Saturday, June 23, 2018

2016 Memories: Connecticut and Rhode Island

We want to recognize some of the wonderful people we met during 2016 whose stories didn't fit into Cheers and Amen, the book about our adventure of visiting a bar and a church in every state. We'll be sharing some of our favorite posts. 

Mystic, Connecticut
Originally posted 7/16/2016

“One night a group of Navy Seals, about eight guys, came in here already drunk. Those guys were crazy, and they were here for about three hours, and we were all talking the whole time and telling stories. But then one of the guys said to me, ‘Doc, it’s been good talking to you but you’ve heard too much, and I’m going to have to kill you. And he put his arm around my neck, and I was thinking these guys are trained killers and he could easily snap my spine, but then he gave me noogies.”

“Doc” said I could use this story, but he didn’t want to be interviewed. He said as a psychiatrist he spends enough time giving out to people through the day that he doesn’t feel like giving out more. He said at the bar he never talks about religion or politics. But he did talk -- to us and the other people at the Harp and Hound, a pub in the beautiful fishing and tourist town, Mystic, CT.

He wasn’t the only talker. Throughout the evening there was a lively continuing conversation between a number of patrons at the the bar.

We first went to Mystic the night before to get pizza. We were staying with friends in nearby Gales Ferry, and we couldn’t resist picking up dinner from the pizzeria in the old Julia Roberts’ film. While we were waiting for the pizza to be ready, we noticed the Harp and Hound. The music schedule listed  “Local Band” performing on Friday night, and that sounded like fun.

A couple of bicycles are leaning against the front of the building, and a sign says these bikes belonged to cyclists who found this wonderful pub and they would eventually be back to get their bicycles. But we were there two days in a row and the bikes hadn’t moved. We suspect someone is making up stories. While talking to people at Harp and Hound, we got the impression that people there like to make up stories.

There’s a figure painted on the wall by the bar. I asked Kelly the bartender who it was, and she said it was “Tom.” (Some call him “Tom Collins”) She said she’d heard Tom was the boss’s wife’s grandfather. Someone else said it was the same guy seen with a bicycle on another wall who may be the foundation of the story outside. Kelly said that she had heard a number of stories about who the fellow was because Irish people liked to tell stories, but in fact she had no idea who he was supposed to be.

Though I like yarns as much as the next guy, I was pleased that I had some conversations in the bar where people seemed to be telling the truth.

I sat next to Daniel. He’s been coming to the Harp and Hound for the last four years, since the Navy stationed him in Mystic. He’s a submariner and has been in the service for the last seven years. For the first two to three years of his service, he moved a lot and couldn’t put down any roots, but he’s been able to here. His apartment is just a couple of blocks from the pub, and he said that he was able to make friends quickly in the bar. He considers bartenders Kelly and Shannon (and their boyfriends) good friends. He said there was a group of ten to fifteen regulars that he also considers friends.

I asked him the two questions we always ask, “What makes for a good bar?” and “What makes for a good church?”

He said he’s never been a bar hopper. He was just looking for a quiet place where he could talk to people, and he found that at the Harp and Hound. He said that the place had been a hangout for firefighters. (Above a mirror behind the bar there is a firefighter’s hat hanging that Daniel said belonged to a firefighter named Zach who had since passed. But Zach was an inspiration to many firefighters, and he encouraged many to join. I think Daniel saw something in common with that firefighter camaraderie with his service in the Navy.

I figured Daniel had some experience in the church, or at least with Christians, because earlier in the evening he made a comment when a Switchfoot song played from the speakers above. “Didn’t expect to hear that playing here.” He said he listened to a fair deal of Christian rock, “Just because it’s good music.”

I wondered at the moment whether he was still a church goer, so I asked, “What would make for a good church?”

He said, “Some place I wouldn’t dread attending.” He grew up in Texas, and his family regularly attended church. But he was an awkward teen, six feet tall at fourteen years old, and he never felt accepted in youth group; he always felt like an outsider. He joined the choir as a teen so he wouldn’t have to hang out with the other kids. During his teen years he only had a couple of friends. He said it was a great thing  when he joined the Navy and found a bunch of “other misfits” and suddenly had a large group of guys he could hang out with.

He doesn’t go to church now because “the Navy taught me to sleep whenever you got a chance,” so Sunday mornings are just too inviting a chance to sleep in, whether from hard work or just to “sleep one off.” He mentioned one thing he liked about Mystic was the chimes of the Baptist Church. At six o’clock the chimes play old hymns like “Great is Thy Faithfulness” or “How Great Thou Art,” hymns from his youth.

Daniel does go to church sometimes when he visits his parents. While he was growing up, his father managed a restaurant and also going to school. He graduated when Daniel went in the Navy. Now his father pastors a church, and Daniel said the congregation loves his father.

