and they are here and ready to be purchased. Both are available as ebooks, with the bigger one, Gin and Tonics Across Worcester is also available as a trade paperback. Letters from the Drinking Town is just an ebook.
The Kindle version of the first 144 stops on the tour is finally available. I am so proud of it. Other platforms will be available in a couple days, but I just couldn’t wait to tell you. Here it is, in one easy to use volume. The whole damned tour
David (Dante of Worcester)
For over three years or so, I have been going to the bars and restaurants of Worcester, ordering a gin and tonic, drinking it, leaving the place soon after and writing about it in a blog whimsically titled Gin and Tonics Across Worcester. I did 144 bars and restaurants in eighteen months and then called myself done with the silly concept. Eight months later, in March of 2016 I decided to try a few more, the new places, and the blog started again. I wrote about 15 new places. Then I stopped again. March showed up in 2017 and I decided to do it one more time. This time in the form of letters. I wrote about gin and tonic, but I allowed myself the right to go on about bars and those who have an affinity for just such a place.
I really enjoyed this format and was invigorated by the process once more. I wrote over a dozen of these letters by the end of June 2017. I went to two more places for gin and tonics: Valentino’s and The Fix though I didn’t write them up. I made a list of a handful of new places and a list of places that were to open sometime in the year that I planned to visit.
Then I stopped.
During the summer, I was working on longer writing projects and completely forgot about the quest for bars and gin and tonic. By the end of the summer, when I did recall the blog, I could not find the energy nor drive to jump start it.
Also, I wasn’t drinking much. My acid reflux didn’t care for my alcohol consumption. I had to cut back. I was going to Nick’s occasionally, but I didn’t have the desire to drink as an act of discovery. I didn’t have the time or the inclination to schlep myself to a new unknown bar and write about the experience. Maybe this was me getting old and set in my ways. Is that really so bad?
This blog helped me be more consistent with writing, but now I wanted to write about other things. I have one book available as an ebook and others ready to be copyedited and formatted to be self published. That’s where the focus has turned.
I still love writing about bars. I still love going to bars, or at least my regular bar, but I am quite done with having a gin and tonic in every bar in Worcester. It was a wonderful fancy that propelled me through over three years and a hundred thousand words. I do have a few ideas about writing about bars and drinkers but I need to finish a few other things first.
I was going to just leave the blog and the project unfinished. But I began to assemble these letters and some of the older posts into a book and I realized that I needed to write one final letter explaining why I have stopped. Of course, it is this letter.
I needed to say goodbye.
I needed to say thank you.
I began this project to discover why people go to bars. Why you decide to pick a place and drink in public. I never came up with an answer, but I was blessed with an opportunity to know my city in an intimate fashion. I am blessed by this project. I have seen so many parts of our community and I am really grateful.
I want to thank all of you who stuck with me during these posts. I want to thank those who commented and those who disagreed. I want to thank my friends for putting up with this and for those who helped me with information and advice.
Gin and Tonics Across Worcester does not have to be done. It is just me that is done. If anyone else wants to discover the bars and joints of Worcester by having one cocktail at each place, please, enjoy the tour. I know I did.
Here’s a toast to you. The Reader. And to you. Worcester.
I went to a place I couldn’t get to during the original tour two years ago. This place was Livia’s Dish. I heard they had a full bar but the dinner time ended quickly and I couldn’t get to it before it closed so I gave it up for too much work. I mean, I ain’t paid for this. Hell, I am paying for the right of creating these letters. One cocktail at a time. This is the kind of thing that professional writers shun: do not pay for the permission to be a writer. They also say: don’t drink too much or you will turn into a writerly cliche. Well, looks like I’m batting a thousand on what not to do.
Today, because I knew I was leaving work early and had no committments, I looked up places I might go to. I checked out Livia’s Dish and read that they are now a brunch only place. They go to three every day of the week. And yes, they still have a full bar. Of course they do. How else could they make the necessary mimosas? I figured I could get there by two and why not? Let’s try another gin and tonic and another place I have never been. It’s pure evolutionary science. Man comes out of the muck, then man makes ridiculous goal that revolves around alcohol.
