The Brent Bar was down a side street a few yards off the Champs-Élysées. Dark paneling, red plush seats and a long bar adorned with the flags of the nations gave the place the atmosphere of one of those comfortable London clubs where whisky is at its best.
The clients spoke in subdued voices. The men all looked like Percenier-Moreau, most of the women were young and pretty. Mina was enthroned on a stool near the cashiers desk, petulantly nibbling at a straw.
The Centurions (1960)
by Jean Lartéguy (1920-2011)
pen name of Jean Pierre Lucien Osty
It’s a place in fiction, yet a very real place. A place where veterans gather to talk, or just sit and say nothing. Today, perhaps a virtual set of spaces, blogs, chat rooms, facebook groups for one must remember that people really don’t drink that much anymore, smoky bars a thing of the past. This is a Midnight in Paris scene more real than anything that could come from Woody Allen’s imagination. This place is where friends meet, comrades discern the contemporary, dip into the past, and perhaps, like in The Centurions, hatch a future. An exclusive London club for people of special background may come to mind. But that place is now a mere business club negotiating contracts. No, this is the Brent Bar. The Brent may have a few shadowy corners, but those who frequent the dive aren’t frequenting for lucrative contract employment. At the Brent it’s about nothing but about everything, really. No club card required. No pedigree necessary. Ties frowned upon. Today in a few Brent Bars people are discussing the hot weather, the election, the latest cocktail concocted by the bartender over the past week. Veterans who may feel a bit separated from life at this place we used to call home and are now working to make it so again could find a bit of company at the Brent Bar instead of staring into the flatscreen. At the Brent there’s a few wrinkly gents, still drinking, still alive, still smoking strong cigarettes, still sitting quietly, still remembering Điện Biên Phủ, Algiers. They may talk with you. They may not. You could just go and sit a while. Come back and sit some more. After a few visits, you may get a nod. Whatever happens, you’ll know you’ve found it. And no matter what anyone says, who usually says it based on an inability to fathom what you’ve learned is very real, you can go back again. You can appreciate this moment. You can hatch a future for yourself and a few others who may be keen to hatch something with you.
“à votre santé !”
“à votre santé !”
photo by Robert Doisneau