THERE ARE two kinds of bar fights.
The one where a naked android from the future cracks a pool stick over your head, then walks off with your sunglasses and sawed-off shotgun.
And a "Bargument" - a debate with no right or wrong answer, which must be uncomplicated enough to discuss after three beers.
The latter is the topic of a fun little book called "Barguments" (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, $9.99) from Doug Hanks, a reporter with the Miami Herald who, like me, apparently managed to convince his editors that his weekly bar tab is a legitimate business expense.
Where I spend a lot of time fretting over beer, Hanks focuses on weightier topics. Like:
_ If you could date a cartoon character, who would it be?
_ Which TV show has better acting: "Saved by the Bell" or "Baywatch"?
_ Is it harder to be a pitcher or a running back?
_ You're about to move into an apartment with extremely thin walls. Pick your neighbor: a bass player, a sex addict or a parrot breeder.
_ With $1 million on the line, would you rather shoot a free throw or flip a coin?
_ And, perhaps most importantly, who would win in a fight: a bear or a lion?
That last one is the fateful riddle that prompted Hanks to tackle this book. He and one of his drinking pals noticed a tap handle that looked like a bear wrestling a lion and someone wondered: Who would win?
It's the kind of question that gets an entire tavern talking. While boring, sober people ponder the merits of Hillary and Barack, or the Phillies pitching staff, half-looped bar patrons can spend all night arguing over the mad fighting skills of zoo animals. (The lion wins, obviously. Unless it's a grizzly. With a gun.)
Hanks warns that you shouldn't dismiss this kind of talk as mere idle chatter. As he smartly notes: "A bargument shreds small talk and quickly divides people into opposing camps."
Forget about where the guy at the end of the bar stands on the death penalty; you can tell a lot more about him by asking who he likes better: James T. Kirk or Jean-Luc Picard?
To me, the importance of a "bargument" is that it has no winner. It's pure entertainment that could only happen over beers in a bar.
_ What's better: chocolate or cheese?
_ Who wins in a mob fight: Tony Soprano or Michael Corleone?
_ What's better, beer or wine?
That last question is the focus of another new book, "He Said Beer, She Said Wine" (DK Publishing, $25). Written by Dogfish Head Brewery's Sam Calagione and Philadelphia wine maven Marnie Old, it's essentially a debate over what pairs better with food, grape or grain.
The two fight like an old married couple.
On what goes better with cheese:
She says, "There are no more perfect partners in the realm of food and beverage pairing than wine and cheese."
He says, "What do you drink with pizza when your friends come over to watch the game? I'll give you a hint: it isn't wine."
On pairing with kung pao chicken or jambalaya:
She says, "Light, off-dry whites calm the flames, while aromatic reds can provide a complex counterpoint to layered flavors and seasonings."
He says, "The carbonation, maltiness and alcohol content of beer makes it the perfect partner for even the spiciest dishes. To be fair, though, I once used a Riesling to put out a grease-fire."
They could go on all night, but between the jabs there's some tasty advice on pairings. Allagash White with spinach and garlic? I never would've thought of that. Grilled sardines washed down with Tio Pepe Fino Sherry? That's how they do it in southern Spain.
Beer vs. wine is an argument with roots that go far deeper than food pairings, however. Beer and wine represent two entirely different world views. As Calagione notes, beer is down-to-earth. Wine, even Old concedes, is snooty.
Beer comes in manly kegs; wine is corked by Frenchies in berets.
Beer foams down the side of your mug; wine is meticulously decanted into a crystal goblet.
Beer drinkers chug; wine drinkers swish, and sometimes they don't even swallow.
They're all stereotypes, of course.
I've spent $20 on a single, corked bottle of fine ale and bathed in a celebratory splash of Champagne.
But unlike a good "bargument," there is a right answer to this debate: Beer is better than wine. *