I got there and it was a very nice looking place. There is a ground floor and then quickly steps going to a second level where there is a bar and additional tables. Guess where I went?
The place was winding down. There were two parties at tables, finishing off, talking and lingering. I was by myself at the five seat bar. It was wide and presentable. There was a flatscreen showing a cooking show. The waitress slash bartender gave me a menu and greeted me warmly. Now, my problem was, this was a brunch place. At no time does it feel like the kind of place you walk into just for a cocktail. That’s just strange. So I decided to order something for lunch. This violated my rule, but I didn’t know who to avoid it.
Scanning the menu, I knew I wanted a salad. But first. I ordered the item that brought me here in the first and only place: a gin and tonic. It was almost a treat that the woman didn’t ask me what kind of gin. All they had was Tanqueray and Tanqueray was what I was to have. There is a pleasant sensation in surrendering decisions to the bartender. “Just make it.”
The drink came for seven dollars and I took a sip of it before I ordered my food. It was a nice cocktail. I liked it. Maybe not top ten gin and tonics in this tour, but hey, I would not spit this out with disgust. Sometimes you want a cocktail to taste like the cocktail always has, and this was it. You want a decent gin and tonic. This was it. And dealing with the vagaries of cocktail manufacturing in this day and age, getting a decent cocktail is a beautiful thing. This is just me saying, if you need to go to a brunch place and have a drink, then you can a order a gin and tonic here and you will be pleased.
Then I ordered a salad and she told me that the pecans that are supposed to be in the salad are not available and they will have walnuts instead. I am allergic to walnuts and I am sad to report I felt a little put out. Not for anything they did, people run of pecans, it happens, but because I was probably pissed that I have this annoying allergy. So I looked at my choices and said, “You know what, I am cool, I will stick with the gin and tonic, thanks.”
This was kind of relief. It meant I could continue with just having a drink and no food for this tour. The bartender apologized a few times, but I was happy and told her so. I said a gin and tonic is three or four tiers of the nutritional pyramid.
Behind me, a group of dentists were telling horror stories of the trade. They had just come in from playing golf. Another couple was in the front room. The two waitresses and I were in the bar watching the mid-day news. The weatherman was wearing a buttoned sports coat that didn’t fit him. It strained against his belly. “There are scores of people around him, why wouldn’t someone tell him to unbutton that thing. Or get a jacket that fits.” I said.
The bartender said, “Yeah, he has put on some weight. Why wouldn’t someone say that that is not a good look.”
The other waitress said, “Of course the weather women don’t have that problem. They are all so thin and wearing dresses that show off too much. None of them should be bending down too quickly.”
“But what is it,” the bartender said, “with them. Even the ones not in good shape, they all have really toned arms. Every weather woman have these scutlpted arms. Like they are doing curls with weights before each time they go on air.”
The conversation went on. We talked about weather people and weather and that this is a nice place to work at. “Not too many people here right now though,” I said.
The bartender said, “It’s after two in the afternoon, we close at three. It’s the end of the night for us. Last call.”
Nothing important was said in this conversation. No one opened their souls. No one learned something important. But everyone had a nice moment chatting, killing time, enjoying the end of the night – in the middle of the afternoon.
The thing about what I do, is that it is not a comprehensive review of a place. But I get an impression. I really liked being at Livia’s Dish. The place was bright and inviting. The staff was terrific. The food looked good and they made a fine gin and tonic. I will definitely try out the brunch with my family soon.
It is always fun to talk smack about a place, but it is more satisfying to speak well of a restaurant.
Until Next Time
I thought I would show with you how I conduct research for this collection of letters. There is the drinking of gin and tonics at the bars of Worcester, of course. Then, there is the discussion I have afterwards. I have a little group I bounce ideas off and I air questions about the things that puzzled me at the bars.
