The National

When this bar is mentioned in polite company, the reaction is an odd mix of trepidation, fear, disdain, challenge, condescending attitude, and a dose of curiosity. Located on the foot of Union Street, by Route 18, it has long had a reputation, deserved or not, of a place where heroin and hookers were readily available, where panhandling and drunken fights were common, and the threatening flash of a knife blade was not unknown. Even other local barkeeps don't hesitate to use words like "whores", "crackheads" and "scumbags" when describing the clientèle at the National. That said, most of those barkeeps have probably never stepped into the place. But the NB Barflies have. And to be frank, Mr. Draft and the rest of the League of Extraordinary Drinking Gentlemen entered the National with a swagger of equal parts boldness and caution, expecting the worst. And, ya'know, it just wasn't that bad. It is dingy and dark, and the half-dozen or so men at the bar swung their heads to the door to see who was coming in but that was as confrontational as it got. One sees history in the National, unpolished and un-yuppiefied. The walls are dark wood, reminiscent of many old bars in Boston and Manhattan. An old hand-painted menu advertises omelets, cheeseburgers, and other items, although the kitchen has been closed for years. The menu also includes a caricature of Gilly, a long gone short-order cook. The same style full-length urinal that Mr. Merlot admired at FINS was in the restroom at the National, although this one was badly in need of one of those bagel-sized mints or a bucket of ice to dilute the overwhelming aroma. Way above the urinal, at ceiling height, was an old bumper sticker suggesting an Exxon boycott. As was to be expected, the draft selection was marginal, so Mr. Draft had a bottle of Heineken, as did Mr. Merlot. Mr. Mix drank some oddity called a J-Bomb, which included a shot of Jaegermeister surrounded by a moat of Red Bull, which he sipped like a first-year college girl instead doing it like a shot as recommended by the jovial barmaid. The barmaid, whose name escapes me, was very friendly and wondered from where we came. Mr. Draft assumes we didn't fit the usual National customer profile. At one point, Mr. Merlot (borrowing loose change from Mr. Draft) wandered over to a vending machine in search of a snack, and instead came back with white handkerchiefs, hermetically sealed in plastic packaging, having bought souvenirs for his fellow Barflies (with Mr. Draft's loose change.) As to panhandling: one must have a certain respect for an establishment that posts a sign that reads: "If you don't have 1.) money 2.) cigarettes 3.) alcoholic beverages,, get the f--k bums, leeches, mooches or lowlifes allowed. Management." I guess it's okay to beg for change for handkerchiefs. (By the way, Mr. Draft doesn't use dashes as letter substitutes- those were provided by the National, with respect for the delicate sensibilities of their patrons.) Of note was a bit of graffiti in the restroom, which was basically a resume for a first mate and rigger looking for work on a boat. It said he'd do "anything for work. Almost anything." The "almost anything" being a rather important footnote considering the location of the posting. Mr. Mix said that the graffiti depressed him....if his pre-visit impression of the National was that it was a mean dog, it now was a mean dog that had been beaten. All things considered, the Barflies rather enjoyed the visit to the National, and although it is unlikely that we will return with our wives or consider it a New Year's Eve hot spot, I rate it a 4. (Roll Call: Mr. Draft, Mr. Mix, Mr. Merlot, Mr. Light Weight)

1 comment:

Horror Tang said...

Oh you are so crazy. You went to the National.