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HOW TO FIND SPIRITUALITY IN A BOTTLE: SEEKING THE MEANING OF LIFE IN BARS AROUND THE WORLD September 8, 2014 - Surveys show that fewer Americans are looking to organized religion, to churches, to pastors, priests, or rabbis, to meet their spiritual needs. But they haven't given up on spirituality. What is the new frontier for spiritual yearning, and the place where we look for God? Benjamin Wachs, the bar columnist for San Francisco's leading alternative newspaper, SF Weekly, has seen what we do first hand. We go to bars -- an estimated 66,000 of them in the United States alone, trying to find a sense of purpose, of magic, and a better reason to wake up the next morning. Wachs has bounced from the homes of sinners and saints for much of his life: he was an international nightlife reporter for Playboy.com who once lived in a Buddhist monastery in India; he has met both Larry Flynt and the Dalai Lama, toured the brothels of Europe and sung in some of history's greatest cathedrals. And in A Guide to Bars and Nightlife in the Sacred City, a new collection of short stories loosely based upon his travels, Wachs proposes that humanity is turning to its bars and nightlife to ask its spiritual questions. --"There is more spirituality in a bar where people are actively engaging with their spiritual hungers and needs than there is in a church where people are sitting passively, waiting for 'religion' to happen," Wachs says. Wachs, who visited 51 cities in total during the period these stories were inspired by, takes readers to 26 places from Venice to San Francisco to Jerusalem, from Prague to Chicago to Moscow, showing the way miracles can happen, and answers can be found, if we buy the stranger next to us the right drink. Yet he cautions that if you pursue the wrong God down the wrong blind alley, tragedy may follow with loneliness and damnation awaiting.

In "The High Prices of Venice," an American tourist discovers his life's calling --living the high life with a prostitute while he waits for the devil to come. -- In "Dance of the Seers," a Seattle bar for psychics that only hires bartenders with dark and depressing fates.  -- In "Elijah Drinks Chimay," a group of Biblical strangers meet in an arthouse bar to discuss whether San Francisco has what it takes to end the world. -- "To Look Inside," sees just how far into dark magic some people will go to be the beautiful stranger no one can resist. -- In "Vaclav's Inheritance" a man chooses to go to the big city to find opportunity, rather than help his father uncover life's last great remaining mystery.

Since his travels, Wachs has chronicled a similar connection between revelry and spirituality at Burning Man (a temporary city erected yearly in the Nevada desert of about 50,000 people focused on self-reliance and free expression), where he served as the volunteer coordinator for the media team for five years, and blogs as "Caveat Magister." Grateful that he's discovered "The Sacred City," which if you go deep enough into any city, it's where dreams are dense and hopes are stacked like skyscrapers and possibility hangs out of windows like air conditioning, He shares what he's learned about life. - To the extent, this book (and my life) are about longing and need, and sorrow, it's also about possibility: about our capacity to rise up and be part of something miraculous.

About Benjamin Wachs


During college Benjamin Wachs lived in a Buddhist monastery in India. After dropping out of graduate school, he worked as a freelance nightlife reporter for Playboy.com. Traveling around the world, he wrote about bars for money, toured brothels, while also meeting a wide variety of individuals including the Dalai Lama and Larry Flynt. He spontaneously sang sacred music in some of history's greatest cathedrals for fun. The police were called to stop his singing in the cathedral of King?s College Cambridge (but didn?t catch him), while the guards at the Vatican shrugged and let him continue. After he sang in the temple of Hagia Spohia in Istanbul, a museum guide told him he represents everything wrong with American culture, but he was hired to entertain pilgrims in Jerusalem. Today, Wachs is the bar columnist for SF Weekly, one of the country's leading alternative newspapers. He also serves as Saybrook University's Director of Communication, and edits its academic website The New Existentialists. He received his MA in linguistics from Purdue, and has won numerous awards for journalism. He has written for Gannett, Village Voice Media, NPR, and GateHouse Media, among other venues. He is a blogger for Burningman.com and was also the publisher of Fiction365.com. A Guide to Bars and Nightlife in the Sacred City is his first collection of fiction.


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