Friday, May 24, 2013

Day 12 - Simm's Place

I have never been to Simm's Place. People may not know the name off hand, but many Madison residents recognize Simm's Place as the small tavern that stands in the parking lot of the local Oscar Mayer plant. Since moving to Madison, Simm's Place has always been a curiosity to me. Resting behind a fence in the shadow of the towering Oscar Mayer building, I always wondered if it was a bar specifically for those that worked at the factory. Upon learning it was open to the public, I knew I wanted to stop in for a drink at some point. When I heard recently the tavern may soon shutter its doors for the last time, I knew I needed to make that stop a priority. As a result, a visit to Simm's takes its place as an "I have never..." event early in my journey.

Simm's Place

This evening I decided to stop by Simm's Place shortly after 8:00 pm.  When I arrived to the bar, I entered through an old screen door hardly capable of closing completely. The bar was dimly lit and occupied by little more than a dozen people. I was immediately struck by the interior of the building, which harkened to a bygone era. Wood paneling lined the walls, and a long, horsehoe-shaped bar wrapped in a marbled olive green laminate ran the length of building's back half. Advertising printed on tin and banners displaying brands of beer covered the majority of the space on the walls, and a small pool table took its place in the only free space left in the building. It was cozy, and although the doors were open on a chilly summer night, it felt warm to me.

I grabbed a stool little more than half way down the bar and was greeted by an older woman tending the bar. She went only by the name "Bev" and was clearly adored by the customers speckling the interior of the building. Her hair was silver with age and her bifocals rested squarely on the bridge of her nose. Despite her age, she carried with her a glow and a degree of kindness that was immediately apparent in her words and her smile. She was quick to help me and was happy to grab me a drink. After ordering a beer I took a few moments to absorb my surroundings. The water stained drop tile ceiling, worn bar stools, and tarnished bar fixtures showed the tavern's age, but the lot of them added a degree character that can only be gained with a thorough history. Soon, my first drink was gone and Bev, unprompted, was quick to hand me another.

As Bev opened another beer and set it in front of me, she started talking to a couple at the end of the bar that had made her acquaintance in years past. In short order, they worked through common threads before delving deeper into conversation. Before long, I was listening to Bev tell the man at the end of the bar about her 36 year career at the Oscar Mayer plant. She explained how she knew the man's family members that had previously worked there and told stories of her various jobs throughout her tenure at the plant. I felt lucky to hear her stories, all of which seemed to fit comfortably within the walls of Simm's Place.

In time, the couple at the end of the bar left for another obligation, and I spent some time talking to Bev about her experiences. Her openness was welcomed as we covered topics ranging from her history at Oscar Mayer, to the more revelrous days of Simm's Place, to discussing the life experiences Bev had in her time. Bev maintained a strong wit and a jovial spirit in our discussion. Her laughter was resonant, filling the room with an air of hospitality. When I told Bev of my "I have never..." idea she was quick to say, "You only live once!" and begin listing off ideas of experiences that could help me fulfill my journey. It was clear I was among good company.

Simm's patrons
Eventually, Bev invited me down to the other end of the bar which remained occupied by about eight customers left from the dwindling crowd of patrons. She grabbed me another drink and introduced me to each of the people by name. They welcomed me and instantly treated me as though I was a regular at the bar. I talked with several of the patrons for some time after Bev was quick to explain to them my goal for the year. Shortly thereafter, each of them began chiming in with ideas for my "I have never..." project. In particular, a woman named Lisa who was seated closest to me provided a series of ideas based on her experiences and her own list of things she wanted to do in her life. She was well versed in cinema and was chalk full of ideas that had never crossed my mind when I compiled my "I have never..." list.  She, and another man next to her named Dale, made sure to interject personal experiences and humor in our chatter of various topics, which gave depth to our discussion. For the better part of the next hour I listened to people around the bar trade stories and fill the small building with roars of laughter. I could have stayed among the company in Simm's place indefinitely, but the next day's obligations and a clock approaching midnight meant my first, and potentially last, experience at Simm's Place had to draw to a close.

Bev and I

Simm's Place is one of those extraordinary places that feels like home the first time you visit it. The people that frequent the establishment seem incapable of on holding ill will against anyone and go out of their way to make sure any patron of the establishment feels welcomed. I'm glad I made it to Simm's Place when I did. Had I delayed my visit, I may not have had the chance to meet the amazing people that call it "their place" before the tavern closed its doors for the last time. The experience I had tonight is one that makes me feel lucky. Sharing in the stories, laughter, and companionship that fill Simm's Place can make anyone recognize the value in the little things we encounter each day. Such company is rare and is more than enough to make it easy to recognize time well spent.

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