Forget the Sports Bar -- We Need Year-Round CNN Grills

Chargers, Change, and the Venue that Connects Them

By Published on .

Emily Bihl is an aspiring journalist based out of New Jersey. She traveled to Denver for the Democratic National Convention, where she -- like many other journalists -- spent time in the CNN Grill.

It is the dawning of a new era -- an era of change, youth and hope. This year is about providing a safe haven for those who had none.

Actually, I'm not talking about the Obama campaign and its promise of change for everyday Americans. I'm talking about CNN Grill, which provided political junkies something they've long been lacking -- a proper bar that would make the most ardent sports fan jealous.

To the untrained eye, that's exactly what it looks like. However, a card-carrying newsie recognizes the distressed brick building as what it truly is: a virtual mecca of awesome. The CNN Grill is not only outfitted with at least 20 plasma TVs (all broadcasting speeches from the DNC floor, but evoking no less enthusiasm than a Super Bowl tied score), a giant news crawl, and a Magnetic Headlines board where anyone can create his or her own current-events mashup; it is also the only eatery that can boast the purveying of special-edition CNN Red Ale. And while TV screens and booze are both commonplace at any self-respecting sports bar, the CNN Grill offers a few things that could only be born from a more artistic interpretation of the word "grill." Most noticeably, the food is spectacular. New York chef Michael Romano's work simply does not disappoint (confirming my assessment that this is no ordinary sports bar).

But while it looks like a typical after-work hangout at first glance, further inspection reveals that the "regulars" are anything but average. The actual bar is almost entirely obscured by writers, scribbling away madly at their steno pads. The more adventurous of them playfully banter with the bartenders, who are "not supposed to talk" but usually do anyway. And when Bill Clinton appears on the screen, the bar goes silent, which is just shocking to me.

Yet, amid the classic steno pads and pens, there is also a small fleet of MacBooks. And while any politico worth her weight in campaign buttons knows that it is not unusual to see journalists with allegiances to Apple, there is another component of this technology that is surprising. That component is the "Charge Wall." Simply a power-surge strip with every imaginable cellphone and laptop charger plugged in for public use, the Charge Wall is at once a statement about the role technology has come to play in the media business and a stunningly simple example of liberty and equal opportunity for all.

What, then, is so fascinating about the CNN Grill? True, the excitement is comparable to that of a sports bar during gametime, the patrons are constantly fighting for the attention of the bartender (although perhaps for different reasons), and there's not a free seat in the house. But the truly striking component of the Grill's scene is the fact that the existence of such a venue makes it possible for a rather unlikely group to convene in a standard setting. Sports bars are not usually the place for such highbrow intellectual debates (save for, perhaps, DC sports bars), and I can almost guarantee that few local nightspots turned all their dials to CNN on Wednesday night. Despite this, the idea of "bringing the political beyond politics" is clearly on the rise. Maybe it's just the atmosphere of Denver this week, but it seems that more and more people (especially in the youth demographic) are bringing their political debates with them -- to concerts, Starbucks, skate parks, and most importantly of all, their own kitchen tables. The unapproachable aspect of politics seems to be wearing away, and people are simply becoming more comfortable with it.

So, can we expect Obama to be sworn in come January? I'm not sure, but I think we can expect a new genre of casual/political hot spots across the U.S.

Now THAT'S change I can believe in.
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