Friday, January 13, 2006

A Tale of Two Pubs

Waterbury has changed a lot since the last time I lived here. Gone upscale. We’re getting a Shaw’s on Route 100, and I heard it’s going to have a sushi bar. And we have the Alchemist, a brew pub that sells stuff like Belgian-style beers infused with sour cherry right on Main Street, where the sporting goods store was. It also boasts a fine selection of single-malts. The menu features bleu cheese burgers and hand-cut french fries served in fancy metal stands with garlic mayonnaise. The place is done up in metal sculptures and warm earth tones, wood and exposed brick. It looks like the kind of bar where models from a J. Crew catalogue shoot would go for beers after a rosy-cheeked day spent cross-country skiing, chopping wood and baking organic cakes from scratch.

Across Main Street is the The Pub. The Pub is, well, … it’s The Pub. It’s been there, like, forever. I guess it’s the kind of place you go to get drunk if you don’t want anyone to see you doing it. The doorway is on the steep part of Bank Hill, giving it a crooked appearance. Inside it’s dark and grimy, with a couple of pool tables.

The thing I used to love about The Pub was the jukebox, a veritable goldmine of eighties metal. For a handful of linty change you could revisit those after school sessions watching hair bands prance in their spandex on MTV. You could go in there and play “Nobody’s Fool” or the entire White Lion discography and no one would bat an eyelash. Now it’s been replaced by one of those computerized jukeboxes where you can pay extra money for the machine to download any song in existence. Of course, it was all wasted on the customers, who were still listening to the same old shit.

They have two kinds of beer on tap: Bud and Bud Light. They serve other brands by the can. The cans are lined up on a shelf behind the bar. The ladies room is decorated with a framed poster of an oiled, tanned stud emerging from a swimming pool, muscles gleaming. I can only imagine what hangs in the men’s room.

The bartender, Otis, told us that when he first started working there six years ago, it was crazy. Guys would come in and start fights all the time. Over time he barred the troublemakers and bad drunks, one by one, until they were all locked out. They all drink at the American Legion now, around the corner on Stowe Street. And the Pub is often almost empty, just a few weathered folks quietly sipping their beers at the counter. The shouts and broken bottles, the ghosts of old fights, linger in the air like stale tobacco smoke.

Things are good at the Alchemist. It’s been packed ever since it opened its doors a couple of years ago, and since they don’t take reservations, you almost always have to wait for a table if you want to eat. An artists’ studio and gallery has opened upstairs. At some point they’re going to open for lunch and expand into the space next door.

But things aren’t so good at The Pub. It’s not as busy as it used to be. A developer bought the building on the corner of Bank and Stowe streets that the bar is located in. They’re renovating it, the scaffolding is already up. Retail units. Rumors have been flying around town that The Pub is closing any day now, booted out of the building like a troublesome drunk. You can hear the relief in people’s voices when they tell you about it. But Otis told me that the lease doesn’t expire until summer of 2007. It’s not going anywhere, for a while at least.