Letter from the Drinking Town #9 – Bull Mansion

Dear Worcester,

“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

Dante.

 

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Letter from the Drinking Town #8 – Bars and Dating

Dear Worcester,

I was talking to a friend who still talks about his ex. His ex who he met at his bar. He has a bar he likes. He caught the eye of a woman who also called the bar her own. They had something in common. They both liked the same bar. There are long lived marriages based on less than that.

Now he doesn’t talk to the ex. He talks about her. To me. To other guys at the bar. But not to her.

They were a couple in the bar for over a year. They were a pair on display, a happy couple that old drunks watched with jealousy and watery eyes. They proved that bars and couples are a perfect combination. They were pleasant to talk to together or separate.

But sometimes a relationship based on feeling at home in the same piece of real estate doesn’t have enough sustenance to survive. They broke up. Then, quietly, they got back together. They went on holiday together. They told us funny stories of their vacation. They were happy and it looked just like before, the happy couple we knew.

In a month, they were broken up again.  

Now here we are. A couple that is no more. We see both them. She is with a new partner. He is focusing on his job and school, but still comes here. It is his bar after all. There is something important about that act of claiming: that “This Bar Is Mine.” It is an ancient and holy rite, to pick the bar of your soul.  I am sure she feels the same way. Sucks that both of them chose the same place.

The bartender and I both say, that’s the problem. Don’t date from your bar. Nothing good can come from that.

I saw him today and we stood drinking Guinness and talking about the situation. I should capitalize it and call it the Situation. Like an annoying camera hog from the Jersey Shore. It won’t stop mugging for attention.

My friend doesn’t waste much time talking about other things, the conversation gets to the ex. “So here’s an example. This explains what I’m talking about. The other day I get here after work and I want to have a few drinks. I want to just drink by myself. The commute to work is killing me, but work is good. I got a raise, but they expect me to work harder for that and you know, I’m trying to finish up grad school. I’m exhausted and all I want is to have a few drinks and not talk to anyone.”

Let me pause to say, that to me, that is one of the great mysteries about going to a bar. It allows you a spectrum of social possibilities. You can be greeted like Norm in Cheers or you can say hello and get back to your crossword or you can sit moping in front of your mug and no one will bother you. That’s one of the first things you learn as a bar goer, how to read the shoulders of a guy at the bar. You have to read it right. If they are hunched forward, leave that man alone. He is only here to visit his dear friend, the one in the glass, and share a whispered word. That’s the thing about bars. Course, a lot of people get it wrong. Yes, going to a bar is like learning a new language. And its slurred and full of marbles.

My friend goes on, “I am just drinking. Even Sean knew to nod at me and let me be. Then the girl came in. With her new guy. I don’t know the guy. I’m sure I don’t like him, but don’t pin me on it. But the thing is they are at the end of the bar and I’m right there by the door, I’m not noticing them. I got to say that again. I am not bothering them. I am just by myself drinking. That’s all. I’m not thinking about her. She says hi to me and I don’t say nothing.  She’s in the bar with her new guy, but I got drinking to do, I got a day to erase. Important things. And she comes over to me. Now I wasn’t looking at her, not even a sideways glance. But she comes over to me all serious and says I won’t say hi if you don’t want me to and I said, and this is all I said, I said let’s do that. I just want status quo here. I just want to drink.

“Dave, isn’t that what I was implying just from drinking at my bar, sitting by myself, talking to no one? Isn’t that what I was saying? I mean the act of not looking at anyone and drinking, that’s talking truth to power, right? That’s saying a lot, or it should. Someone should see that and know that. Anyway, she goes back to her spot at the bar and I’m focusing on my crossword and my beer. Then she comes up again and says that they are going to be playing a board game and I can come down an play with them.

“That’s what she said. That I can come down and play a dice game with them. Just twenty minutes before, she says we should avoid and ignore each other and now she wants to play a dice game with me. I give her a look, and say, I thought you didn’t want to acknowledge me. And if we don’t want to notice each other, why are you asking me to play a dice game? She shut her face and nodded with a grimace. And she goes back to her guy and I go back to my beer but I can’t really go back to my beer because now I’m pondering what the hell that was all about?

