A Statue of Liberty shot is already poured before the door closes.
“How you doing?” asks Bloomington bar owner Andy Aronis.
The customer lights the shot on fire before tipping it back and heading outside. Aronis snatches the shot glass and wipes down the bar.
It’s just another ordinary night at House Bar.
On a Tuesday, 10 people congregate in the bar. The white strings of lights hanging from the walls welcome the customers, and Apples to Apples sits on a table near a comfy armchair. The bar isn’t built for a quantity of people, but rather for quality of experience.
“What’s up fancy pants?” Aronis asks as another friend enters the bar.
“Can I get a shot of Beam... sir?” he asks.
Aronis spins from his perch, pours the whiskey well above the fill line and slides the glass across the bar.
“You’re not making quite as much money as you could on the bottle, but you’re keeping people happier,” Aronis says. “People remember that kind of stuff.”
Everybody in the bar knows Aronis. He was born in Bloomington, and aside from the three years he spent in New York, he’s lived here his whole life.
He leans in the corner and taps his fingers to “Tupelo Honey,” the song playing from his iPod. His dark hair is tied back in a ponytail, and the first dollar he ever earned is taped to the mirror behind him with blue masking tape.
“Not too many people frown when you hand them a beer,” Aronis said. “There are definitely worse jobs.”
Even though he deems it the “perfect job,” Aronis has bigger aspirations at 24 years old than owning a bar four blocks from the house he grew up in.
He loves his job, his friends and his hometown, but this is the life he wants when he’s 50, not now.
He started taking cello lessons when he was two and a half years old and has been a musician since. He enrolled at IU and took mostly rock ‘n’ roll history classes his freshman year. He said he was learning about people who were his age making it big.
“I’m just thinking, ‘Man, I’m sitting here in my hometown in a class, not knowing what I want to do,’” Aronis said. “‘I need to get out of here.’”
Aronis dropped out of the Jacobs School of Music and moved to New York City to attend Hunter College. He said he needed to get out of Bloomington and make things happen.
Aronis stayed in New York for two more years, doing anything to earn money, including delivering cheese steaks by bicycle, giving cello lessons and nannying. Even with all of those odd jobs, New York was just too expensive.
He decided to move back to Bloomington, hoping that someday he would leave again.
Aronis opened House Bar in September and has been co-managing the joint since.
“I’d be gone tomorrow if I got the right phone call,” he said. “If I had something I couldn’t pass up, I’d literally move tomorrow.”
Aronis has some projects in the works. A few of his recordings should be finished soon and his band, Andrew Aronis and the Lower Cascades, is playing shows around Bloomington and headlined at the Bluebird on March 20.
Writing and playing music is Aronis’ dream job, but owning a bar in a city he loves isn’t bad either.
There are only five stools around the bar, and the rest of the seating is made up of black patio furniture. The checkered floor is more reminiscent of an old kitchen than a Bloomington bar. In a way, Aronis says, House Bar is a reflection of his personality.
Friends call him an “eccentric smartass.” He’s intelligent but also quirky — he has pierced ears, but he also has a real estate license.
He never uses an alarm clock but somehow wakes up at the same time every day. He pawned his keyboard to pay House Bar’s rent the first month, even though music is his life.
Aronis doesn’t want to settle in his hometown until he’s moved away and had some other experiences, including being a songwriter and musician, living abroad and touring.
“If I ever want to raise a family, I can’t think of a better place to do it than Bloomington,” he said.
That’s a while away, however. Aronis said he’s at the age where he can be poor and dumb and take a lot of chances. To him, the saddest thing in the world is regret.
He doesn’t want to miss his chance to write and play music while wiping down his bar. But until he hears something from a record company or the like, Aronis is stuck.
“All the time I feel like I’m wasting time in Bloomington,” Aronis said. “I feel like I’m in limbo just waiting for things to fall into place.”
New York was different. There were always people making moves. The friends that Aronis made while living there had some serious goals and the drive and courage to go after them, something that was addictive for him to be around.
“You don’t go to New York to do your second favorite thing,” Aronis said. “You go to do the one crazy thing that you love doing.”
Aronis is worried that he will get too snug living in his hometown and serving alcohol to his childhood friends.
He says he fights getting comfortable and is always reminding himself that he would leave in a second.
Until a phone call comes inviting him to write, record or play music, Aronis will wait, comfortable but not satisfied.
That’s the catch, though. How do you give up the perfect job and a comfortable life for a chance at your dream?
“I feel guilty because people will come in to House Bar and be like, ‘Dude, this is awesome. This is my dream job,’” Aronis said, “and it’s like, ‘Yeah ... Do you want it?
“‘I’ll trade you for a plane ticket.’”