Saturday, July 23, 2016

We walk into a bar in Rhode Island

Ocean Mist Beach Bar,

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.

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