Saturday, August 13, 2016

We walk into a bar in Maine

Drouthy Bear Pub, Camden, Maine
The Drouthy Bear Pub, Camden, Maine

It was certainly a close thing, but the final measurement was 301 feet. Andrew Stewart converted a bed and breakfast into The Drouthy Bear Pub, and part of the permit process was to ensure the new pub would not be within 300 feet of a church or school. And there was a Congregational Church and a Montessori school very nearby.

An official (I believe from the city of Camden) came with a measuring wheel. The measurements were taken from the front door of one building to another. There was some distance to spare to the church, but there was only an extra foot of legal space from the school. To Andrew’s relief, it was enough.

Andrew grew up in Scotland, so it was natural for him to design Drouthy Bear to pay homage to his native land (even the word “drouthy” is a Scottish term for “thirsty”). The mission statement is to serve comfortable food and drink in a community atmosphere.

We came to this charming place upon the recommendation of an online friend, Kate Braestrup, a writer and chaplain to the Maine Warden Service. We met through a political website, and she agreed to get together near her Maine home. We all ordered dinner from a menu featuring tasty Scottish food (that is not a typo or oxymoron) like pasties and haggis and rarebit.  We talked about many things, but eventually we got around to asking the two questions we ask in every bar.

“Kate, what makes for a good bar?”

“Someplace within walking distance of my house.” This is not just a pipe dream. Kate hopes to have a place near her home where she can walk to get coffee in the morning and beer at night, and she hopes Andrew will be the mastermind behind it. Asked to name something else she likes in a bar, she said she looked for a place that is “not too loud. Sometimes it’s just too loud and you can’t hear people talk.”

Which leads right to her answer to “What makes for a good church?” “At the moment,” she said, “Political diversity; ideological diversity.” She argues that our inability to listen to people with different opinions is going to “make us stupid.” She also appreciates good music and an enthusiastic choir. “I like small. I like knowing people, knowing and being known,” although she said she doesn’t often have the opportunity to go to a big church. She laughingly added, “I appreciate a thought provoking, brilliant sermon” (more often than not, when she’s at church, she’s preaching).

Halfback Farm Cider and Crabbies Ginger Beer, Drouthy Bear Pub
Dinner being done, we left the dining table to waiting customers and went to the bar where Mindy ordered a Crabbie Ginger Beer, and I ordered a Whaleback Farm Cider. I would love to visit a whale farm.

A man standing next to Mindy was waiting for his drinks. When Mindy asked, he said his name was Giancarlo (which we forgot to ask how to spell. Please correct us!). He not only had ready answers for our questions, he put his reasons in numerical order. “1) A bartender who is pleasant and willing to serve. 2) Lighting. As a performing musician I’ve come to see its importance. 3) It should be like a living room.” He had numerical answers for the church question as well. “1) An environment where families can unite. 2) It should not just carry on traditions, but carry on the meanings of the traditions. 3) The clergy in the church should act as friends and tutors.”

We had a good time talking with Liz and Michael, on the other side of us at the bar. Both of them are employed in food services. Liz particularly expressed a desire to see the country. When asked our questions, Michael said he appreciates a bartender who’s happy and greets people. “It’s great when they remember your name. Andrew here makes you feel welcome.”

As for what makes for a good church, Liz spoke of “a sense of community and inclusiveness. I would like a little diversity in mine, too.”

Michael admitted he hadn’t been to church for a long time. Both he and Liz were raised in the Catholic Church, and he felt that if he goes to church, it should be a Catholic Church. LIz goes to all kinds of churches. Michael also said, “When things suck, I pray to God. When things are great, I don’t.”

I spoke to one other couple who were seated at a table near the bar. Andrew and Ellen. Andrew is from Great Britain, and he met Ellen (an American) online. In response our questions, Andrew said the atmosphere of a bar is important, and that’s defined by the owner, the bar person, and the clientele. The availability of good drinks is important, but he also appreciates good food. Andrew grew up going with to pubs in Great Britain with his parents, when all the drinks were beer and occasionally whiskey, but people expect more these days.

Ellen enjoys energy in a bar, when “you don’t hear anyone’s conversation, but you hear everyone’s conversation.” She doesn’t describe herself as much of a drinker, but thinks a good wine can accent a good meal.

As for what makes for a good church, we adapted the question to what makes for a good synagogue. Andrew was raised in the Church of England, but was willing go with Ellen to a Reformed Synagogue. And he found he was graciously accepted. Ellen considers that openness and acceptance are very important quality in a place of worship. “They’ll bless a child of two males or two females.”

As we were leaving, Giancarlo stopped us. He and his father, Craig, were sitting at an outside table. He said they were also from California and were visiting that part of the country, traveling on their motorcycles. He they were looking for a new place to live, perhaps a place that had both good churches and good bars. We didn’t have any solid answers about where the best place to go would be, but we were delighted to come across other people who were looking.

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