. The Brew pub takes ‘casual’ right up to the line the health department has drawn in the sand. Bring your own food, but can you share it? I can see Caroline’s smile flatline. “No comment.”

These people are so down-to-dirt honest that when their marquee had a spelling error, they made fun of themselves on instagram with it. “BEER, the perfect tempoary solution to any problem,” one day’s chalkboard read. The caption included “#drinkup! … #welovebeer … #spellcheck” These people are so friendly they didn’t re-order their serving glassware that bears the name of the town –misspelled. In fact, someone suggested changing the name of the town to match the glasses. “Let’s just change it to Kesleyville.”

One time I straggled in for a refresher after working outside all day in the California high summer heat. I was wiped. I didn’t want to sit too close to anyone because I didn’t think I smelled too good. I couldn’t find a dry place on my t-shirt to dry the sweat that had dripped onto my glasses. But Tim wouldn’t say hello without his signature bear hug. “You’re one of us,” he said simply. Whether I had a choice I don’t know; my village had found me.