“What the hell? What did I do wrong there? What is stopping me from being at a bar, a bar I like, and just be myself? Why do I have to think about this? I don’t want to think about this. I am happy never even thinking about her. I just want to drink at my bar by myself. Why is that such a difficult proposition?”

He and I speak of this for a while. I wonder when we will be done with this conversation. I encourage him to bring a revenge girl to the bar. He says he is not into that. I wonder when the bar will return to stasis. When the status quo is people talking to each other, ignoring each, getting drunk with each other, lost in thought and never to return? When will that state show up?

The bartender and I both say, that’s the problem. Don’t date from your bar. Nothing good can come.

Thanks for listening to my rambling, maybe next time, I will have something new to say. But we are talking about bars, right? And when is there anything new there?

Till Next Time

Dante

Letter from the Drinking Town #7 – The Pint

Dear Worcester

It is amazing what happens to my mind after going to 160 different bars in Worcester, everything begins to seem the same. Actually, it is not that it seems the same, it actually is. The same. I am going to the same bars again. Now more than ever.

I started this project over three years ago and for a long stretch of that, most of the bars were places I had never been before. The buildings were new, the people I sat next to were new. Everything about the process had a aire of exploration. But we are now past that sense of newness. Now I am going back to the same places because they are now new bars, new restaurants.

The old bar went out of business, or the owner retired, or the place decided that it desired a new skin, a new name and now it was something wholly unique.

In this version of the tour, I have been to five bars and three of them are places I was at before. I like going into joints I never been to before. I like that sense of fear. That apprehension. That surprise that the place is good looking or feels bigger inside than it does from the street. I like that self imposed vertigo of being the new guy in town.

But what I feel now is deja vu. “Oh, that hasn’t changed from when it was the other bar.” “Look at that, they just cleaned the bar and called it new.” “Look at that, they didn’t clean the bar and now it has a new name.” There are differences of course. The walls are now orange. The bartenders now wear ties. Oh, how I miss going to a part of town I never have been and go into a building I have never entered before.

All of this was on mind when I was at The Pint, 58 Shrewsbury Street. This used to be Scorz, which I thought was one of the lousiest bars I have been to for a gin and tonic. The place had a weird lay out and it just made me sad. The people who worked there that night seemed to be unhappy to be there. I was not surprised to hear it went out of business. I mean if the folks pouring your beer don’t want to be there, why do you?

The Pint was filling up and people were having fun, talking loud. At nine, the door man took his place, expecting the flood to appear. It is a bar. A pretty decent one. The gin and tonic was seven fifty and was alright. That’s another piece of deja vu. All the well originated gin and tonics taste like the ones I had before. I took a sip, and then asked the drink, “Haven’t we met before? Perhaps on a Mediterranean cruise?

What makes the Pint unique is the white elephant jumble sale that are the walls. Every wall has a lot of art or poster or tchake. To call it eclectic gives the art presentation more premeditation than it probably deserves. This is not me complaining. If an art museum suddenly became a live,  sentient being, this would be it’s subconscious. This is an art collection’s fever dream. I took pictures of one small wall and the art there. In the space of three feet we have: a print of children and a dog hiding in a nook of a treek, an ugly framed folk art portrait of girl who looks like she is fifty years old and balding, a pastel of hands, a photo of a goldfish blowing out of a wine glass filled with water, all next to what I think is a walking stick mounted to the wall. Other walls have a portrait of Boba Fett and other pop culture wall hangings.

It definitely has a personality. Is it the personality of a bar you want to drink in? That’s up to you. It wasn’t my thing, but I watched people ambling in, the bar getting busy. Maybe the decor means nothing. Maybe the sense of sameness and deja vu is just a passing phase. Maybe I should just shut up and order another drink. It doesn’t matter what wall art or architectural space you are wrapped in, just drink up and enjoy.

Until Next Time

Dante  

Letter from the Drinking Town 6 – Kids and Bars

Dear Worcester,

In the last letter I wrote about my time at the Wormtown Brewery (a fine place if I neglected to state that before)  and spied a kid around nine or ten with his family or extended family. He was safe in his smart phone and earbuds and had an impenetrable shield that protected him from the packs of knit capped hipsters appreciating the IPA like it was fine wine gone to vinegar.But it made me think about kids in drinking joints.

