Gotham Creative Writing teacher Tara Yellen just saw the release of her novel After Hours at the Almost Home. It’s about a bar, the Almost Home. More specifically, it’s about the people who work at this bar, a random group of folks united by the fact they happen to be working in the same time and place. Noted novelist John Casey says it is “edgier than Cheers and bawdier than Boccaccio’s Decameron.”
The story kicks off on Super Bowl Sunday, a winter day in Denver when the bar is in full swing. Here’s the opening:
The Almost Home, the bar and grill at 2nd and Middleton, was not an old building or a new building, it was somewhere in between—built quick and sturdy, gray brick, steel trim, the type of place you’d overlook if it wasn’t smack-dab in the middle of Cherry Creek, Denver’s affluent shopping district. In a row of mostly shoe and stationery stores, the Almost Home stood out unapologetic, chugging smoke, its beer signs the first hint of twilight in the neighborhood—coming to life, it seemed, suddenly, though really they were on all day. Even from the outside, even without seeing anyone enter or exit, you could tell this wasn’t where the businessmen and women and the Dolce & Gabbana shoppers went for lunch. It was the kind of place a person could go to drink before noon. Maybe stick around for the burger special, watch the news.
On certain days, however, for court verdicts or important games, everything was different. People came from all over and the Almost Home transformed. Nothing technically changed, of course, aside from the occasional plastic banner or two, but it was as though, in an instant, the bar would step from its own shadows to assume center stage in Cherry Creek. Like the beer lights: Before you knew it, there it was.
Tonight was the Super Bowl. This was the second year in a row Denver was playing. Last year they’d won, and this year they were expected to win again. At 3:30 in the afternoon, an hour from kickoff, the Almost Home was filling up. Throngs of people arrived in clumps. Families and college kids and fans and friends of fans—anyone you could think of.
One of them was JJ.
She stood outside. People passed her by, entering the Almost Home in flashes of orange and blue—hats and ski coats and face paint. It was winter. She was in Denver. Exactly on time, JJ was prepared—she’d stocked her purse with pens and breath mints, was wearing the brand of no-skid sneakers the manager had suggested—but she didn’t go in, not yet. Instead, she took a few seconds to picture it clearly: One day far in the future, while strolling past this corner, coming from brunch or maybe the symphony, she’d catch a waft of french-fry grease. She’d stop. She’d pull in the smell and think, I remember that first day.
It was exhilarating now to conjure it in the then, and it gave JJ a fresh perspective on the past year. Failed beginnings made you more interesting, she thought, not less. She’d gone places. She’d moved five times and worked at six jobs. She knew exactly where to find the most economical garbage pail, dish drainer, and bath mat in any Target, anywhere in the country; she knew how to disinfect a secondhand mattress. If nothing else, disorientation gave her this: the drive to propel herself from disorder to order. It gave her antsy hope.
And now, finally, standing before this building—which was otherwise unremarkable in its boxiness, in its blank slabs of chipped and salt-stained brick—it seemed to JJ that things could actually fall into place.
There was an advantage to such foresight. It offered a warning:
Don’t mess this one up.
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Reprinted by permission of Unbridled Books. To learn more about Tara and her book, visit unbridledbooks.com.