She had a bewitching smile, an origami bird paperclipped to her head and a red stripe painted across her nose to look more like the protagonist of the video game Dragon Age II.
She didn’t know where they got the pig’s blood.
“I never asked and now I’m suspicious,” she joked. “We did just fire someone.”
With that and a smile, she turned away to put in my order for the pig’s blood drink at Geek Bar Beta.
Geek Bar Beta is a jam-packed Wicker Park bar and grill, themed for nerds, geeks, dweebs and everyone else who has ever wanted to drunkenly argue about Spider-Man or Duke Nukem.
When my friends and I walked in on the promise of a truly bloody mary, every mother of dragons in the place was turned toward a screen and a red-haired woman asking about prominent Kickstarter campaigns.
“Did I hear, ‘Oh shit, it’s trivia night’?” the origami-birded waitress asked when she arrived to toss coasters on the table and take our orders.
She had. I apologized.
I asked for a trivia answer sheet, the blood drink and a burger named “John Marston.” A Wikipedia gander tells me the latter honors either a prominent Victorian bicycle manufacturer or the gun-toting cowboy protagonist of the video games “Red Dead Redemption” and “Undead Nightmare.”
I’m going with the cowboy who fights zombies on this one.
My drink was called the “Murdered by a Pig” and contained bourbon, brandy, coffee syrup, red wine and a ring of pig’s blood circling the rim like margarita salt. It’s part of a series of drinks inspired by “Game of Thrones” and, Internet-based best guess here, honors the death of King Robert Baratheon (the chubby guy from “The Full Monty”) at the tusks of a wild boar.
Everyone was having fun.
I was having fun.
I’m in a bit of a dilemma on this.
On one hand, I’m part of the popularization of geek culture we’ve seen over the last few years. My love of trashy horror films, my obsession with superhero anything and my ability to come up with semi-lewd “Star Trek: The Next Generation” puns on command are well-documented phenomena. I won best trivia team name that night for the latter, earning a bar of coconut soap shaped like a Super Nintendo cartridge.
I’m with “Shawn of the Dead” star Simon Pegg that “Being a geek is all about being honest about what you enjoy and not being afraid to demonstrate that affection.”
But I’m also with Pegg that “… this extended adolescence has been cannily co-opted by market forces, who have identified this relatively new demographic as an incredibly lucrative wellspring of consumerist potential.”
I’m tired of gritty remakes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, G.I. Joe, Transformers and other bits of my childhood that, in retrospect, weren’t very good in the first place. I’m tired of this incredible technology at our command used to swath ourselves in the shows, movies and games we first wore decades ago, choosing a familiar stagnation over growth and change.
My dilemma’s other hand, which has been chopped off and replaced with a chainsaw, is that I don’t want to have the same tastes I did at 15.
I support the Harry Potters, the Game of Throneses, the Hunger Games and anything making something new for us nerds to be excited about. I’m glad the lines between “Mad Max” and “Mad Men” are blurring, with a ‘splosion-clad action flick stirring as much debate about feminism as the 1960s period drama.
But when childlike wonder conflates with nostalgia, I worry. Are we getting the best art? Or just the most marketable, with the seeds of our comfort sown when we were kids?
“Here you go, brave sir,” a different waitress said as she came up with a small rocks glass filled halfway with a slosh of red liquid.
Alyssa and Nadia received their non-bloodful drinks and the waitress took off. They looked at my drink. They looked at me. The red-haired host asked a question about Nymphadora Tonks. I took a swig.
It was good, mostly flavored of bourbon but with an undeniable aftertaste of old ham.
The sips were delicious. The taste of iron and hemoglobin that followed each, not terrible, but not enjoyable either. I didn’t order another one, eventually settling on a 1980s video game-themed craft beer, the label blaring as close as the brewery could get to Pac-Man without violating copyright.
I guess you have to take the good with the bad, the childlike wonder with the childishness, the bourbon with the metallic old ham. I always have a good time at Geek Bar Beta.
That’s what it’s there for, to give people like me a place to visit.
But I wouldn’t want to live there.