Every family has its own tradition of how to introduce their progeny into the ever present world of drinking. Wine at Sunday Dinner. Manischewitz during Passover. A can of Schlitz at their first Packers game for Cheese Heads across the globe.

My friend Bob always tried to ply beer or wine at my son, even when he was an infant. It was a joke. Especially because my response to these vaudevillian attempts was to state. “Not until he’s five.”

This was because my first beer was when I was five. I remember it clearly. A bunch of the fathers in our neighborhood were drinking Pabst in our driveway and we boys were pestering. One of the boys asked his dad for a sip and he got it. Score! So the next boy asked his dad for a sip and he got it. And I asked for a sip next and got it. Boy did I get it. Straight from the can. The aluminum did nothing but improve the taste. Then one of us, maybe Paul Anderson, asked if he could have another sip and his father responded, “No, get your own.”

Get your own. The ultimate DIY statement of independence. It’s the Beatles realizing that they don’t have to settle for Pete Best Backbeats. It was Sam Houston comprehending that this state can be their state. It was Allen Ginsberg stating that the slithery flow of words and imagery that his soul composed must be poetry. It’s Jonny Rotten concluding that music was whatever anger fit into three cords and dissonance. It was someone saying, “Hey you midwestern kid, wouldn’t more of that yellow bubbly elixir be the best way to end the day?” Get your own. Do it yourself.

Paul looked at us boys and said, “We have beer in our house. We can get our own there.” So we three boys trooped over to his house and got Schlitz and dutifully sipped at those damned cans of endless cans of unpleasantness while sitting on the back stoop. But we were now men and there was no place for complaint. We drank at our cans like dogma. When the adults realized that the evening was too peaceful, they searched for us. They found us and ducked in corners to laugh at what they saw. Only when they laughter was done did they come and seriously remove us from our beers.

That was how I came up with the “Only when he’s five” line. When my son turned five, I was petrified that Bob would keep me to it. Only last week, when my son was eight, did Bob bring it up. We were all at a Nick’s for a PFLAG benefit that he said, “You told me that he could have beer at five, we are well past that.” My wife organized the benefit up but couldn’t attend so me and the kid were there. My lame response to Bob was, “You didn’t ask him when he was five so you missed your chance.”

Bob rolled his eyes at that, so I turned to the boy and asked, “Bob wants to get you a beer, you want it.”

My son looked at me oddly and said. “I have chocolate milk.” And that was it. I felt more relief than I can say. Yes, I would not have given the beer if he did ask for it, but it was pleasant to not come across the consequence.

Off and on for three years, my son has been going into Nick’s. I run a bi weekly event there and sometimes I have to bring him. The bartender Sean, one of my closest friends, always greets him warmly and has him make a mixed fruit juice concoction to drink through the event. My son adores Sean.

A few weeks ago my kid stated that for a job, he would like to help Sean out behind the bar. He would get him the beers. Grab him the ice. Do whatever Sean needed to be a good bartender.

I don’t know, but I am not sure that a lot of high school guidance counselors recommend “bar back” as a career goal.

About a year and a half ago, he reported to us that one of his schoolmates said he wanted to be a bartender when he grew up, because a bartender gets all the ladies. We asked him what “gets all the ladies” meant, and he only stared at us.  I told Sean and he informed me that that estimation of a bartender’s life is not exactly accurate. And wait a minute? Why is a second grader interested in the ladies in the first place?

There is nothing wrong with taking a child to a place that has liquor. It is unavoidable. Last year, I went into the Oaken Barrel for a gin and tonic and there were three women at the bar drinking and swearing. Swearing like you will only see in Worcester and Quentin Tarrantino films. One of the colorful talkers had her seven year old son with her. He wasn’t on a stool, drinking and cussin. No he was running around the tables. Some of the tables had people eating there, but that didn’t matter. It was a dull uninteresting place for this kid and he was making his own fun.

It’s like those uncomfortable kid’s birthday parties that we parents stand around, wishing to be anywhere else. You don’t know the people, you don’t what to say, all you do is watch your kid and all these other running noses and skinned knees scream bloody murder and call it a fine time. Many of them are at bowling alleys. Here in New England we wave candlepin bowling, the perfect type of bowling for kids. They can hold onto the ball. They can also easily bash them over their friend’s heads. But hey, birthday parties are so much fun.