The discussion takes place at a bar. I was with a friend and a bartender (who is also a friend, but for this letter, they will be called Friend and Bartender, got it? These things should include a dramatis personae in the first paragraph of every post). I got my beer and was asked if I had been to any bars and like that, the brain trust was called into order.
“Okay, here’s something that happened at the latest bar,” I said to the bartender. “I got a gin and tonic that was eight bucks and forty two cents. I gave a twenty. The bartender brought back eleven dollars.”
“Wait,” my friend said, “where was the change, the 58 cents.”
“That’s the thing,” I said. “It wasn’t there. He didn’t give me the change. Just the eleven dollars. But he also gave me the receipt and it said 8.42. I am only talking about half a buck here. Is that a thing. Take the change as a service charge?”
The Bartender was savvy and quickly said, “Don’t write it. Don’t include that in your blog. That was just a mistake. Was it busy?”
“Yeah, there were people and things were moving along.”
“There you go,” the Bartender said. “This was just a mistake he made. He didn’t mean to do it. Because why would he blow the chance for a 1.50 tip just by taking fifty cents. I mean, there was a chance when you noticed he shorted you, you were not going to give him anymore tip, right?”
“I thought about it.”
“And if he knew that, why would he chance that? You might not throw that dollar or even more. Why? Just to take fifty cents? Believe me, it was just a mistake. Don’t write it.” There is something endearing witnessing a bartender protecting one of his brethren. I agreed, but said I might write about it without names.
“Since we’re talking about weird bartender behavior I got a question about a waiter,” my Friend said, “I was at an Italian joint with a date. I had an appetizer, ate it with a fork. The fork was on the plate when I finished with it. The waiter came over put down my entree. Instead of giving me a new fork, he picked up the one on the appetizer plate and he didn’t put it next to the plate, he placed it right into my entree. Weird right?”
“I never would do that,” the Bartender said. “I will ask if they want a new fork. Always. And I wouldn’t put it in the food. That’s not right. It’s fine to use the same utensil, but you ask if they are good with that.”
“That’s what I thought,” my Friend said.
The Bartender went to take care of a few customers and came back when he could. “Last night was one of those nights. Crazy customers who don’t know how to behave in a bar. I had this one girl come in with some friends and she just said, ‘I want something blue.” That’s all she could identify. Something blue. I tried to be helpful. I asked her what things she like. She said she wanted something blue. Blue is not a flavor. It is a color. You don’t drink colors. Her friend had a mojito and the girl said that that looked yummy. I told her I could make a blue mojito by putting in blue curacao. She said no. She wanted something blue. I told her I could make a blue margarita. She asked me what went in that and I told her. She said that sounds great and I made it for her. She hated it. And I charged her the full amount. There are no discounts for ordering a blue drink and not liking it.”
There were more conversations and revelations as the evening went on. But that’s a bar for you. And that is how I do research for these academic entries.
Until Next Time
What is there to say about a dull restaurant bar closing its doors and rebranding themselves as something that is different but still dull? What am I to say about this? How shall I be a pleasant host and guide if this is my thesis and the constant theme I will be whistling?
How shall I do this? With a smile on my face and a bounce to my step.
It’s moments like this that make me happy to be a crass, cynical writer. It gets to be a drag writing pleasantly about pleasant places. Bring on the banal, I got my mean spirited adjectives sharpened and holstered at the end of each sentence.
Storytime: Once there was a health food store on Park Avenue and Chandler Street and it was good. Their wheat germ was the finest of the realm. And lo, they decided that they should have a restaurant in the same location and that was good. And it became Evo, which (I think) was in reference to it being the next level of Evolution of cuisine. Those health food folk are nothing if not humble.
Evo had a nice run of several years. The bar in the back was small and inconsequential and despite what others said, I thought the food was pretty mediocre, if not bad. The last time we had food there, it was downright inedible. That is always a good sign that a joint is going to go out of business.
But not in this fairy tale, brother. In this one, the wounded beast retreated into the cocoon that we call “Closed for renovations” They ended Evo and promised to come back with a great new design and wonderful new concept.
