We gather today to mourn the passing of Club 23.
Few off-campus establishments evoked as strong a reaction from Notre Dame upperclassmen and graduates as this dive bar. Perhaps you most remember the Long Island slushes or offensively sticky carpet, the linger of aged cigarette smoke or linger of aged barflies, the best jukebox in South Bend or shared use of one-person bathrooms… Everyone who frequented Club 23 gave a little bit of themselves, and everyone who gave something left with something non-refundable: I’m talking about memories.
Club 23, or simply Twenty-three, closed its doors for good this year after God knows how long in business. No longer living in South Bend, I learned of its passing from a friend’s throwaway comment about how much has changed since graduation. Stunned, I grazed over news articles and polarized Yelp reviews for details on the death of my beloved to no avail. Perhaps owner Mo transitioned into comfortable retirement, perhaps he fled a loan shark. Regardless of how it died, Club 23 deserves posthumous recognition for its roach-like resilience in South Bend’s bar wasteland.
Twenty-three was the intersection of Notre Dame and greater South Bend writ small. Townspeople ran it while while students gave it life. Appropriately situated on the corner of Notre Dame Ave. and South Bend Ave, it was Monday night’s go-to establishment for the school’s herd of bar animals, and anyone caught in that stampede knows it probably drove more business on Monday than the rest of the week combined. On the off-nights, it brought multiple Michiana demographics together in comfortable union in the shared pursuit of beer and revelry. These nights, on which you bought plus-sized light beer and laughed at the absurd range of patrons beside you, brought out its real character.
It’s within the ability to attract all comers that we saw not only the merits of Twenty-three, but of dive bars in general. Many consider Club 23 a terrible bar for some valid reasons (I suppose stench, service, and body count all sit near the top of the list), yet despite its well-publicized infamies, Club 23 was nothing if not reliably unwound. If you got past its obvious flaws and appreciated its strengths, you most likely learned two important lessons that apply to more than just bars.
Club 23 Lesson One: High expectations are anathema to a good time
Popular bars offer the chance to be seen, but they engender an often unrealistic level of expectation amongst their anxious customers. To this end, many enjoyed Club 23 for the simple pleasures it afforded – cheap beer, good music, and a welcome respite from the disappointment of loud, frenzied alternatives. The patrons of a dive bar don’t necessarily possess a heightened sense of what is and is not important, but they do know how to relax. Too often we find ourselves stressed about how best to relax, a paradox than upends the search for satisfaction. Twenty-three allowed friends to gather in a cozy setting with flowing refreshments. Need there be anything else?
Club 23 Lesson Two: Respect the seedy to better appreciate the nice
Club 23 offered zero pretense and zero pomp, and as with most of life’s pleasures, if you understand the low-brow variety of something, you will better enjoy the fancy down the road. The people who appreciate a dive are best suited to understand the benefits of a high-end establishment. The cliche version of this is “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” and this is especially true with regards to a bar. Instead, judge it’s beer selection.
Stitching these lessons together are the essentials of a good night out: good company and good beverages, and at the end of the day, Club 23 demonstrated that a fun bar is much less determined by the bar than it is the people you’re with. Most college bars rely on the promise of sports, dancing, or visibility to attract students; Twenty-three relied on its ability to attract groups of friends. In the face of popular challenges to its hipness, decor, and size, Club 23 maintained an uncommon steadfastness that can only be admired.
Good bars, in particular good dives, bring people together better than any political or religious institution. Club 23 ascended to the great low-rent parking lot in the sky this year, but we will always live with the memory of our irreplaceable gathering place. I sure hope they outlawed carpet in bar heaven.
In filth and funk, rest in peace Club 23.
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