There is something weird to me when I see one of these parents get a beer from the bowling alley bar and continue watching the kids run around like they are radioactive particles racing up to nuclear fission. I know that there is nothing wrong with having a beer in front of kids, but this is the kid’s world and an adult beverage seems like a breaking of a trust. I want one of the kids to go up to the grown up drinking the bottle of Bud and say, “Excuse me, do you mind? We children don’t traipse down to your over 21 fetes at the Ship Room at the Hotel Vernon and demand chocolate milk shakes and watch you get sloppy as you drunkenly sing karaoke, then why are you drinking your beverage at our bowling party?” Yes. These are the things I think about at these parties. I am that bored.

There are times when kids have to go into bars.

Like when they are tasked to retrieve their drunken father. I feel like I am in the first chapter of a Horatio Alger novel (before it all turns perfect) and that this doesn’t happen, but come on, we know it does.

I got a buddy in town who gets angry when we go by certain streets. That was the street, he informs me, where his Dad’s bar was. His Dad didn’t own it, he just contributed to it by drinking himself senseless. He didn’t drink himself to death there, only because there were other bars, not to mention the package stores. It was my friend’s and his brother’s job to find him and roust him home.

The bar is gone, but the anger still percolates, still bubbles, like a cut reopening becoming infected once more. I never pressed details. I didn’t ask him how often he had to go into the dark bar. How scared he was? Was it such a typical chore that the drunks on the stool would greet him by name? I am always curious about those things, but decided it is best not to ask. He still gets angry just being near the street. Like the bar is a ghost haunting him, wailing and moaning in the voice of old Patsy Cline 45s.

The only thing close to funny about this story is my friend tends bar at a few joints in the city. He sometimes pours beers to old timers, some of whom sat next to his father in the long ago bar. There is not enough liquor in all the bars of Worcester to mask the acrid taste of sad irony in those moments.

For me, I didn’t have to find my father in bars. Though I am sure he knew quite a few of them. He had a homemade bar in the basement in our house in Naperville Illinois. We kids would use it in our make believe play as the cockpit for the Millennium Falcon.

When my father came home for the day from his high clearance government job (he did something with nuclear weapons, we are not sure exactly what) he would greet me by saying my name and then raising two fingers. That was my prompt to go downstairs and get two cans of beer from the basement fridge. He would be seated at the kitchen table, removing his tie by the time I placed them in front of him. That still is the only bartending job I ever had.

By the time I turned nine, my father had been dead for six months. Heart attack. I was becoming a troubled kid. School was not going well for me. My mother thought that what I needed was a male influence.

I don’t know where she found this guy, but she got this psychology grad student to hang out with me once a week and be my buddy. I must have been a tough nut to crack because after only a few months he ran out of fun things to do with me.

So, he took me to his bar.

It was in downtown Naperville and it had the green glass and low back stools of an Irish Bar you ordered from a kit.  Ostensibly, we went there to play pool and ping pong. But really, he just felt more at ease dealing with this weird kid when he could sit at his bar and be in his safe environment.

We sat at the stools and he had me order root beer for both of us. The mugs were very foamy. By the third time we were there the bartender greeted me by name.

I am sure we played pool much longer than we were sitting at the bar, but that’s the part I recall with any clarity. It was the part that stuck with me.

He stopped hanging out with me soon after. I think I might have told my mother I was not interested in spending time with him, though I am not sure. It was a hell of a long time ago.

There are some of us who love going to bars. Adore the sensation of the stool. The grasp of the cold beer mug, the soul cool of the dark wood interior. If you are lucky to find that place you want to share it. You take your loved ones there. You introduce your girlfriend, your boyfriend, to the regulars with regal formality. Why wouldn’t you want your kid to see the place? To appreciate that wonderful world that is your bar, the bar?

So you have to watch the kid, do you have to abandon your bar life? Well, that is a fine question. A real question. It depends on what you are looking for. It depends on what you think your child needs to learn.

