Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Taste of the Town: Discovering Salem, One bar at a time...

Places to be on Game Day: Salem, Mass.

As my train pulled into Salem depot on Saturday afternoon, I prepared myself. I was wearing my Papelbon T-shirt with my Bruins hat and was ready for a good time. With simple directions I received from a cab driver, I walked down the tree-lined brick sidewalks to the first stop on my tour.

Rockafellas’, which stands dominantly on the corner of Essex and Washington Streets, is hard to miss. The large brick building that it calls home was once inhabited by Daniel Low and Company, a jeweler that was a mainstay in Salem for years. Its interior is expansive. The bar area, with plasma screen television, is located to the left while a dance floor that entertains customers with live music every weekend is on my right. A large dining area spreads out in front of me, backed by the original vault used by the jewelers. This now serves as the wine storage.

“Hey,” shouts a tall, young looking man dressed somewhat like me. “I’m glad you made it.” Steve Jones is a senior at Salem State College and he agreed to guide my trek through the city’s watering holes. “I figured we’d start off low-key,” Jones said as he passed me a Sam Adams, “Too bad the Sox aren’t playing right now.” Jones was right; the crowd was thin for a World Series game, even if it was 2 o’clock. After one drink we decided to make our first move.

From the doorstep of Rockafellas, we proceeded directly across the street to an Irish Pub called O’Neill’s. This offers us almost the opposite feel of our last stop. The dining booths to the right are just a step away from the bar that lines the left side of the building. With the same baseball game on the big screen and an international football (soccer for the American readers out there) on a smaller TV at the end of the bar, there is something for everyone. I present my guide with a drink for the one that he bought me and we settle in a spot where both games can be viewed.

“I think we should stop with the baseball thing and learn to play football,” Jones exclaimed, “We’re like the only ones who are playing it anyway.” After a discussion on the U.S.’ chances at ever winning a World Cup, I remind my friend that team U.S.A. only finished fourth at the inaugural World Baseball Classic this summer so both clubs need to improve play dramatically. With the conclusion of a game that the Tigers won, we exit the bar and begin a walk toward our final destination of the day.

After a short walk down Canal Street, where we are passed by the same train that I used to get to the city, we arrive at Sidelines Bar and Grill. If the name isn’t enough to tip you off, Sidelines is the quintessential sports bar. Upon opening the door, I am met with an explosion of energy. Big screen TVs, now playing Boston College football and Bruins hockey, end cap an oval bar that is overlooked by as many smaller televisions as there are college football games on a Saturday afternoon. We grab ourselves a round and join a group of rowdy guys that turn out to be friends of Jones’. Rounding the outside ring of this game-day bar are four-by-four tables, which today are filled with college lacrosse players and the alumni who they just played a fundraiser game against.

“I take the blame for the boys beating us today,” admitted the coach, who played against his team with his fellow alumni. “It’s like I created a monster and then it turned on me,” he continued among the cheers and laughter from the gathered crowd.

With the walk back to the train station ahead of me, I say goodbye to my friendly guide and his entertaining friends. “Come on back to Salem sometime soon,” Jones called down the street to me, “Halloween isn’t that long off.” I just may have to take him up on that offer, because this historic city provided me with plenty of options for an amazing time.

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