‘The Tender Bar’ follows the poignant coming-of-age story of JR, who grows up learning life lessons from his Uncle Charlie. As a child, JR spends his days reading in his uncle’s pub and dreaming of becoming a writer. As an adolescent, the protagonist’s journey continues as he grapples with love, self-doubt, and a lingering dream to write a novel.
The film plays heavily on the nostalgia angle, filling the narrative with warm moments that JR spends with his quirky and eccentric family. Even the household arguments depicted are quaintly charming, and ‘The Tender Bar’ takes us back to what seems to be a simpler time. Let’s take a look at when and where JR’s story is set. SPOILERS AHEAD.
When and Where is The Tender Bar Set?
‘The Tender Bar’ opens in 1973 when a young JR and his mother move in with his maternal grandfather. The film’s dual timelines follow JR as a child and as an adolescent, frequently switching between the two periods. Since he is admitted to Yale as part of the class of 1986, the latter half of the film is set in the 1980s. Thus, ‘The Tender Bar’ is set over a particularly wide time period that spans over a decade.
It is interesting to note that apart from subtle changes to the clothing and backdrops, there are no significant changes between the film’s depiction of the 1970s and 1980s. This gives the story a further sense of nostalgia and simplicity, while JR’s family home and Uncle Charlie’s bar get a distinctly timeless feel by remaining unchanged even as the protagonist grows up. The end of the film, which is set closer to the early 1990s, hints at a definite change of pace and the advent of modernity as JR heads off to live in Manhattan to pursue his writing career. Thus, the film’s tone seems to be inextricably linked to the time period depicted.
Uncle Charlie’s bar is in Long Island, New York, which is why most of JR’s early articles for The New York Times are about people in Long Island pubs. During an awkward breakfast with Sidney’s parents, the cheeky protagonist also reveals that he lives with his mother in Manhasset on the North Shore of Long Island. Thus, most of the film is set in and around Long Island, with JR’s time at university and with his on-again-off-again girlfriend, Sidney, set in Connecticut.
Eventually, the protagonist moves to Manhattan to live with a friend from Yale, and the film closes with JR driving into the distance. His time in the big city is not explored in the film, but it is revealed that JR’s journey finally takes him out of the sleepy corner of Long Island where he grew up, and to the fast-paced life of Manhattan.