Friday, August 5, 2016

We walk into a bar in New Hampshire

8ne5 Manchester, New Hampshire
815, Manchester

When I was young, my Aunt Lola gave me a pop-up knock knock joke book that I loved. Little did I know at the time, the book would get me into a bar.

You are extremely unlikely to find the 815 bar when you’re walking down Elm Street in Manchester, New Hampshire. There is no sign for the place along the street. If you go inside the doorway at that address, you’ll see a stairway in front of you and, on your right, there’s a directory for the businesses in the building. One business is listed simply as “8ne5”.  At the top of the stairway, a small signboard reads “Looking for the password?” and then gives options for getting the password through Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. It also gives the option of telling the a knock knock joke.

Mindy went up first because she had found the password on Facebook when she researching the bar (or as it likes to be called, “the speakeasy”). There is a “brick wall” next to an old fashioned wall phone that looks like a prop from a gangster movie from the 1930’s.  There’s a button abover the phone that says “press here.” A voice asks for a password. Mindy gave the password, and she jumped when the “brick wall” slid away and she was invited in. (And if you think we’re going to share the top secret password at the blog here, well, I’m disappointed you think we have so little discretion.)

I rang the bell and said I didn’t have the password. So the voice asked for a knock knock joke. The difficulty for me here was to choose from so many options. Perhaps,  “Knock Knock” “Who’s there?” “Robin!” “Robin who?” “I’m robbin’ you, so hand over all your money!” But would they let me in with such a clear criminal intent? I considered, “Knock Knock” “Who’s there?” “Denial.” “Denial who?” “De Nile is a river in Egypt.” But that might be a little cerebral. So I went with, “Knock Knock” “Who’s there?” “Artichoke.” “Artichoke who?” “Artie chokes when he eats too fast.” And it did the trick. I was in.

The decor is a mix of prohibition era style with splashes of modern art. The whole staff can be seen in mugshot photos on one of the walls. 815 is only a year and a half old, but they’re working on the interior. The place had been closed the day before to replace the flooring behind the bar.

There are a variety of beers and ales on tap and a menu with cocktails and wines. Mindy had a Plum Peach Shrub. I couldn’t resist ordering a Vieux Carre, because Vieux Carre Baptist Church in New Orleans was one of my favorite stops this year. Both of us were pleased with our choices.

Meg was working behind the bar, so I asked her a bit about the place. In keeping with the speakeasy theme, the bar uses no public advertising and relies on social media and word of mouth. But that seems to have been enough to bring in a steady stream of customers, both visitors and regulars.

She told me about some the unique challenges of running a bar with New Hampshire liquor laws. The state government controls the alcohol business. Alcohol can’t be shipped from out of state to individuals or privately owned businesses. The state decides what will purchased, so a customer might come in looking for a particular brand that the state decided not to keep in stock. Meg said it really wasn’t much of a problem, but it is a strange local quirk.

I asked Meg a question we always ask, “What makes for a good bar?” She said the number one thing is a friendly staff, “People with come then, even if you’re just serving Coors Light.” She likes to go to a nearby place where she orders IPA because she loves the bartenders, but she said she does appreciate a good product and a knowledgeable and passionate staff.

When we ask people their name, we often say they can lie about that if they want. Since I saw her real name on the wall, I knew the woman at the door was lying when she said her name was “Paris,” but she knew I knew. It certainly seemed in keeping with her role as speakeasy doorkeeper. Paris has been working there for nearly a year, and she came first as a customer. She’s going to college, and this is the first bar she’s worked in.

I asked Paris what made for a good bar. She said it was important to have a comfortable setting. She made the connection that a comfortable setting is important for a church as well. She also talked about the importance for a bar and a church to have a sense of community.

Meanwhile, Mindy was talking to Brandon. He’s from San Francisco and was at 815 with a friend who’s a bartender. He was quick to say that bartenders who were attentive and tactful made for a good bar, but articulating his answer to our church question took him a little longer. “A good church evolves with the times,” he said. “It’s kind of an ‘old pope, new pope’ thing. The church should be people who are willing to wash other people’s feet, regardless.”

Mindy also chatted with Josh, the newest of the bartenders (it was his first night there). He said a good bar had “atmosphere,” which he said included decor, lighting, and the general mood of the place; “talented, original music;” and good staff. Those elements, he said, lead to “decent clientele, which wraps the whole thing up.”

A good church, Josh said, needed “understanding people” who don’t judge, rather than what he called “old-school fascists who ruin it.” He said a church can function a family, and he appreciates a church with good local outreach. One local church that he felt did that well was Manchester Christian Church: “They do a lot for the homeless in the community.”

Andrew was also behind the bar*. He said that a good bar was based on circumstance. “Sometimes I want to go to a bar and just be there. Other times, I want to interact; try new food, try new cocktails.” He values the ability of a bar to adapt to customers’ needs. Essentially, he said, “It’s there when you want it.”

A good church, Andrew said, should make a person feel accepted, “especially if you’re new. That community welcoming you into the community.”

We paid our tab, and before leaving I stopped talk to a couple at the bar, Erik and Amanda. I asked what made for a good bar and Erik said, “We look for different things. I look for a place that is dark and woody. A place to hide if you need to or want to.”

Amanda said she’d worked as a bartender for years, so she appreciated a knowledgeable staff. “It could be in a shoebox as long as they know what they’re doing.” But then she took back that shoebox remark a bit saying, “I’m a sucker for an outdoor patio setting.”

I asked them what made for a good church, and Amanda said, “It depends on if they serve booze or not.”

Erik said he had been raised Irish Catholic and preferred to keep his distance from church. We talked some more about other bars in the area. About one of them, Erik said, “It’s just as well you didn’t go there. It’s full of millennials and they have nothing of interest to say.”

I was glad we didn’t go there as well. We were happy with 815, but don’t tell anyone we sent you. Let’s keep it on the down low.

*bartender glossary: "behind the stick" is the term Andrew used to describe where bartenders work. Feel free to use it in everyday conversation now that you know it.

No comments:

Post a Comment