BOOTHBAY HARBOR — A few locals strolled into The Thistle Inn’s pub aloof afore blessed hour on a contempo Wednesday evening. Anya Reid, who owns the inn with her husband, Dick, abrupt over to acceptable them.
“I’ve got to accord you a hug,” Reid said to one of them. “It’s been a while.”
The inn’s pub and restaurant had re-opened the night afore afterwards four weeks of renovations. A beginning storm had brought a melancholia chill, and the pub’s audience were acquisitive to acknowledgment to its rustic, balmy autogenous for a booze and a little bounded gossip. Joslyn and Harvey Oakes, who usually appear in a brace of times a week, acclimatized into a large, anew reupholstered berth with three friends. They explained how sometimes bodies will breach a driveway or two during a snowstorm and afresh stop by the inn for a booze or banquet afore activity out into the night. Others alpha a amount of laundry at home, afresh appear actuality until the clothes are accessible for the dryer. Sometimes, Joslyn Oakes said, the cull is simply, “It’s snowing. Let’s go to The Thistle.”
The Thistle Inn is archetypal of restaurants and pubs alternating the Maine bank that babyish to tourists during summer and fall, afresh backslide to actuality a hang-out for locals during the austere winter months. Aback the streets are cold, aphotic and empty, and berth agitation sets in, the inn’s ablaze white lights allure to locals comatose at home.
AFTER THE TOURISTS GO
Summer association cool the citizenry of the Boothbay peninsula to about 40,000, but in winter that cardinal shrinks to 9,000, according to the Boothbay Harbor Region Chamber of Commerce. Alone two or three restaurants in boondocks breach accessible through winter. On some days, say Monday lunch, bodies resort to affairs able foods at the bounded accessibility stores, says Patricia Royall, who stepped bottomward as the chamber’s controlling administrator in backward February.
The Thistle Inn is the alone year-round restaurant in boondocks that could be advised upscale, she said, but it additionally has a pub menu. The restaurant is accepted for its backtalk cakes and scallops, and is broadly advised to accept the best burger in town.
People allocution best about its food, but the inn is, indeed, an inn, with six bedfellow apartment that are “just a absolute babyish allotment of our revenue,” Reid said. There is no advanced desk; whoever is accessible on agents checks brief guests in aback they arrive.
In winter, the pub does alert the business of the inn’s three babyish dining apartment — the exact adverse of summer. But that doesn’t beggarly abundant aback barter can adjustment from either card in winter. The Reids and their chef change the airheaded afterwards the tourists go home to accomplish it added affordable. Some of the higher-priced entrees abandon until summer rolls about again. If the amount of scallops goes down, they bead the amount of the bowl as low as they can and still awning costs. Anya Reid said she’s had to accept talks with adolescent chefs she’s assassin about accouterment to bounded tastes. Forget about nose-to-tail affable and pickling, she tells them. Boothbay Harbor’s year-rounders adopt acceptable servings of meat and potatoes over babyish bites of bits and abandon of pickled cauliflower.
BABIES, AND BEAGLES, WELCOME
By 5 p.m., the pub is abounding — the ample berth that can bank a half-dozen, a table for four, the two-tops lined up alternating the bank with counter-height seating, and the eight coveted seats at The Dory, the 18-foot boat-turned-bartop (donated by a bounded doctor in the 1960s) area locals can allocution to the bartender or watch sports on TV. At the tables, the Oakes and their accompany reminisced about the pub’s aboriginal years, in the 1960s and 1970s, aback the chump abject consisted abundantly of fishermen, scientists from the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, musicians (including Simon & Garfunkel), workers from a bounded shrimp processing plant, and airline pilots. (Apparently lots of pilots retire here. No one knows why.) The shrimp workers generally brought in platters of chargeless shrimp to allotment with anybody at the bar. The fishermen were aloof as generous.
“Guys would appear in who had $10,000 canicule and bandy the money on the bar, and buy (drinks) for everyone,” Joslyn Oakes recalled.
The Oakes accept been advancing to The Thistle Inn aback they confused to Boothbay Harbor in 1976. Joslyn recalls endlessly in with her bedmate on the way home from the hospital with their babyish daughter. Other parents did the same, alive the agents was consistently acquisitive to babysit. “We’d appear in with her and they’d say ‘OK, we’ll booty her,’” Oakes recalled. “It was like a big family.”
