In 2004, I walked into the Streamline Tavern for the first time. It was summer, the sun was setting on Queen Anne Hill, and the dive, which is dominated by its central bar, was almost empty. The bartender, a tall man who wore an apron, was listening to a portable CD player. When he noticed me and my friend, he removed his headphones, carded us, and, once satisfied with our IDs, asked what we would like to drink. We both requested wine. He then placed two small wineglasses in front of us, popped open a bottle, poured, and asked for eight bucks total. After we settled business, he returned to his CD player, replaced his headphones, pressed play, and began moving his lips. He was clearly not listening to music. He also didn't seem to be moving his lips in an English manner. When he returned to pour a second round, I could not resist asking what he was up to.
"I'm learning Vietnamese," he said.
"Are you planning a vacation there?" I asked.
"Not really—I went there during the war, and came back not knowing anything about it. But when I started learning about the culture, I started falling in love with that country. I now feel more at home in Vietnam than I do here in the US."
"So you are learning the language only out of a love of the culture?"
"Yes, for the most part. But I also plan to move there and live there permanently one day."
"That's a mighty big goal," I said, as he finished pouring the second round and resumed learning the language.
Last week, I entered the Streamline Tavern for the first time in many years (it's now co-owned by former P-I reporter Mike Lewis) and saw that nothing had changed (booths, decor, color, mood). I was, however, with a different friend (friends come and go), and this time I wasn't carded. As the bartender poured wine into our glasses (the total cost for two is now $10, and the selection of wines has much improved), I asked about the bartender who was learning Vietnamese many years ago. "You're talking about Craig, right? Yeah, he moved to Vietnam. He got married and lives there now."
"So some dreams do come true," I said, taking a sip of the first of three glasses of red wine I would enjoy that evening.
"Yeah, sometimes they do," said the bartender, recorking the bottle.