Next to Daniel was a couple, Joe and Shannon (yup, two Shannons in an Irish pub). They were also locals, out for their first date since the birth of their second child a few weeks earlier. Joe had a quick, succinct answer for what makes for a good bar, “Good friends and cold beer.” He then amended that, “I don’t even care it’s warm beer, if you’re having a good time with good friends, it doesn’t matter.” He noted that the beer is often warm when he’s golfing with friends, and that’s okay.

As for a church, Joe said he prefers “One that doesn’t make you stand a lot.”

Daniel said, “You must not be Catholic.”

Joe said, “No, I grew up Catholic.” Everyone agreed that was a reasonable source for his distaste for church standing. His wife, Shannon, grew up Methodist.

She said she thinks a church should be “a place that feels inviting, where people communicate with you.” As to the form worship should take, she thought a church should be “casual, but true to its roots.” She also appreciates a place that’s community oriented and said a good church should, “you know, believe in God.”

Shannon and Joe had left their new baby at home with her mother. “This is my first drink in ten weeks,” Shannon said. This remark brought on much teasing, and she quickly corrected herself, “I meant ten months.”

While I was talking to Daniel, Mindy had been getting acquainted with Rich and June. When she told them that they could lie about their first names, Rich assured Mindy that he always tells the truth. She asked him what he looks for in a bar, and he said, “The staff makes it, and management can destroy it.”

June said she thought the bartenders were most important, and Rich added that everybody at the Harp and Hound “is good to visitors” even though (as far as we could tell) patrons tend to be locals, even on a Friday night in the summer.

When Mindy asked them what made for a good church, June said that for the last couple of years she’d been looking for a church where she could feel comfortable. Recently, she’d visited one congregation with an interim pastor where “the service was a little too kumbaya, and the sermon was weak.” She added, “I like a strong sermon, and I like fellowship and singing.”

Rich had some ideas about church that we hadn’t really heard before. He said he was looking for “something really rare: both leadership and congregation are Christians who leave politics at the door.” He grew up in Congregational churches, and he’s looking for a congregation to talk about “the fundamentals of Christianity, and it seems many talk about anything but.” When he was young, he said, it seemed like the church talked about “what Christ taught, not just abstract, but acted out in missions and ministries.” From that base, he says, the Church should be an institution to help people.

“The job of church is not to promote a political side, but to talk about what Christ teaches,” he said. He wondered if maybe the problem today is that people expect from government what they used to get from churches. He added that he’s seen a lot of good people in pastoral roles who weren’t good enough in the eyes of the congregation. “In my mind, the pastor is human. I don’t expect him to be perfect.”

We had arrived at The Harp and Hound around 7:00 pm. When we were leaving around 9:00 pm, the local music we had seen advertised was about to begin. That was all right. We had a wonderful time in conversation. (The Black and Tan Onion Rings weren’t bad either.)

Matunuck, Rhode Island
Originally posted 7/23/2016

Two women rode down the street on their horses and left them in the tented area beside the building as one of them went into the bar for drinks. Ocean Mist seems to be the kind of place that attracts a loyal clientele --not all human (Since the bar is essentially on the beach,  I’m sure there are some faithful gulls as well).

We’d hoped to see this kind of thing in Dodge City, Kansas, but instead we found equestrian drinkers on the East Coast. One of the horses has been coming to the Ocean Mist bar in Matunuck, Rhode Island, for most of his 21 years, and he’s rather fond of hard lemonade (he likes carrots, but they don’t have any in the ‘Mist).

Folks at the bar we visited in Connecticut had recommended Ocean Mist, but we found it without looking when we were driving in the area near our campground at Burlingame State Park (actually, we’d made a wrong turn while looking for this week’s church). Our friends at the Harp and Hound weren’t the only ones recommending the Ocean Mist. In 2009, Esquire Magazine called it one of the best bars in America.

The bar overlooks the Atlantic, and there is a bit of beach below the patio. We hear that before Hurricane Sandy, the beach used to be bigger, with room for a volleyball court and more, but storms have eroded the beach. Plans for the best way to restore it are currently under debate, but there is still a beautiful view of the ocean, which you can see on their webcam when you can’t make it there in person.

Mindy and I hadn’t had a chance to eat before we arrived, so we bought our dinner (burgers) along with our drinks (Spiked Soda and Copper Ridge cabernet). I sat next to a gentleman who was still decompressing after an adventurous afternoon.

Mike had been out on the beach, and the current was strong, with perhaps some riptides here and there. A number of people were fighting the pull, including a young girl, perhaps nine years old. She was being pulled out, and Mike swam out to bring her back in. There was a bit of a panic with people on the shore screaming. The lifeguard was a ways down the beach, so Mike could get to the girl more quickly. (Someone else in the bar confirmed the story a little later, as if it needed confirmation. I guess most all bar stories could use a little confirmation here and there.)