And please do not disregard that last statement. There are lessons for little ones to learn at any bar. That drunk adults are silly. That bartenders have the coolest jobs and that will be a fine thing to be when and if you grow up. That “get your own” is a worthy concept, but that is different from help yourself (bar owners tend to frown at that). Remember that “get your own” is the first step on the road to “be on your own.”  That drinking root beer at the bar might be the basement make believe version of feeling like a man. That despite the countless times you are sent into the bar to bring your father home, you might never find him.  No matter how many doors you open, or how many pint glasses you lift to see what hides underneath, nestled with the coasters, forgotten in the well.

Until Next Time

Dave

Letter from the Drinking Town #5 – The Usual

Dear Worcester

Last Sunday, I celebrated a little time off with a trip to Shrewsbury Street. I have a few new places on that ever mutable street to try. I am not going into the British Beer Company for a gin and tonic because it’s a chain and the world is too big and my liver is too small for me to include chain joints on the tour of places to drink. Case in point, I went into the Usual for a highball cocktail. It is located at 166 Shrewsbury Street. Before the Usual, this was the spot for the Fix. Before that it was Mezcal Cafe. Before that it was Goodfellas. And before that it was a ground level entrance to the Underworld (little known fact).

The Usual is a high end, gourmet sandwich place. It’s fine dining between two hunks of bread. Ah the humble Sandwich. According to a reliable source, namely Jack Palance in an episode of Ripley’s Believe it or Not, the Sandwich was created in order to continue gambling. It was a convenience to throwing your money away, like the Instant Scratch Ticket.

The story that Jack Palance said in him ominous voice was that the Earl of Sandwich loved gambling with cards. Loved it. He was just lousy at it. One night he was losing hard and someone asked to stop playing so they could repair to the dining room and have supper. But Earl was having none of it. He was feeling a lucky streak coming on and he didn’t want to stop, not when the luck was returning. It wasn’t, of course. Earl was an easy mark. He said, “Nuts, I ain’t leaving with this hand burning my fingers. No way. Just cut up some roast and put it in between two hunks of bread and bring it to me here.”

And that, my friends, is how genius works.

And like most stories that stick with you for decades, it has nothing to do with what I am writing about. I just wanted to prove that I know the real skinny about the Sandwich. And now, so do you. Believe it, or not.

The Usual. I walked in at 1:45 on this Sunday afternoon. Four or five of the tables were occupied. At the bar were three groups of people drinking and eating. The bar is in the same place as it was in the last two restaurants that squatted at this address. There was still a tiered dining space, with the top section empty except for an employee of the joint texting on her phone.

It is a clean, simple design. Perhaps we can say boring, but we don’t have to go there. Let’s call it minimal and leave it at that. Two guys were on my left drinking Heinekens talking passionately about people and business. On my right were two other guys hardly speaking to each other. They drank their waters and waited for their sandwiches, occasionally looking up from their phones to tell about a show they streamed or a video that is pretty funny. They might have come from a run or a work out. Or they might have just stumbled out of bed from a long heroic night of Saturday evening carousing.  It was impossible to figure out which was true.

The bartender was bubbly, full of smiles and interest. I got my 8 dollar and forty cent gin and tonic and drank it like it was any gin and tonic. That’s the nice thing about a cocktail. It doesn’t care how much money it is sold for. It is a happy worker and could care less if it goes for three bucks or nine. It supplies the taste and the bubble and the hint of lime no matter what the sticker price states. A gin and tonic is a proud thing and doesn’t care about worth.

The Usual was a lazy, sleepy sunday bar. The food looked fine. Everything was sedate. But it is Sunday after a long Saturday, does anyone want loud laughter and music. I actually was not sure if there was any music playing there. For the most part it was silent like a liquor license monastery. On rare moments with the wind, I could swear I was hearing eighties pop lightly going on somewhere else in the room. This place was made to nurse hangovers.

I left after about twenty minutes feeling that the place was alright, a nice upclass joint for common man food. But I was vaguely dissatisfied. Was this what a Sunday afternoon bar was? Sedate to the edge of coma?

I was walking to my car, parked further down on Shrewsbury Street, and on one of those whims that I wished I trusted more, I walked past my car and looked for another place on the Street that possibly could be more lively. Or maybe I would find every place dead.

I heard voices and aimed for it. I went into the Wormtown Brewery Tap Room. The place was pretty full. About 40 or 50 folk were in there drinking the beer, showing off their flannel shirts and knit caps. If Shrewsbury Street was charted by antiquarian cartographers for a navigational map to sail successfully through this restaurant row, they would have labeled Wormtown Brewery with the admonition, “Here there be hipsters.”  

