I reluctantly include The Unexamined Life nightclub in this series because I have no satisfactory guess about where it might be located. But this fictional nightspot is too interesting not to address in some way, and I do have two unsatisfactory guesses to share.
The Unexamined Life is one of the few locations in the novel associated with characters from both the Enfield Tennis Academy and Ennet House—and the only one mirror protagonists Hal Incandenza and Don Gately have in common.
The club’s E.T.A. clientele besides Hal includes his fellow “18s,” among them Axford, Struck, Troeltsch and Pemulis; their presence enabled by The Life’s “notorious Blind Bouncer night every Friday where they card you on the Honor System.” This group, plus Schacht and Stice, also share a “special private day-before-I.-Day-ritualistic-supper-out-and-trip-to-The-Unexamined-Life blowout-gala, since Sunday is a day of total mandatory R&R,” which I assume means the club’s sightless bouncers work the full weekend shift.
Besides Gately in his former, pre-Socratic life—the club is once mentioned as a place he “no longer goes”—it is also frequented by several unnamed Enfield Marine security officers, who not only look the other way regarding their underage barmates, but even “sometimes regale the E.T.A.s w/r/t some of the more colorful E.M. specimens they’re paid to keep secure”—particularly Hal, “the only E.T.A. who seems truly interested, which is the sort of thing your veteran off-duty cop can always sense.”
The Unexamined Life and its “ceaseless” “tilted flickering bottle of blue neon over the entrance” is apparently located on the “corner of Comm. Ave. and Brainerd Road.” However, as established in the 412 W. Brainerd entry, this intersection does not actually exist.
The real Brainerd begins at Harvard Avenue a block south of and running mostly parallel to Commonwealth. It continues in this southwesterly direction for just six blocks until it rather abruptly becomes Corey Road, which itself soon veers south and meets up with Beacon Street. Where Brainerd meets Corey, Kelton Street shoots off in a northwesterly direction toward Commonwealth and, past the intersection, becomes familiar Warren.
The corner of Commonwealth and Kelton then becomes our first possible location for The Unexamined Life, and indeed there is a bar here: Harry’s Bar & Grill. Based on its website, Harry’s looks nicer than the novel would lead one to expect, but then so is most of Allston-Brighton. Promising as this location seems, it’s not without its problems. For instance, Bruce Green winds up here after belatedly realizing he’s lost track of Randy Lenz on the night of their fateful walk, and continues his slow-motion pursuit on the way back to Ennet House. But this wouldn’t make any sense: Ennet House is right across the street.
Another possibility is that “Brainerd” curves around to meet Commonwealth where Harvard does. While there are some extant bars in the near vicinity, out of the four corners of the real-life intersection, the black-fronted corner pictured first above was certainly a watering hole of some kind in the not-too-distant past.
Of course the third possibility is that this is simply a fictional location inspired by real ones, a stand-in for legendary Boston-area clubs of the day given (literally) passing mentions in the novel—“Play It Again Sam’s, Harper’s Ferry, Bunratty’s, Rathskeller, Father’s First I and II”—all of which existed in Wallace’s day, but now share another key attribute with The Unexamined Life: non-existence.