This is always the problem with new places, or old places getting the face lift with a little botox for good measure. The problem, the question that should be asked and I don’t think is, is, do we really go to restaurants because of their concept? If we love Johnny Depp pirate flicks, are we more predisposed to love a new bistro called the Buccaneer, with their signature dish, the Walk the Plank Flank Steak? We can have a Sports Bar with a Difference, with a Point Break themed bar, it is surfing and football and Keanu. Everyone wants to go that bar? Who doesn’t love that movie? I mean you can have a 50 Year Wave Shooter.
All of this to say that the owners of Evo came back with the Bootleggers Prohibition Pub. That’s right, its a prohibition themed bar restaurant. You remember that time? When people died from drinking wood alcohol. When people went blind or discovered their limbs shaking uncontrollably because of the bad booze they were pounding. When gangsters tightened their grip on city economies. Let’s have a bar celebrating that.
I was given my 7.50 gin and tonic (Wednesday at 7:30) in a mason jar. Not a real mason jar, but a mass produced replica to give you that mass produced nostalgia. Here is Dave being an annoying effete. I don’t want to drink a highball in a mason jar. I would like to have it in a highball glass. If i must, then a decent pint glass, or even a small snifter. Something that is kind and pleasant to the hand holding it. A mason jar is not fun to hold, it’s kind of silly.
The drink was okay. It didn’t make me blind. I didn’t lose control of my legs. That’s a good cocktail in a prohibition pub, right? Maybe that’s why they called themselves a prohibition pub, to lower the bar on their cocktails. Continue to live = good cocktail. Dying in a fit = sub par cocktail. They should put that on their ad copy. “Come to the Bootleggers Prohibition Saloon – Our Drinks Won’t Kill Ya!”
The bar is now prominent, in the middle of the room. The tables are non-descript. There is sports on but one of the flat screens is showing an old movie playing on TCM. The idiot in me was annoyed that they weren’t playing silent movies. It should be movies from the 20s. Could that be so hard?
The waitress was wearing a flapper dress. It was black and slinky and covered in tassels. I looked at that and I could imagine her leaning over at a table and a platoon of those tassels falling into the soup of the day.
It was quiet there on that Wednesday and it just felt forced.
A while back, I discovered a group of essays written in the New Yorker magazine during the 1920s about illegal bars. The series was Speakeasy Nights by Niven Busch. They were cute and funny at first, but as I continued to read them on the New Yorker online archive, I discovered that the stories were sad. The places described were run down and all the smiles and humor felt like a facade. It wasn’t the writing. It was the places being written about. There was a desperation.
The speakeasy was a sad kind of thing. A placeholder. An illegal room, an apartment, an untidy flat. The liquor was poor and the food over priced.
Is this what we want our new bars to emulate? A run down joint, two steps away from being busted? On the Bootlegger’s facebook account, they sometimes inform you of special events and give the password. Passwords are a fun exclusive thing, but only if you want to go in.
Until Next Time
The drink tasted of ashes. I have had many gin and tonics in this seemingly endless tour of every bar in Worcester. I have had fine ones and forgettable ones and of course there were the poor excuses to the art of pouring booze in a glass. I have had countless gin and tonics, but this is the first one that tasted of arson.
In this lovely looking Thai restaurant, there is a sign, made on somebody’s home ink jet printer, stating that they now have liquor. But they don’t have a bar. They have what seemed to be a horseshoe seating, but now turned into a bar to accommodate the bottles nestled on a shelf by the wall. In the center of the horse shoe you can sit and act like you have sidled up to the stick. But there is only four chairs for that part and they were taken by a few Clark students. I sat on one of the sides, so the girl working the drinks detail walked to the other side of what was basically a table and got my drink order.
I don’t know how long they had their liquor license, but she informed me that this was her first gin and tonic and that she hoped it was alright.