People were in groups laughing and telling tales and explaining why this beer is superior to other beers and giving long winded evidence for their opinions. I got their Belgian White and it was good, perhaps too hoppy for a white in my tasting, but I was still charmed by the people and the talk and cheer found on a rainy Sunday.

There was a kid, about nine or ten, with his family. The kid was not drinking (officer) but was focusing on his earbuds and his music. He didn’t seem put out, he was happy enough being ignored by the grownups. On seeing him, it put me in mind to all the times I have seen kids in bars. I was lost in thought, leaning against a small tract of wall.

I finished my beer and finally got back to my car. So I saw two types of Sunday afternoons. Silent, sedate, quiet and empty. A place to regroup from a long weekend. Decent food in a decent place. And then there was the place to have the new beer and talk loudly to be heard. A reminder that Sunday afternoon does not mean that the fun and the socialization has to be over.

Neither of them are bad. I can see myself picking either of them on different days, with different moods.  It depends on the place my head is at.

That’s it for now, till next time.

Dante

Letters from the Drinking Town #4 – Leo’s Ristorante

Dear Worcester,

Leo’s is a neon sign on Shrewsbury Street. It’s a fancy curlicue sign with red letters that states “Leo’s.” It makes you think of old times on the shore with the family back when men wore hats. That’s all it ever was for me in the near two decades I have lived in and around Worcester. An art installation more than a restaurant.

The restaurant proper is a few hundred paces back away from the street. I never felt the need to go there. I never heard of anyone recommending it. The only thing I might have been told is that it used to be a great old school Italian place but now the kids are running it and it’s not what it used to be. You hear that thing all the time. “The kids don’t have the heart the old man had for the joint.” That has been said as long as there have been family businesses. It doesn’t mean that it is true.

I have had no desire to try it out for the gin and tonic tour. Maybe because every time I mentioned it, people would pshaw it and say it ain’t worth it. So I skipped it when I hit 144 places for gin and tonics and the world did not break asunder.  I came back to do the new bars and restaurants last year and Leo’s didn’t even cross my mind. Now here I am on the third go round of bars in Worcester and I figured that I might hit the places I overlooked or ignored. While sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, I made a list of joints to hit and get a gin and tonic. For some reason, I caught myself writing down Leo’s. And so that is how it happened.

At 6:45 on a Wednesday (during restaurant week) I parked the car and walked down what felt like a back alley to the front of Leo’s. I wasn’t sure. I felt like a lobby to a forgotten hotel. I found the door and on my right was the mostly empty dining room. Greeted me was a mass produced sign that said, “Seat yourself.”

Okay, call me a snob. But if I want to seat myself, I will get my dinner at a food truck and find a nice bench to rest upon. If I am going to a restaurant that is not known to be cheap, I want someone to greet me at the door with pleasant efficiency. I want them to look at the table chart and find me the best and proper table. I want a smile and a, “This way please.” Is that so much to ask?

Apparently so. No one even acknowledged my confused presence.

I had to navigate the strange old setting myself. I looked down a short hallway and thought it was a good bet there might be a bar there. The pictures on the wall were family portraits, the owner and his wife I guess. It was more like going through a hallway in a friend’s family house, looking for the bathroom then looking for a place to have a drink.

I did find the bar and had an eight dollar gin and tonic. Do I have to even state that it was okay at best. The bartenders seemed preoccupied. There were three couples there at the bar, all eating and drinking. None of the food looked appetizing. They were just pasta with red sauce glopped on it like it was an Italian Restaurant themed horror movie: On Top of Satan’s Spaghetti!!!!

Outside of one of the bartenders, I was the youngest one there by about two decades. And I’m in my late forties. No one was excited to be there. It was the day to go out eating and so they were. I tried to think of something to write about but was stymied. The place is a tired joint filled with tired people.

To make my point, the bathroom has an ad on the wall for Charlton Manor Rest Home/ Assisted Living. I’m not knocking it, they know the right place to advertise. The copy reads in part “We are a small elegant home with many special feature, you will feel like you are visiting a Bed and Breakfast or an Old Inn.” Which is different from the feel at Leo’s – the Neon Sign that Walks Like a Dining Location.