Babies weren’t the alone abnormal visitors. Over the years, the inn has accustomed a pig alleged Blossom, two beagles alleged Angus and Bonnie who sometimes drank a nip of Scotch in a corner, and a banty that absolved aback and alternating beyond the bar. And, oh yes, there was additionally a citizen apparition who is still active up trouble. They say he has beatific rolls of cardboard towels flying; agape things off walls; afresh opened and bankrupt a babyish aboideau the Reids put up for their son; and beatific their toddler’s toy tractor chugging aback and alternating beyond the allowance on its own.
Reid says she wouldn’t absolutely alarm her concealed company friendly, but, rather, tolerant. “I never feel threatened by any means,” she said, “but I anticipate he wants you to apperceive that this is his house, and you’re in it.”
HOUSE WITH A PAST
But is it his house? The inn was congenital in 1861 by Capt. Samuel Miller Reed. Two years later, afterwards he was absent at sea, Reed’s brood took over the taxes and at some point awash the abode to addition sea captain, Gilman Low. Low alien a baiter annual amid Bath and Boothbay Harbor, according to Hilary Bartlett, a 72-year-old retired Bigelow scientist and Thistle Inn approved (she lived beyond the artery from the inn from 1975 to 1981) who has accounting a book on its history due out in spring. Capt. Low died in the abode in 1919, sparking at atomic some belief that he is the aweless ghost.
The abode was awash in 1962 to T’Donald Berth Morren and his wife, Leonie Greenwood-Adams, who opened the inn the afterward year and in 1964 added the restaurant and pub. Greenwood-Adams had vacationed in Boothbay Harbor aback she was a child, and her bedmate fell in adulation with the abode because it reminded him of his built-in Scotland. He batten with a able accent and consistently wore a kilt abaft the bar. (Morren’s ancestor had been constable of Edinburgh, Bartlett said, and was knighted by the Queen of England.)
Still affectionately remembered, Greenwood-Adams was a bounded character. She was accepted for assuming off her legs — and, some bottomless belief say, occasionally adopting her blouse. Joslyn Oakes recalls that every New Year’s Eve she’d ascend assimilate the bar in a gold lamé dress. “She was a ablaze woman, though,” John Oakes added.
Before the restaurant opened, locals had to drive all the way to Wiscasset to adore a cocktail and a nice meal, Bartlett said. “For years — from ’64, aback they aboriginal opened, to ’77, aback McSeagull’s opened — the Thistle was the alone appearance in town,” she said.
The atmosphere at the inn in those aboriginal days, she said, was “pretty lively,” a mix of disorderly locals and flush diners who would “just avoid whatever was activity on in the pub because the aliment was so good.”
A card from 1964 shows martinis and Manhattans for 90 cents. A angle and chips banquet amount $2.50. Steak dinners and the restaurant’s specialty — T’Donald’s Scottish Lobster Pie — were both priced at $4.75. Portions were “immense,” recalls Pat Irish, who was a bartender at the Thistle in the 1970s and now works as its bookkeeper. Her admired access was the $14 Downeast steak smothered in augment booze abounding with chunks of lobster meat.
Back then, the pub was carpeting people. Anybody knew anybody else’s business, Bartlett said, and if you went into the bar, it apparently meant you were activity to run into an ex.
Bartlett, who grew up in Liverpool, England, aboriginal set bottom in the Thistle Inn in June 1975, aback she accustomed from the University College of London to do analysis at the Bigelow Laboratory on McKown Point. On her aboriginal day in America, her PhD supervisor, who was additionally alive at Bigelow, took her to the inn for lunch. “That was area I had my aboriginal American beer, ever,” Bartlett said. “And I still go there.”
The Bigelow scientists had their own table, area they would draw graphs and equations on whatever atom of cardboard they could find. “There were an abominable lot of grants actuality accounting on the aback of placemats,” Oakes said. The convenance so affronted Greenwood-Adams that she had appropriate cardboard placemats fabricated up to attending like blueprint cardboard from “The Thistle Inn Innstitute for Ocean Sciences,” and alleged herself “Proprietoress: Dame Leonie Greenwood-Adams Jenkins, B.S., M.S., PhD., D.Phil.” etc. The affected bookish alphabet soup goes on and on.
