The Dutch Tavern var dramatikern Eugene O’Neills favoritpang både före och efter förbudstiden. Nu tar vi över stafettpinnen från Eugene och parkerar längs bardisken på New Londons mest mest kramiga dive.
Words and photo: Mattias Lundblad
“Be nice or leave” is the motto of The Dutch Tavern in New London, Connecticut. The Oak was the name until prohibition came into effect in 1920 and the bar was used for storage for a tire company. After prohibition ended in 1933, it was re-opened and named after the owner Mauritz “Dutch” Nauta. Peter Detmold and Martha Conn took over in 1998, as the fourth owners since 1933.
In Connecticut, there is a legal distinction between a bar and a tavern. The latter means you serve beer and cider, and now wine, but no hard liquor. There used to be lots of taverns in the state, now fewer than ten. Most prefer a full bar licence. Peter Detmold and Martha Conn prefer the tavern licence.
“You know everybody here, and if you don’t when you arrive, you do when you leave,” says Kathy Roberts. She shows a picture she snapped of a South African guest she met at the bar a couple of nights before. She and her husband Peter have been regulars since they moved to town a couple of decades ago. Peter often worked nights and Kathy came to read the newspaper and have a beer.
“You didn’t have to deal with people hitting on you. Where I’m from, it was hard for a single woman to be left alone. This is the first bar I’ve felt comfortable at.”
Sherry Stidfole has been a guest even longer, since 1970. For her and her husband James, who recently passed away, this was the bar. James was part of the theater group Dutch Tavern Players.
“They used to perform right here,” says Sherry and gestures with her hand from our table to the corner by the bar. “Sometimes in the phone booth and behind the bar too. It was crowded. People would sit on the floor. This was before there was a TV.
What game is shown depends on who is in the room, but the bartender controls the TV and the music.
– Brian has the best playlist, says Kathy Roberts.
Brian Gore, musician and poet when not behind the bar, finds and plays older and unusual country, blues and soul. He and his wife Rory Lee are used to moving a lot. He is from Texas, she from South Korea. But for now, they will stay in New London, and The Dutch is a strong reason. A former bartender rents them their apartment, and having family far away is easier with a place where you can always talk to someone.
“We have never stayed this long in a town. Sometimes we consider moving outside the town, but then it feels like it’s too far to The Dutch,” says Rory Lee.
She goes home, and hugs are shared.
“You get lots of hugs here. It’s not like we are going to the moon. We will probably see each other tomorrow,” says Peter Roberts.