Let me stop here to state that I had my first gin and tonic when I was fourteen. My grandmother made it for me. Later on that summer, I was told that if I wanted a drink, I had to make my own. She tested the result for balance and potency, like every good grandmother does. In my career as a high school drinker, which is another way of saying a poor clueless drunk kid, I had experience making many cocktails. You pour the liquor in and then you pour in whatever is supposed to go with it, We never had tonic in our rumpus room bacchanales so we made do mixing our poor gin with Sprite. These drinks were not designed for or by discerning tastes, they were to cut the liquor enough to get it down. This is just to say that a two ingredient cocktail is something everyone should have mastered enough to not embarrass yourself when you find yourself working at a Thai restaurant on Park Avenue in Worcester.
The girl who concocted the drink was nice, and the place was nice. And everyone there on a Sunday night was nice, eating nice food.
The food was attractive, the spices permeated the whole joint. And I had a eight dollar and fifty cent glass of burnt offerings. In most cases, when a drink is this bad, I would not finish it. I tend to not complain about a bad drink, because let’s be honest, when you are having an alcoholic beverage you are drinking poison.
But I found myself deliberately and slowly taking bites off of this cocktail. Not as a connoisseur of fine high balls, but as a crime scene investigator. “How did something so simple, so elegant, go so wrong?”
I tried to place the ashen flavor. Did I get the right liquor? Was this a new Polar Soda flavor, Campfire Seltzer? Could there be something wrong with the dishwasher? Or is it me? Am I tasting things wrong, am I having a stroke?
The girl who made me the drink spent most of her time talking to two other young women at the “bar.” They were having what looked like tasty food. They spoke about college and how hard it is to pay off tuition. I sat by myself. Lost in the Puzzle of the Ashen Highball (look at me, I turned my excursion into every bar in Worcester into a forgotten Sherlock Holmes mystery.) She came over to me and asked me how the drink was. She was very pleasant. I told her it was great. Just great. Yeah. Great. Let’s call it great.
Some places shouldn’t be bars. They should just serve good food. Isn’t that hard enough? The place was handsome and the food smelled good. Shouldn’t that amazing feat be enough for anyone? Can’t we just look at how we don’t even know how to create a bar area and throw in the towel? Can’t we say, we are just not bar people. We are food people, let us celebrate that.
Bahn Thai is located at 2 Coes Square. Go there for the food and the pleasant service. When having a Pad Thai, do you really need a cocktail? Enjoy the flavor of the food. Let that be your highball.
Until Next Time
Today my son and I went to the TouchTomorrow program at WPI. It was lovely. We participated in science experiments, learned about the universe and watched robots attack Styrofoam noodles. It was a great time. They even had a van de graaf generator there, ready for the kids to touch and the parents to take photos destined to embarrass the child years later, during dating season no doubt. My son demurred. He didn’t want to see his hair standing on end. I did. But that’s a father for you.
My son wanted to eat and wanted to eat in air conditioning. I did a few calculations in my head and suggested we walk to the Boynton. My son, eight years old, loves places with grilled cheese sandwiches and fries. The Boynton has such a thing on the menu, so the kid loves the place.
Long time readers of these reports from the front might well remember that I don’t care for the Boynton at all. It has never worked for me. I think it thinks too highly of itself. But it was nearby and the kid loves it. Who doesn’t want to be the world’s greatest dad? Or at least, passably acceptable dad? I’ll take it.
It was pretty busy this afternoon, but I saw booths and tables. I asked for a table for two and the hostess took us to the bar area, to a booth in the front.
I wasn’t going to ask for another booth, but I was already a little weary. If I was with friends and was seated there, great. But I had the kid, and that means I have to be concerned with the bar. The bar, as you know, is a place I love. There is drinking and swearing and lying. Three things I don’t allow my son to do.
I have been at bars at 2pm on a Saturday where it sounds like an amateur hour production of Reservoir Dogs.
Kids in the bar area is never a groovy concept. Am I, the parent, expecting everyone to curb their behavior? No. A bar should be a bar. An animal preserve for base behavior. I don’t want to be “That Guy” who wants you to be polite because there are children present. On the other hand, I really don’t want people to be going on about the “fucking” Red Sox and their “fucking” manager.
