Sunday, January 15, 2006

A Place To Drink

Everyone has one. A place, either in their past or their present, where they have gone to sample adult libations in the company of friends and strangers. Sometimes these places are dark and cozy, with just the right mixture of stale cigarette smoke and peanuts to lend authenticity and heritage. Others are gargantuan clubs, filled with people and lights and music and fun. Give me the former.

At left is pictured the Plough and Stars, once one of my favorite haunts. The Plough is located on Massachusetts Avenue between Central and Harvard Squares in Cambridge, Mass. In other words, between M.I.T. and Harvard. It's a destination to walk to, as parking in nigh impossible and it's smack in-between T-stops.

The Plough is an Irish bar, of course, taking its name from the banner of the Irish Citizen Army during the Easter Rebellion of 1916. (It is most definitely not taken from the infamous Sean O'Casey play that shocked and outraged Ireland.) It's a tiny place, with a long bar on one side and rickety tables on the other and a long bench built into the wall. There's usually a good crowd there everyday, from opening to last call.

I was introduced to the Plough around 1973-74 by friends of my older sister, who also lived in Boston at the time. These two gents, whose names are lost to me but whose faces I will never forget, ran their own business: Deathwish Piano Movers -which, thanks to Google, I am happy to report apparently thrives to this day. As piano movers should be, these guys were roughly the size of cement trucks. They were also avid rugby players, a game that was utterly foreign to me. But they sized me up, and then over a few pints of Guinness at the Plough convinced me that rugby was a game that would suit my build and temperament. Being a young, cocky idiot, I agreed to give the game a try the following Saturday. It was the single most painful experience of my life. I never played again. But I had found the Plough, and to me that was sufficient reward.

The Plough catered to a strange mix of blue collar locals, students, professors, and ex-pat Irish terrorists (I'm not positive about the last). Walk in, say, around four in the afternoon, and you'd see a bicycle mechanic lacing a wheel while enjoying a good pipe and playing chess with a Harvard physics professor. Conversation came easy at the bar while you waited for the barkeep to draw a perfect pint of stout. It can't be hurried, so patience was a key ingredient to being a welcomed guest of the Plough. Sometimes things got a little fuzzy. Like the time I took to talking to a German motorcycle tourist and he showed me how good a Guinness tastes with a shot of Jameson Irish Whiskey added. To this day I honor that unknown lad by calling the concoction a "Hamburg Sidecar." But trust me on this, folks: be very careful with this one, or you will be dusting the floor from your shoulder.

On Sundays there was a jazz brunch. Local guys and students from Berkley School of Music would jam while you quaffed your morning pint with the paper. Good food, too. Things like lamb stew and corned beef and cabbage were usually available. The music was the thing, though. It was so cramped that sound systems weren't necessary, and any Johnny with a fiddle or pipe could play whenever he wanted. (One day I'll tell you the story of St. Patrick's Day, the one-legged fiddler, and the older woman.)

The last time I was in the Plough must have been in the early 90's. I was in Boston on business and had some time to kill after a day of meetings. I wasn't sure if it was going to be as I had remembered, or whether the damned yuppies had wrecked it. It was comforting to see that, short of a fresh coat of paint on the door, the Plough looked just the same. I stepped inside and the memories of a squandered youth cheered my soul. Same people, different time. Same me.

The pint was perfect.


Anonymous said...

Do you like Black and Tans (Guinness and a yellow lager)? Or should this be in the other thread?

Confused, but sympathetic to the whole notion of lost youth and old bars to hang out in -

"Don Brouhaha" (?)

spd rdr said...

The Plough could pour a perfect Black and Tan (Guinness and Bass Ale) and a marvelous Half & Half (Guinness and Harp Lager). Mmmmm, good.

portia said...

Was that you dusting the floor with your shoulder?

Phew! I thought you were going to tell us that Plough & Stars was going the way of the 2nd Avenue Deli. I was never at Plough & Stars at 4PM, but my college girlfriends and I stopped by there a number of times after one too many disastrous nights at MIT mixers during our freshman year. One never goes to a MIT mixer after freshman year:) so I didn't frequent it much after that. By then, I had moved on to the Algiers Coffee Shop on Brattle Street where I drank strong coffee--among other spirits--smoked even stronger cigarettes, and argued politics well into the night. Too bad, Sunday brunch at the Plough & Stars sounds right up my alley.

FWIW, I did date a rugby player from Harvard for a few months from whom I learned that "happiness is a good ruck." Heh. Pleasure without protection, indeed...those guys are f***ing nuts!

spd rdr said...

Indeed. Nuts, and most likely missing a few teeth.

portia said...

...and most likely missing a few teeth.

If not a few "nuts."
As we were fond of saying before the days of PETA: "Be kind to animals...kiss a rugby player."

But I digress...:)

Anonymous said...

I have a friend (and he's Irish, of course) who makes Black and Tans with Guinness and Sam Adams.

But I guess this was classically made with Bass. Yum. -

"Don Brouhaha" (?)

spd rdr said...

Should this be a regular feature of Heigh-ho?
I've got a million of them.

portia said...

Black and Tans with Guinness and Sam Adams? You guys are making me thirsty:)

I think we should take the proprietor of HH up on his offer, and urge spd to take his loyal readers on a worldwide pub crawl of his favorite watering holes. Drinks are on the, blog, yes?

[We're] comin' up so you better get this party started....Pink.

spd rdr said...

A pub crawl?
I like it.

portia said...

I think we need a theme...Maybe "Stouts" I have loved? Nah, that will take forever:) Better yet, a literary pub crawl! Throw in a quote or two, a little Shakespeare, some Yeats--a lot of Dylan Thomas--and we'll get us some culture as we crawl.

spd rdr said...

Thanks, Portia. But I don't think so. I'll just think about stuff and then write it down. This whole blog just works that way. No rules.

portia said...

No big deal. spd. Whatever jogs your blog:)
But that doesn't mean I won't throw in a verse or two, like:

I'm drinking doubles now that you're running around single again.
-Willie Nelson

Ya know, high-brow stuff:)

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