‘The Tender Bar’ follows young JR’s journey into adolescence. Growing up, the protagonist spends his days reading in his Uncle Charlie’s bar. He eventually becomes close to the establishment’s regular clientele — a group of lovable, slightly sketchy men that are all too happy to offer the young boy life advice. Though JR eventually makes it to Yale and embarks on an earnest journey to achieve his dreams as a writer, his childhood experiences continue to mold him, and we see him repeatedly return to his Uncle Charlie’s bar, which is called The Dickens. So what exactly does the film’s title — ‘The Tender Bar’ — refer to? Allow us to explain. SPOILERS AHEAD.
What is the Meaning of The Tender Bar Title?
The film opens with JR and his mother moving in with his maternal grandfather, and it soon becomes clear that the protagonist misses his absentee father, who remains decidedly uninterested in his young son’s life. JR finds a mentor in his larger-than-life Uncle Charlie and regularly accompanies him to The Dickens. Realizing the young boy lacks a father figure, his uncle begins to dispense simple bits of life advice, telling JR about the importance of having a working car and being able to handle his finances.
Perhaps most importantly, Uncle Charlie introduces JR to books, and the latter is then seen regularly sitting at the bar engrossed in a novel. Over time, the young boy inevitably becomes friends with the bar’s regular patrons and even impresses them with his Wordy Gurdy solving skills. In exchange, the lovable patrons dispense bits of (sometimes questionable) life advice.
Interestingly, this trend continues even when JR goes to college, with the now-adolescent protagonist returning to the bar to celebrate milestones like his eighteenth birthday. Thus, the father figure that Uncle Charlie becomes for JR loosely extends to the former’s establishment, and The Dickens is thus signified by the film’s title for giving the young protagonist a safe, familial (if unlikely) space to spend his impressionable years.
As you might know, ‘The Tender Bar’ takes inspiration from John Joseph “J.R.” Moehringer’s memoir of the same name, in which Uncle Charlie and his clientele play a significant role in shaping the author’s life. Moehringer, in an interview, mentioned fond memories of going to the actual bar (then called Dickens) as a child whenever he needed something and how some of the regulars even read his attempts of capturing them in writing once he became a writer.
‘The Tender Bar’ thus refers to the establishment and its patrons (not to forget Uncle Charlie!), who become an unlikely surrogate for the film’s protagonist. The eponymous bar is where a young JR gets most of his life advice from his uncle, is introduced to one of his first books, and (as a college student) also seemingly has his first drink.
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