HARD TIMES The View From a Biker Bar

At a Biker Bar, Weathering the Hard Times

By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 23, 2009

One in a series about how the recession is touching lives.

It's the end of the workday, and the Leesburg courthouse is bathed in yellow sunlight. The guys who ride Harleys are drinking beers in a bar whose motto, in neon, reads: "Better off here than across the street."

They believe this. Better off here than in the courthouse, and better off here than in the darker places a man can get caught when times are tough.

As the economic slump touches the outer edges of suburbia, people in towns such as Leesburg feel hit from all sides. But the Downtown Saloon, a.k.a. Payne's Biker Bar, still offers $2 beers at happy hour -- $1 on Tuesday nights. And many of the men who have met here for years, drawn together by their shared love of their Harley-Davidson motorcycles, are now dealing with stretches of unemployment or underemployment. They come here to relax, network and counsel one another.

The bar radio blasts rock music from their youth. Cream. Yes. ZZ Top. The smoke from a dozen cigarettes curls up and dissipates.

"One, two, three, four, five," says Pat Cosgrove, 49, a compact man wearing a T-shirt that reads, "Kill Em All, Let God Sort Em Out." "I can tell you five or six" who have lost their jobs.

When the ax falls, the others take the guy out for a night of drinking. But after that, many stop coming in because of a lack of cash and a reluctance to rely on others.

"There's a lot of pride there," says Dan Brooks, 45, who installs antennas for a living. "I don't think they like to" let their friends buy, "but they have to get it off their chest."

Brooks and Cosgrove still have their jobs, but they aren't taking them for granted. For Cosgrove, a carpenter, there's less work than he'd like, and less money.

"I feel it myself, but I still come here because one finds camaraderie," he says.

Brooks nods. "It's like an escape from that part of reality."

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