The subject line is useful in categorizing people: Those who think I mean I live in a land of alcoholic-beverage serving establishments, and those who live in Minnesota, where "bars" invariably mean baked confections brought to every potluck, social occasion, or brunch. They are a staple of such occasions, and indeed, the occasion will often be rated on the bars. How many kinds and more importantly, WHICH kinds?
There will be lemon bars - lack of lemon bars is as heretical as not having coffee. The question becomes, were the lemon bars made with pudding, or made from scratch? The kind made with pudding are automatic fail and will result in the ultimate insult - leftovers. It will get you talked about in church, and not in a good way. It may result in a concerned intervention, community members wanting to ensure you're not overwhelmed with work or family duties. On the up side, they will show up with hotdish, so you won't have to cook that evening, but woe betide you if the reason for the pudding lemon bars didn't involve: a) birth of a new baby, b) death in the family, c) serious illness, d) alien abduction, e) a broken hand/wrist/arm - the more broken bones, the better. Anything less will get you branded as lazy and a bad housekeeper. It may result in a call to children's protective or mental health services.
One of the signs of a bad bar selection is the presence of crispy chow mein noodles. On the up side, there will be no leftovers, as children are drawn to the tentacly forms of these bars and cookies like blowflies to overripe carcasses. These are white trash bars. They are on the cheap, welfare-food-allotment side of the bar spectrum. If you are actually at that level of poverty, they will be accepted kindly and nothing more will be said. If you're not poor - if you are, gods forbid, middle class - and you show up with these.. let's just say, your invitation to Bridge Night will mysteriously get lost until you repair the damage by showing up to the next social gathering someone takes pity on and invites you to with a bar offering so extravagant there is gold leaf and individually hand-sculpted bar toppings on each one. If your bars do not result in coos of, "OooOOOh, FANcy!" then you will likely be relegated to cold, lonely, community shunning. If the event has more than one brand of chow mein noodle bars, the event is doomed - it will never happen again, nor will anything remotely resembling it, because the presence of multiple trays of chow mein noodle bars is a silent, passive aggressive, extremely Minnesotan way of the community voting with their feet and telling the organizer that the event is not worth the time it takes to make REAL bars. This is the famous "Minnesota Nice". We might show up to an event we disagree with, if only to show willing to the community, but be damned if we'll make good bars for it.
Cheesecake bars can go either way. Is the crust shortbread? Then they're a good sign. If the crust is made with crushed cookies - with the only exception being made if they are crushed Oreos - then they are scorn worthy. Nilla Wafers are not an acceptable cheesecake bar base layer. Nilla Wafers are acceptable only as decorations on top, and even that's considered a cop out if there isn't a little piped icing decoration on the Wafer. They can also achieve fancy status by having swirls of fruit throughout the cheesecake layer.
Strawberry (or raspberry) / rhubarb bars, the kind with crumble topping - are a sign that someone loves you. Unless the 'you' is me, in which case it's a sign that my family has still not gotten the clue that I fucking loathe rhubarb in any form. For all the not-me's, it's a sign of love and respect, because they are one of the more labour-intensive bars to make. The bars can themselves be complete culinary catastrophes with soggy base layers and too tart or too sweet or too runny interior layers, but they will still score points because someone went through all the trouble to try and make them. A cheerful gaggle of women will surround the person who tried, offering helpful tips and tricks, all the while praising her for her effort. Men never make these bars - or if they do, I have never been witness to one bringing said bars to anything unless his wife or mother made them for him. In MN, a man who made decent berry/rhubarb bars and shared them out would not remain unmarried long, even if he was completely odious in every other respect. I can't even fathom the social cred points this single skill would garner. A woman walking in with these bars and offering "My husband made these" would be given the golden ticket invite to every major social event of the year. Her opinion would be sought on matters political and social. Like the beldames of the Edwardian era, she would rule the freaking social roost.
A good bar selection will also have 'dippers'. These are cookie-like bars, sometimes called "blondies", and exist for the sole purpose of soaking up coffee before being devoured. The type of dipper is irrelevant, but lack of them will be noted with disappointment and resentment. Points are given for creative dippers made to enhance or compliment the taste of coffee - hazelnut or toasted almond bars, or toffee bars, for instance, are a huge hit. These will also balance out even the cheapest and worst coffee.
Seven Layer bars are another type that can go either way. Is the topping plain shredded coconut? Consider your bars banished to mediocrity. Is there a layer of toasted coconut on top of the glaring white shredded coconut? That's a good bar. Is there melted chocolate drizzled atop the toasted coconut? Highlight of the bar selection and social winner of the day - unless someone brought the berry/rhubarb bars, in which case, second place.
Pumpkin pie bars are mandatory for any fall/winter gathering. They will be judged on the base layer - pie crust or oatmeal crumble?, the filling - canned pumpkin or homemade pumpkin preserves?, the spices - is there allspice in it? If not, it is automatically made of fail, the topping - cool whip is fail, real whipped cream is acceptable and so is crumble, but for the absolute win, glazed or pralined pecans should be used. I have seen little bluehaired grandmothers nearly shiv one another during arguments about pumpkin pie bars.
The status of a person in a community can be evaluated by the bar selection at their birthday/wedding/baptism/funeral. Someone who is well liked will have at least one buffet table filled with bars, another filled with 'tidbits' like a variety of cream cheese rollups (and if there's not the ham-wrapped cream cheese pickle roll up, there will be tears, and not for the departed) and salads - by salad, I mean pasta or gelatin, not rabbit food, another table with "hot food" - casseroles and hot dish, and another table full of drinks - regular and decaf coffee, hot water for tea and cocoa, lemonade, and possibly beer. A person less well-liked will wind up with a perfunctory single table with a few bar specimens, potato salad, and a single pot of coffee.
You know how some people talk about their funeral? Who will show up, who will cry, who will send flowers? In MN, we discuss what kind of bars there will be at the wake, and who will bring what kind. A sad and lonely life is evidenced by coming up with less than four kinds of bars that will show up at your wake. Some people get so anxious about this that they actually put instructions for an appropriate selection of bars in their estate planning documents. No, I'm not kidding.
I was thinking about it today, because my cousin-in-law called and asked what I wanted done with the chest freezer full of bars. Leftovers from my grandmother and cousin's respective funerals - leftovers not because the bars were in any way bad or mediocre, but because so many of them showed up that even after farming out baggies of them to the guests, there were still trays left. Bars are not like white elephant gifts. They cannot be 're-gifted' to other community events. To do so is to issue a deadly insult, throw down a glove, take your life in your hands and kiss your ass goodbye. The decision was made to donate them to two elder care facilities. Not only will we be providing comestible homemade treats to care facility-bound old folks, but we'll be giving them conversation fodder that should last them several weeks at least.