Why a post-vaccine trip to your local dive bar holds new meaning

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Matt O’Reilly outside his favorite dive bar, Naja’s Place, in Redondo Beach. His daughter was born a few months before the pandemic hit, so he hasn’t stopped by for a beer in more than a year. Photo by Matt O’Reilly.

As more businesses are slowly opening back up, and more vaccinated people are stepping outside of their bubble, KCRW asked listeners who have received their shots: How are you living differently now?

For Matt O’Reilly, getting vaccinated meant visiting his favorite dive bar, Naja’s Place in Redondo Beach, for the first time in more than a year. 

“My daughter was born in September 2019, so I had already accepted the fact that I wouldn't be going out as much, and then the option to go out was completely taken off the table in 2020, so now I'm like, ready,” said O’Reilly, who lives with his father, wife, and daughter.

He loves Naja’s for several reasons. It overlooks the Redondo Beach Marina. It has a pool table and a jukebox (although both are currently out of order), and they have dozens of unusual beers on tap.

“They were ahead of the curve on that. Now it's cool to have a lot of beer on tap, and they've been doing that since the 60s,” he said.

But there’s another reason this place is so special for O’Reilly, a reason he just learned during the pandemic. 

“My dad that I live with, we found out that he's not my real dad. My mother had been keeping that secret for 35 years. We found out through a couple ancestry tests, but anyway, in the 80s, apparently Naja’s was where [my mom] met my biological father,” he said.

He was playing guitar at Naja’s, according to O’Reilly’s mom. He died a couple years ago, so O’Reilly never got to meet him.

“[It’s] pretty crazy to me, because I've come here so many times and not known that,” he said. “And now I'm here, post-COVID, with new information, trying to connect with a ghost, basically. So this bar has new sentimental meaning to say the least.”

Pre-pandemic, O’Reilly felt uncomfortable sitting alone in a public place like Naja’s. But now, after a year stuck at home, he enjoys it.

“I took it for granted, and now it seems like the most exciting thing,” he said. “I'm definitely gonna look forward to sitting at a table, alone, and not feeling like a weirdo in the future.”

Time alone is time well spent, he said.

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