Part of me was annoyed. Didn’t the hostess see me with a kid? Couldn’t she have put me in one of the non-bar areas. But the hostess has to be fair to the wait staff. If the waitress in the bar area is up for the next party, then she will get the next group, even if you are putting an eight year old in the bar area of a busy restaurant when you don’t have to
I understand that getting as many tables as possible is important for wait staff, but I don’t know. This is a relationship, the wait staff and the customer. Shouldn’t both sides be considered?
We ordered our drinks and then my son looked at me seriously. “Daddy. Is it okay if we switch seats.”
And like that, I am in over protective father mode. “Sure buddy. Why? Is something wrong? Are you seeing something bad?”
He looked confused at the question. “No Daddy. Everything is alright. It’s just that, the seat is vibrating and it’s very distracting.”
Vibrating booth seats? Ooooo-kay. Someone walked around in the sun for a little too long? Someone needs a nap, and why don’t kids his age take naps. Naps would solve so many issues. “Sure, no problem. Let’s switch.”
So I sat down and got comfortable, and. And. There it was. The seat was vibrating. It wasn’t throwing me from the seat like I was at a Gilley’s mechanical bull, but no doubt about it, the damned seat was vibrating. Hell, maybe I need a nap.
I got the eye of a waiter passing by, not ours, and said, a little embarrassed to do it, “Uhm, it seems that the seat is vibrating.”
The guy nodded, “Yeah. The beer cooler is underneath that seat and so it vibrates. There is nothing we can do about it.” Nothing to do about it? How about not have a seating over the vibrating beer cooler. But I didn’t say that. I asked to get another seat and we did,
I was annoyed enough to ask our new waitress why they would seat people in a sub par location when they don’t have to. She looked glassy at me and apologized and then asked what we would have for lunch.
So perhaps I should not have asked the waitress this question, so I will ask you, here in this forum. You have a table with a seat that vibrates, do you sit people and hope they don’t mention it, or do you not sit people there? Is the important thing shoving in as many people in, or creating a positive experience.
Of course, a vibrating seat might be a positive experience for some people.Do people slip the hostess a fin to get seated at the vibrating booth? Is it the talk of the underground diners of Central Massachusetts? “The food is mediocre, but you will have the most relaxed lower back you ever had. Cpme for the vibrating booths, stay for the chicken wings
I know this is not really about bars, and definitely not about gin and tonics, but its a restaurant with a bar and I am just curious. I am curious about who is the important member in the bar-customer relationship. The customer is not always right. But should the restaurant also treat them like an inconvenience? We have a vibrating booth, well they will just have to suck it up if they want to be here. That’s not what they are thinking, but it’s a little bit how they are presenting themselves.
Let’s make this a thing. I will be tickled if people go to the Boynton and ask for the booth with the vibrating seat, the Good Vibrations Seat. Wouldn’t that be lovely. And let’s see how they respond to the wants and desires of their customers.
Until Next Time
There is a corner in Worcester, that has an establishment that is always one of two things: a bar or an empty storefront that used to be a bar. In the 18 years I have been in the Worcester area, it has been a variety of bars. The corner is Mill Street and Main. You can find it in Webster Square. It used to Noamesco, Crow Bar, End Zone, and there were others. The names went fast and furious. I just spent a little time searching for those names and could not find them. That seems apt to me, the names of failed bars should not be kept forever on the internet. The names of failed bars should be forgotten like that fourth or was it fifth shot of whisky. The names of failed bars should only be recalled in a restless sleep and then dissipate once more soon after waking.
A friend told me stories about going to that bar twenty years ago. Due to one of the stories, he and his workmates called the bar the Four Buck Pub. The story was so unsavory, I will not repeat it. Let us just say that you don’t want to know what the four bucks paid for, and let’s be pleased the establishment has changed hands. And changed hands. And changed hands.
