If you have a stereotypical idea of what Burning Man is, you probably wouldn’t peg me as a burner.
I don’t think I come across as a neo-hippie who’d head to the desert for a weeklong drug-filled rave. Then again, neither does Grover Nordquist.
Burning Man is so much more than that. The annual art event and temporary community based on radical expression and self-reliance offers a range of experiences, from the spiritual to the intellectual to the artistic to the celebratory.
Part of what moved me deeply during my first visit the hot, dusty Nevada desert was the tremendous generosity. One of Burning Man’s guiding principles is that it’s mostly a commerce-free zone — there are no corporate sponsors, the only things for sale are ice and coffee, everything else you bring yourself or get through the gift economy.
It’s hard for people who haven’t been to fully comprehend that “gift economy” doesn’t mean “barter.” You don’t trade a cold beer for a massage. Instead, one camp might give free massages and another will give free beers, and there are no strings attached. You can, of course, say thank you with a gift but it’s not required or expected.
Some of the playa’s generosity is low key — someone might wander by with a spray bottle of suntan lotion and offer you a spritz for your shoulders — and some is stunningly elaborate.
We’ve been invited to join one of the elaborate villages that particularly impressed me last time, Black Rock French Quarter. A collection of camps are anchored by a structure that echoes the design of the New Orleans French Quarter, with offerings including a bakery, a farmers market, a bath house, and our camp, Golden Cafe.
From Golden Cafe’s Facebook page:
Celebrating its lucky 13th year on playa, the Golden Cafe is your home for exotic cocktails and live music since 2003. Housed in a dome draped in golden fabric and lit by cascading colored light, the cafe features elegant libations served in real glassware, an improvised jam band that draws musicians from around the world, and home infused liquors such as habanero vodka, vanilla bourbon, and strawberry tequila. Members of the cafe include musicians, bartenders, sound engineers, costumers, builders, and painters, who come together to bring civilization to the desert.
When we went to Burning Man in 2012, one of our favorite afternoons was hanging out at Media Mecca, a laid-back reporter lounge with a bar, music and activities like screen printing. John decided on the spot he’d like to be a bartender if we went back. Providing cool, refreshing beverages is a good way to quickly make people’s desert experience a little better.
In an environment without running water or electricity, it’s impressive how many camps offer bloody mary bars or martini lounges or their own home-brewed beer. Snow Koan Solar hosts a daily snow cone cocktail party in the midafternoon. Playa Surfers have a 50-foot wide, three-level rolling tiki bar. Pickle Joint serves crisp, ice cold pickles and spicy pickle-tinis.
Since John’s been working on his Great Good Places series, making artwork that celebrates excellent bars, we’ve gotten deeper into the bar and cocktail culture. We’re excited to get on the other side of the bar and sling drinks for the thirsty masses at Golden Cafe.
One small hitch: We don’t have Burning Man tickets yet. Tickets sold out within about an hour of becoming available in February so now it’s a matter of waiting and hoping that someone’s plans change and we’re in the right place at the right time to scoop up their extra tickets.
We have our RV rented and an invitation to be part of a New Orleans-themed community. We believe in the serendipity of Burning Man. If it works, we hope to serve you a cocktail at the Golden Cafe.