I make no pretense of being part of the downtown Portsmouth scene. My folks were born there, and so was I - the first place I lived was in a little brick duplex at the Atlantic Heights. And I worked there for several years, first as Executive Director of Ballet New England and later during my lengthier stint doing business development for Citizens Bank with an office at the Pleasant Street branch. So I do know Portsmouth, or at least I did, and I've certainly spent my share of time in her restaurants and bars. The Rusty Hammer has always been my favorite, though I'm not a stranger to the Gas Light or RiRa's or the Coat, and like everyone else I was stunned to hear of the fire that consumed the State Street Saloon. Still, while my claim on Portsmouth is legitimate, it's tenuous, too. My center of gravity tends to be further south and west; more Stratham and Exeter than the port city. I understand what it means to have a special relationship with a burg, and I will readily admit that ohers have a much deeper bond with Portsmouth than I do. Still, there are places there I cherish, many of which show up on this list.
One of those is the Brewery - more accurately, the downstairs room at the Brewery known as the Jimmy LaPanza Lounge. Named after a rat pack-esque restauranteur Brewer owner Peter Egelston knew in the New York of the 1970s, the Lounge mixes that anachronistic sentiment with the hipster vibe of contemporary Portsmouth and a tincture of the hat-backward meathead crowd. Velvet paintings of unerotic nudes behind the bar, a low ceiling, shadowy corner tables and a sense of murky unreality give the Jimmy LaPanza a funky mien perfect for Portsmouth - unpretentious, intimate, effortless. My perfect chosen evening in town is dinner at the Hammer and drinks after under the Brewery, losing at pool or winning at shuffleboard.
Ah, the shuffleboard table, site of many a hard-fought booze-soaked donnybrook, with Al Pace or Ben Wheeler, Jeff Frigon or Jen Strickland Cyr or whoever else might turn up. I think we even got Sarah Pace to spin the stones a few times. I also distinctly recall (as will Sarah and Al and Stefani) our encounter with poor henpecked Todd, whoever the heck he was...
It's been too long since our last visit. It's like anything else, you have to practice or your skills erode. I'm sure the shuffleboard will come back to me - or maybe not. But I'd love to find out.