On the wall of the bar area was a large painting that no doubt was purchased at Home Goods. It had a young stylish woman in a black dress at a bar. The bar was classic wood and was inviting. The view was from behind. Her head was turned so you spied her in profile. She held a martini glass aloft. She seemed poised and pleased. I thought to myself, “Why can’t I go there?”

Well that was snarkier than I thought it would be.

Until next time,

Dante of Worcester

A Letter from the Drinking Town #3 – Poetry in Bars and Towels

Dear Worcester,

Every now and then, heading for home, I will stop by Breen’s Cafe to have a beer and watch a little of the Bruins game. I only want to stop there if the Bruins are playing, don’t ask me why. For whatever reason, if I get the chance, that’s where I want to watch hockey.

Last week, the Bruins were playing and I was driving by, so I stopped and got a beer (this is not one of those letters where I write about a new bar to try a gin and tonic in. This is a letter about being at a bar in Worcester and what I and others find in those moments. I figure I will share these with you, if you don’t mind.) The Bruins were doing just fine and the beer was cold. People were talking and having a nice time.

And then I had to use the men’s room.

It’s a bar. There is beer. This is an act that occurs often in such an establishment. I went into the stall and noticed a linen tea towel framed and hung above the toilet. There was a poem on the towel, an old yellowing thing. Around the words were the pearly gates, bottles of spirits, a glass of wine. The things you expect in a bar. Well, maybe not the pearly gates. But that is in the poem.

 

Let me give you the words to the poem that greeted me in the bathroom stall in Breen’s.

He deserves a hero’s medal for the many lives he’s saved, And upon the Roll of Honour his name should be engraved. He deserves a lot of credit for the way he stands the strain. For the yarns he has to swallow would drive most of us insane.

He must pay the highest licence, he must pay the highest rent. He must battle with his bank and pay their ten percent. And when it comes to paying bills, he’s always on the spot. He pays for what he sells, whether you pay him or not.

And when you walk into his Bar, he’ll greet you with a smile. Be you a workman dressed in overalls or a banker dressed in style. If you’re Irish English Scotch or Welsh, it doesn’t matter what. He’ll treat you like a gentleman, unless you prove you’re not. Yet the clergy in the pulpit and the preacher in the hall. Will assure him that the Churches are against him one and all. But when the Churches plan to hold a ballot or bazaar. They start by selling tickets to the man behind the bar.

When he retires a job well done, to await six feet of soil, Discards his coat and apron, no more on earth to toil. As Saint Peter sees him coming, he will leave those gates ajar. For he knows he had his Hell on Earth, THE MAN BEHIND THE BAR

Now let me say that I didn’t read the poem there. I just realized what it was and took a picture of it on my phone. I then did a search and found it on the internet. Cut and paste and here it is. I didn’t do much heavy lifting. I learned that this poem has been around for a long time. In some places, the poet is Hasty Peter. Hasty writing from Hasty Peter. But for the most parts it is an anonymous poem to be read in a bar for a bar audience.

Which brings up the question, was I expected to read it right there in the toilet stall? Was I going to give me much respected private time to the reading of bar poetry? In the past, were there lines for the john as people finished reading the fine literature waiting for them there?

Before cell phone cameras and internet searches, how did anyone read poetry in public? Did people stand in front of framed tea towels in bars across the county and quietly and conscientiously study the words of the beer soaked bards? Was there slurred discussion of metaphor and hyperbole? Well, there is always metaphor in hyperbole in every bar conversation.

Have we lost one of the great joys of bar going. The reading of accidental literature? I have already said that there needs to be an art walk of bars. Do we need a poetry walk through bars as well? I don’t know if that’s necessary, there is so much poetry in bars to begin with.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love that Breen’s has this piece of doggerel in the bathroom. It feels like what an Irish sports bar should do. It is honest and fun. I know of a few bars that put up the sports page behind plexiglass above bathroom urinals. Getting a tea towel poem is just so much better than the Red Sox box scores.

The poem ain’t much. And it is a little exaggerated about the plight of the man behind the bar, and the rhyme scheme is a little haggard. But like I said, a bar should always have poetry in it, even the stilted kind.

Till Next Time

Dante of Worcester