Since putting the call out for write-ups of your favourite pub, I’ve received several e-mails filled with interesting stories and places. I’ll be trickling a few out from time to time, but please, if you want to contribute go to this post to read about it and e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
This post is from Ian Campbell in Massachusetts. And while it isn’t a place where everyone knows his name, he knows the place quite well.
I tend to split my time between working and blogging at kleptofuturist.com. And I have to admit, with shame in my eyes: I’m not a beer drinker. The stuff’s too heavy for my stomach most days.
But I do love a fine whisky.
There’s a bar in my hometown that I go to maybe once a month, which is more frequently than any other bar. You might qualify it as an anti-pub, very much a whole in the wall. I go specifically because no one knows my name. I find the furthest booth from people that I can, which is hard because the entire place has less square footage than my apartment. And living large I am not.
But when a place persists in the collective memory of your family for sixty years you can either honor it or risk it haunting you.
The Blue Plate Lounge in Holden, Massachusetts is small and dark. There is nothing special about the building, a one-story hovelesque woodframe painted in subdued tones of blue and gray. The windows are frosted with age and one’s been broken for several years. After a few drinks I’ll stare at that broken pane and wonder what happened, catch myself creating totally involved narratives. And remind myself to pace myself a little further out on my next drink.
Located right on Main Street, it shares a parking lot with a seasonal greenery on one side and a liquor store on the other. The beeping of large trucks in reverse is ever-present thanks to the town’s highway department being just a few hundred feet up a side road. I’ve attached a picture from their Facebook page (I didn’t even know they HAD a Facebook page) because I’m not sure how kindly they’d react to me whipping out a camera. The Blue Plate Lounge screams low-key these days.
Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti read his work here. Spiritual heavy Ram Dass had a beer at the bar and then gave a two-hour talk.
The legend of the Blue Plate is a long and strange trip. The now deceased co-owner was a recovering addict. Named Tiny for the same reason that any man is named Tiny, he acted as driver and bodyguard for the Dalai Lama during the latter’s trips to the US in the eighties. Tiny also spearheaded a number of community projects, helping other addicts recover or assisting Tibetan immigrants in escaping the Chinese. His heart and hugs were the only things that dwarfed his stature and his story is one of the reasons I’m always drawn to this place.
I also come here because it’s part of my story, or at least my family’s. Legend has it that my grandfather took my father here at age eight or so after telling my grandmother they were going ice fishing. He even loaded gear into the car. No ice was fished. Instead football was on order, a snowy away game amidst a nondescript day at home. This snow was my grandfather’s undoing.
Upon the two of them returning home my grandmother exclaimed over how much snow fell during the football game. My dad, unknowing, eight, responded “I know! We saw the whole thing!” The whole sordid business unmasked, granddad placed squarely in the doghouse, this event earned a firm place in the oral tradition of my family.
“Honor it or it haunts you” becomes an even starker imperative when I admit that I never met my father’s father. He died before my birth.
None of the people at the Blue Plate know this story.
None of them know my name.
I find an isolated booth and lay down my bag. Cross the dance floor in two and a half steps. Get to the bar in five, passing an aged lottery machine. Rustle myself up a whisky and return to my booth. The looks I get tell me that not many patrons come to write, not many sit down and pull out an iPad or a notebook. But they don’t bother me and likewise. There’s a respectful gulf between us. They see a man at work and leave him alone.
That gulf leaves just enough room for me to get some writing done. And occasionally allows for a glimmer of the past. Ferlinghetti or Ram Dass upon the five foot square stage smoking and riffing. Or a man I never met and his young son sitting at the bar and watching a snow-covered football game in black and white.
I catch the briefest of glimpses and turn back to my notes. When I want a refill I find my way back to the bar.