The English scientists from the lab abnormally admired the Thistle Inn, Bartlett said, because it reminded them of pubs aback home. Locals would accumulate about the amateur piano and sing, or adapt tournaments at the bound board. Others played poker or 21 at a bend table. Sometimes fights bankrupt out, like the time two tourists, one a Brit, got into an altercation over who won the American Revolution.
To accumulate barter advancing in during winter, Leonie, as anybody alleged her, organized parties she alleged balls. There was a bogie ball, and in the 1970s a recession brawl and a streakers ball. Irish afresh came in for banquet at the pub with her bedmate Ted, and brought alternating old photos from the streakers ball. They are a little shocking, with lots of full-frontal acknowledgment address of some of the macho partygoers, who seemed to be the alone ones accommodating to afford their clothes. The awning allegation for these appropriate occasions, Irish said, was to accompany aback a bottle that had wandered out of the bar on a antecedent visit. “Our army was a lot adolescent than they are now,” Irish said. “Then, there was no drugs. It was all drinking.”
The bar became both the alpha and accomplishment band for the town’s “Drunken Sailor Race,” which complex bubbler a lot of alcohol, afresh accepting into a baiter with a admirable woman. Anything that could float was fair bold in the race, alike a bathtub. The rules afflicted every year, Bartlett said.
The anniversary Fishermen’s Anniversary additionally got its alpha at the Thistle Inn, according to Bartlett, aback Monhegan lobstermen challenged Boothbay Harbor lobstermen to a tug of war. The Boothbay Harbor lobstermen absitively to get their Monhegan rivals bashed aboriginal to advance their own allowance of winning. As the anniversary developed into an anniversary event, it came to accommodate a Blessing of the Fleet, followed by an afternoon at the pub alert to fishermen’s alpine tales.
T’Donald Berth Morren died in 1967. Leonie went on to ally alert more, bristles marriages in all. She breach up with her fifth bedmate but never afar him, according to bounded lore, so she wouldn’t be tempted by a sixth. In 1981, she awash the inn. She died the afterward year, at 59. Afterwards the Leonie Era, locals say, the inn went through a brace added owners — it was alike a YMCA for a while — and “a aeon of decline.” One buyer approved to change things, addition one approved abominably to accompany the business back. “One of the owners let it be apperceive he didn’t appetite locals,” Irish said.
Locals mourned the loss, and drifted away.
When the Reids took over the business in 2016, Dick Reid stood on a bank in one of the dining apartment one night and fabricated a accent affable the locals back. “And anybody cheered,” Bartlett recalled.
The Reids already had abutting ties with the inn. Anya Reid had formed at the inn on and off for 18 years, and lived there for a time about 2009, aback she was the innkeeper and bartender. The brace captivated their bells accession there. “I knew the business really, absolutely well,” Anya said, “and I admired the architecture and the business and the history of it.” (The Reids do not own the architecture but achievement to someday.)
Their aboriginal winter, the brace maxed out their acclaim cards so they could accumulate the pub and restaurant open, employing about 20 people. “The association absolutely stepped up and accurate what we were doing,” Reid said. “We lose money or breach alike in winter, but we accommodate a annual to the community, and befitting agents active is absolutely important to us.”
Other places accept opened year annular aback afresh to accord The Thistle Inn some antagonism — the Boathouse Bistro, which serves tapas; Brady’s, which serves bar abstract and abundance foods, and hosts a accepted trivia night. But the Thistle has its own niche, confined pub aliment and flush dishes such as brandied lobster, filet mignon, and seared chicken fin adolescent in a adventurous allowance broiled by a woodstove and lit by candles and a casting adamant chandelier.
There are added barter to go about now, as the abatement day-tripper division has continued and Gardens Aglow, the anniversary anniversary ablaze appearance at the adjacent Maine Botanical Gardens, consistently attracts a crowd. “For three weeks about the holidays in December, we’re accomplishing commensurable numbers to August,” Reid said.
The ghosts of the accomplished still abode the little inn on Oak Street, as able-bodied as that absolute ghost, who best afresh angry on a valve in a hard-to-reach clamber amplitude and started a flood. (Upset about the kitchen renovations, maybe?) The sliding aperture that in the 1800s apparent the access to the carrying abode and stables now links the 20th-century pub to one of the dining rooms. Thistle Inn admirers are already afresh adequate a pint as they allotment memories — and accomplish new ones.
“I anticipate we’ll see altered lifetimes of the Thistle over the years,” Reid said. “I’m absolutely attractive advanced to that.”
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