Sometimes you need to lose yourself to know where you are going.
Weak winter sun filtered in through the unwashed plastic safety windows of the subway car as it made its way steadily south, away from Boston. Destination: Braintree. End of the line.
Yet it was a beginning.
The game at hand: A Red Line Pub Hop.
The rules were simple. Get on the subway, ride for an indiscriminate amount of time then exit at a random stop. The first pub you see is your destination. It is a peculiar bar crawl that suspends all sense of time and place in a dizzying, inebriating adventure.
Previously, I had only played this game in New York. Unlike New York, the Boston metro is not a ubiquitous entity. There are fewer lines and each is distinctly purpose driven whereas the New York system can wander and meander with two lines often bringing you to the same neighborhood from different directions. The rules would have to change.
The trip to Braintree had a depressing feel to it. People travel alone or in twos, talking in low tones, reading or sleeping. It is as if these people realize that they are returning to a more banal existence after their excursions into the city.
The Braintree stop is a sad place -- a commuter junction. It is a lonely median platform between to tracks that serve the inbound and outbound rails. I let the crowd filter out. Alone. Quiet, cold and depressing.
The problem with a bar crawl in suburbia is that pubs tend to be few and far between. After a short wander I found myself in the town center. I walked and found the old, white columned New England style town hall, something out of Rockefeller, quaint and crisp. It was affluent Main Street America, something stirred memories of my roots in Maine. Cozy yet distant. Familiar yet droll.
Sintra turned out to be my destination, by default than by choice. Small and elegant, the dining room was separated from the bar, leaving two distinct areas intermingled by common décor and smiling faces of the waitresses getting ready for Friday dinner service. I had the bar to myself and basked in the soft light and smells from the kitchen while admiring the mural of a Portuguese castle painted in broad black brush strokes on the white wall across the empty bar.
“That castle is actually in Sintra,” the bartender said, “The owner Brian (Jenkins) went there on his honeymoon and named the restaurant after it. American cuisine with Mediterranean flare.”
I have seen the like. Rising chef takes on his first opportunity to own a restaurant and creates an American Bistro. Exactly the type of place I love to explore, but time was short, the red line beckoned.
Next stop, Quincy Adams.
Another commuter junction. A Home Depot in the middle of an industrial park. I walked around until I found an intersection with a lady wearing bright pink scarf, leaning on a cane waiting to cross the busy highway. She laughed when I told her my mission.
“You won’t find anything here,” she said. “Will have to go to Quincy Center to find anything.”
She was right. The heart of Quincy was flush with options. A hip little district with shops and eateries a plenty, I had a plethora of options.
The first thing I noticed at Blue 22 were the ducks, plastic toy ducks that lined a wall separating the service area from the horseshoe bar that dominates the dining area. They flanked a prized possession, a box of Flutie Flakes encased in glass, signed by Doug Flutie himself. Televisions played ESPN and whatever was on NESN and the good ole boys camped on the corner of the bar taking in the cherished tradition of Friday Happy Hour at their favorite pub.
The bartenders and wait staff were all young women. They had a familiar rapport unique to veterans in the service industry. One waitress, a cute, slender brunette named Kristin, volunteered the story of the ducks.
“It started as a joke,” she said. “The owners used to put Christmas stockings up there with the ducks in them. Eventually the ducks took over and it became a tradition. People steal the ducks all the time but others come and replace them. We’ve had a Ninja Duck stolen three times.”
They had homemade fried dumplings which I was tempted to get, but time was short. I will be back. Maybe for Kristin, maybe for the dumplings.
Wallaston was an odd stop. It is an odd pocket of Chinese culture in the middle of the crusty white suburbs to the south and the commercial wastelands to the immediate north. Everything was written in English and Chinese, from bank signs to the bridal shop.
I found Hancock Tavern, a bustling English pub flanked by a Chinese stop-and-go restaurant and Chinese laundry mat. The good ole boys had taken up residence here too. They were bemused by my project.
“Shot and a beer, all the way down the line,” a man said. “Make sure, shot and a beer. Only way to go.”
It was a relief to escape.
North Quincy was wholly unremarkable. I asked the subway lieutenant, an old Irish man for a pub reading the Metro, for directions to a pub. He was confused and said there might be something in North Quincy center, but that was almost a mile and a half away.
I went to D’Angelos and had a sub instead.
J.J.K./ UMass was not much better. Industrial and commercial, the sign for the Bay Side Expo dominated the landscape. The only bar to be found was at the Double Tree Club, though they were not too receptive to my journey. Time was short so I let them be. One hotel bar is the same as another.
Next on the list was Andrew. I had made it to Southie, finally. The pub I found was a genuine Irish joint, The Connection. Above the door there were dueling Irish flags painted. Exactly the type of place I had been looking for.
It was dark and depressing. Middle aged workers drinking at the end of the bar giving me the sideways eye, an invader on the sacred realm of their watering hole. It was too much. I took a picture of the Sinatra painting above the digital jukebox and got the hell out.
The night was still young and the trip had been long. There was still time to push forward. My next stops would bring me back to Boston and into Cambridge, where possibilities abound and the night life is just waiting to be discovered.
(See picture slideshow below)