It is now called Scal’s. It just opened about a week ago. It had been closed for quite a few months and now once again it was a drinking establishment.
Another friend from Nick’s took me aside the other day and whispered that she saw me coming out of the bar Scal’s. “That place that’s always some bar in Webster Square.” I told her I was doing it for the gin and tonic tour and she felt a little better about the whole thing. She told me that it has been a bar forever, a bar she never felt the need to enter. She said it’s not a great area and the parking is awful around there.
I told her that I read on the bar’s facebook that they arranged late night parking in the Chinese Restaurant across the street on Main. (See, I do my homework.) We talked about the madness, the pure hubris, in expecting a bar to survive.
In town, a bar might run down to nothing and turn into a farm stand (like the Alibi) or be paved over for a highway like 146 (as in the case of the Irish Club). Some bars are just husks. Due to leins and restrictions, they are just skeletons, that remain and wither (Irish Times and others). These will never be bars again. They are just ghosts. Ghosts you walk by not noticing them. Only when you are thirsty and lonely does it appear on the side of your glance.
But this corner. This corner is but cursed to always rise again as another drinking parlor. Doomed for eternity. The zombie apocalypse can sweep through the streets of Worcester, and this place will open up once more, serving the finest brain gin fizzes.
I went on a Sunday, in the middle of Memorial Day Weekend. I think I got there around seven or so. It looks better than it used to.
I had not been into the bar that is now Scal’s for something like a decade. Maybe even longer. The new owners definitely improved it. The bar is in the back. It’s comfortable. There is a focus on sports on the flat screens and there is a pool table and an area for darts. About ten people were in there. The bartender didn’t know what to do for a standard gin and tonic and he went to, what seemed to be the owner, who informed him that he toss in a little Tanquray with tonic and that will do the trick. It did. A fine drink for six bucks. No complaints there.
Actually, there will be no complaints at all. It’s not fair. It’s not fair to judge a bar on the first few days. Yes, the only people there were friends of the bar. They all knew each other. It did feel like a club house with me elbowing in uninvited.
But it is brand new and it needs to build its brand. I hope that it will do well. I hope that it will thrive. But let me frank? Does Worcester need another joint with a dart board and a pool table? Is there too much of a log jam at the other 20 or so “sports bars” that there needs to be another? Do we require another flat screen laden wall showing Red Sox and ESPN 2? Do we need the same thing we have down the road, just in a cleaner, newer model?
I ask these questions not to be a jerk (being a jerk is just an added bonus) but because I really don’t know. Is there an endless need for a good bar? Are our alcohol drenched shoulders large enough to carry all comers across the river to success?
I hope so. I have seen too many bars disappear. I am almost relieved that there is this corner, this bar phoenix, is here as a sign that the bar scene is not going away. So you want a bar in Webster Square, this one ain’t bad. Give it a try.
Until Next Time
“So you are a reviewer,” the bar back said to me with a conspiratorial grin pleasantly widening on his face.
Reviewer, I don’t think that’s the proper name for me. I just go to a bar I have never been to and sit myself down and order a gin and tonic. I don’t eat at the places. I don’t stay an evening. I don’t enrobe myself in the atmosphere. I am here and gone. A dilettante. An itinerant drinker. Never to put roots down and call this stool my own.
And then I write it down like an ancient mariner with a martini olive around my neck instead of a dead waterfowl.
“No,” I said to the bar back, “just a guy having a drink.”
“You have to try the food.” This is what you say to a reviewer who’s opinion means something. Not to me. I am a blogger (a terrible person with a terrible monicker), I am a writer of letters that might as well be written to myself.
“Oh I will. But I’m just having a drink.” The bar back smiled larger and stared at me, like he knew a secret,a really cool secret.
Hell with it. I drank my cocktail quickly and walked out. I was caught. And I didn’t realize that one of the best parts about doing this tour of every bar in Worcester is that I can do this without anyone knowing what I am doing. That I am just what I appear to be, only another guy at a bar wanting to have a drink. Wanting to get lost in a glass.