Like a number of people we spoke to that evening, Mike isn’t local. He works in food service in Connecticut (catering and a food truck). His family dates itself in the Colonies back to the 1620’s. All the women in his family belong to the Daughters of the American Revolution (though not the three year old granddaughter he showed me a picture of on his phone; she’ll apply someday). Mike participates on occasion in Revolutionary War reenactments, and he told me that seventeen of his ancestors were involved in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

I asked him our perennial two questions: “What makes for a good bar?” and “What makes for a good church?” Mike said that in the food business, location and atmosphere are very important. In those two categories, Ocean Mist obviously has a built in advantage. (I was reminded of the woman we talked to in Hawaii who said what made for a great bar was a beautiful ocean view. Same idea here, different ocean.)

Mike added that said in this part of the country,  it was important that restaurants do a good job with seafood. He said he comes to this place about once a year, but today he had a taste for tuna. As for the bar side of the business, a good atmosphere, staff, and clientele all play a part. The staff must be able to make people feel comfortable.

About that time, one of the younger servers asked Mike if he wanted something else to drink, saying, “I can’t serve anything with alcohol, but I could have someone else get something for you.” Not long after that, Mike ordered a beer from an older server behind the bar.

When I asked him what makes for a good church, Mike said, “Any house of worship that welcomes people of any denomination or race.” Friendliness was what he considered the highest priority.

Meanwhile, Mindy had struck up a conversation with one of the waitstaff and a couple sitting next to her at the bar. “Sully,” the waiter (he wasn’t sure he’d remember that name for the entire conversation, but Mindy assured him she would), said that he thinks a good bar is made up of a combination of good staff and good customers. “They reflect each other,” he said, adding that the community is a close-knit one, and that even during the summer (tourist season, when the population more than doubles) there’s a sense of tradition. For some summer visitors, he said, visiting Ocean Mist is “like a pilgrimage.”

He said it’s been a long time since he went to church, but he thought that a good church probably starts with “the priest or minister or whoever it is.” He feels that it’s important for the leaders in the church to be a positive reflection “of whatever they’re reflecting,” and that a church should help people “no matter who or what they are without being judgmental.”

When Mindy had started talking to Sully, a woman sitting a seat or two away joined in the conversation. Celine said that “atmosphere” was, for her, the most important element of a good bar. She likes that Ocean Mist is a family place (during the day, it’s common for families with children to eat at the tables with a view of the water; as the evening goes on, the crowd has fewer children and more young adults) and that, after 30 years, it’s still standing.

She and her husband, Mark, have been coming to Ocean Mist for years. They live in western Massachusetts, but they’ve spent time on this part of the Rhode Island shore every summer for years. “Our kids wanted this to be where they had their first legal drink when they turned 21,” she said. “The bartenders remember us from year to year,” even recognizing them when the family met a group from the bar on a field trip in New York.

She’s a faithful churchgoer, attending her local Catholic church most Sundays when she’s at home and visiting churches that look interesting when she’s away. For her, it’s a good church “as long as the priest can give a good sermon,” the church is community and family oriented, and diverse. “You have to accept people for what they are,” she said.

Her husband Mark joined in about then. He said the most important things in a bar, for him, were “good bartenders, atmosphere, and scenery.” He remembered that their daughter learned to walk on the beach outside of Ocean Mist. In thinking about other bars he likes, he said it should be a good place for conversation, and “someplace that you feel safe.”

Mark likes to stop at bars a couple of times a week on the way home from work. He joked about appreciating attractive bar staff, particularly one young bartender who, he said, “thinks of me as a father figure.” He said Celine wasn’t a big fan of this practice, but she didn’t seem to object too strenuously.

“I don’t go to church as much as I used to,” he said, but like Celine, he thinks a great priest is important. A great priest is “honest and truthful, not money-grubbing.” He spoke fondly of a priest who’d served their parish briefly, a man whose marriage had been annulled after his wife had left him. “We have a drink together when we see each other,” he said.

He and Celine agreed that for older people in the congregation, it matters when Mass is celebrated. For younger people, though, there seems to be a sense of “how do you draw us to go to church.”

As we were preparing to leave, the roadies were setting up for the evening’s first band. One of the members of the band, Jesse, was still at the bar. He plays the mandolin and the accordion, and I asked him what he looks for in a bar. He said he likes a place that’s quiet and well stocked with liquor. He said he’s worked as a bartender, but still doesn’t quite get why people go to bars. He says he’d rather have a drink with just one other person. He doesn’t like TVs in bars, and he would rather have a corner where he could read quietly -- but he does appreciate a place with a good selection of rye.

I asked, whether he attended or not, what makes for a good church. He said, “a lot of windows.” He’d attended a wedding at an Episcopal church that had just one window, and it was stifling. He said he appreciates good Gothic architecture.

Jesse then mentioned he was raised Jewish, so I asked what he appreciated in a good synagogue. He said he appreciated a place he could be comfortable in, with good carpets and warm colors. As a musician, he appreciates any place of worship with good acoustics, because “Holy buildings should be made for singing; houses of worship are meant for exaltation.”

Ocean Mist’s beach may have been losing sand over the years, but they have maintained a faithful following of customers.

No comments:

Post a Comment