The place I left quickly, was a new bistro on Pearl Street called Bull Mansion. It is actually an old mansion. Let me just say that it was lovely. The bar is small, but people are not there to drink. People were going upstairs to a Cocker Rocks show, I guess someone who played with Joe Cocker has a tribute show. Others were eating outside on the patio.
It was seven o’clock and people were dressed up and scented and ready to enjoy the confluence of pleasant weather and a Saturday evening. What a joy to have both things happen at the same time. Let’s sit in a beautiful environment and eat food, which a bar back assured was very good.
There was art on the walls, but my hasty retreat impeded my ability to tell you about it. Reviewer he called me. Would a reviewer have busted out before getting all the information on the joint? I don’t think so.
The stools at the marble bar are simple and they struck as me as perfect. No back on them, only a circle of wood attached to some metal. The bartenders were busy filling up the table order. I waited five minutes for her to acknowledge me. I must have had my“I am a very important person and I hate being ignored at a half full bar” face because she apologized to me about the wait. I tried to be cool with it. But I am not adept at nonchalance.
I got a Bombay Sapphire gin and tonic in a large water glass (a nice water glass, but I am just trying to be accurate here). She asked if I want a lime, of course I do. This was how a drink should be. A good amount of both gin and tonic. I enjoyed the drink, but that was until I had to swig that bad boy down and get out of there because of the grinning bar back. The drink was eight dollars.
There is a relaxed elegance to the place. People dress up a little bit. They are happy to be out. To be with friends. The bar is not a place to hang out and read the paper. This is the launch area before the table is ready. People came and got their martini glass drinks and talked loud.
If I have one complaint about Bull Mansion is the smell of it. Let me explain. The other day I went into the Ghanaian restaurant in town, Anokye Krom, to have a Guinness and I was greeted not only with friendly people and a cold beer but the wonderful aromas of stews and meats and spices. The place smelled like a good restaurant. It invited you to sit and drink and wait excitedly for the food to come.
At Bull Mansion, I was not enticed with the aroma of the food. I actually got no whiff of a chop or anything else. That was because all I smelled was everyone’s perfume and cologne. Every Time someone walked by, I was assaulted with another smell from laboratories. You got Chanel and Old Spice and I’m sure one of the guys was doused in Canoe (for the seventies throw back feel). It was a lot of impressing everyone with the odor you bathe your body in. And hey? What’s that smell of Patchouli doing there?
I could not taste the botanical notes in my gin and tonic with all these invading scents breaching.
But that was a minor complaint. It is a complaint about going out on a Saturday night. Might as well complain about women wearing ridiculously precarious high heels for all the good it will do.
I think I would have given this a short but enthusiastic little write up if it wasn’t for Maitre D Mal (Mal is short for a Malcom, or Malcontent. I can never remember which one it is) He spied me as he sets up a table. He smiled and I give him a conspiratorial nod. He knows about this blog.
It was when I had the drink to my lips and was thinking of what I would say of it, what makes this gin and tonic different from any other, when Maitre D Mal came over draping his arm around me. “Are you having a gin and tonic? Are you doing your thing?”
“I’m having a drink,” I said haughtily. “Just minding my business.”
Mal doesn’t get my leave me alone look, or rather, he doesn’t give a shit. I’m writing about the place he’s working. How Nice. He asked about the recent entries to the blog. I answered quickly. He hugged me and went off. And that’s when the bar back, who has been listening asked that question that you all recall so clearly from the top of this letter, “So you are a reviewer?”
What am I anyway, I asked, as I quickly retreat. How was it that the Bull Mansion created such a moment of existential crisis inside me? Am I critic, a blogger, a reviewer, a nuisance, a walrus, a carpenter? So many choices.
The truth is I am a writer. I am a drinker. I am guy who is putting the two together and attempting to live to tell the tale.
Let us hope that next time I will not be seen. I will just be the extra in somebody else’s drama. I am just a witness. The kind that tips and leaves.
Until next time