The first time I ever gazed upon the entryway, I shuddered. Isn’t this the iconic portal where Richard Gere once had a pint in an Officer and a Gentleman? It was. But it was so much more. It was the most inviting entry on the block. It only took one glance.
I remember walking up and thinking – this is everything a brewpub should be. Its an over-sized, over-vaulted, sun sprayed, open-aired masterpiece. We can fill the pool of demographics with a sample of the bar crowd. You could swim in the smell of fresh beer wort filling the air. It was everything I had dreamed of – and there was more to come.
Before I continue my heart-wrenching words, I want to say that I have put off this article for more than a year. I might be crazy; I might be frightened. I’m just not sure. But the essence of Water Street Brewing could not be bottled and it could not be served on an outside-viewing public. It was the inside of your dreams and the best that your imagination could muster.
But now, its soon to be gone. In roughly 30 hours, all that I knew of the bar I called “perfection” will be erased from its space on the waterfront in little ole Port Townsend. I have died a little inside.
But my memories will try and live on – at least what can be maintained from the few beer-engulfed images I took home with me. The images ingrained themselves so deeply, it would be nearly impossible to forget.
Walking in, you are met with scents, images, music and aura. I don’t think that I’ve ever felt aura before. I’m just not that type of person. I notice the layout, feel, and comfort of bars – i love them. But never before did I honestly feel a sense of excitement in the air, especially in a bar that was practically empty. You could just tell that a remarkable history and passion ran rampant through this place. I was now going to be a part of it.
I took a few glances before even thinking about sitting. The pharaoh and the demon mural, the mermaid, the stage, the blown glass, the old wood, the vaulted ceilings coated in $1 bills, the veranda with its collection of broken pool cues, the air, the light and the sound. It was magnificent.
Once I had returned to earth, we saddled up at the bar. We were greeted by the image of all that is respected and loved and intertwined in the aura of Water Street – Queen Nina. Nina Law – hello.
You have never been treated by a bartender until you spend an afternoon, evening, entire calendar day with Nina as your bar mate. She is spectacularly in love with this place, its constituents, and its craft. For quite some time, the house’s greatest and most love-filled beer has been named for her – Queen Nina IPA.
A bucket of pumpkin-colored, viscous, sweet-herbed IPA is poured. I remain calm, in awe of the surroundings. The man to my right immediately strikes up the conversation – howdy. He’s a man of many a year in Port Townsend. This is his home, the bar stool beside me. I am told of the wonderful things that the crowd of this place has done for this man. I am told of the minor contributions that he made to keep the place afloat in early 2009, when the bar almost went belly-up from a loss of income. The stuttering of his voice guaranteed the reality that I was in this magical place.
What next? Food from the soul? An inspiring chat with a stranger? Some impromptu live folk music? How about some fiddling? How about I rip this shirt off the wall and take off with my little piece of Water Street? I took it all.
Being from the Midwest, I have one food passion – wings. I know its a bit silly to get passionate about hot wings, but then again – have you been reading this article? Packed with love.
Anyways, the wings: perfection. I remember that Queen Nina brought out my platter and said – “you know what? thats the best damn wing order I’ve ever seen.” She was right. To this day, it might be the best dozen that I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying. Covered in fresh roasted garlic, rolled in tangy sauce, cooked to perfection, served with liquid gorgonzola. It was heaven for a wing man.
We spent at least an hour in each of the five separate spaces at Water Street’s 7,000 square foot warehouse of bar. Each space had its own comfort, each providing you with a different feel. Of course, we begun at the bar – which would rival the collegiality of a World Cup soccer team. But there are other spaces with their own great comfort.
There is the restaurant area, directly in the airways of the kitchen (smell the shellfish!) and the brewery (smell the malt!). Then there is the cubby hole beneath the stairs – the perfect place to gather with cronies. Next, the upstairs veranda, full of pool tables, portals overlooking the bar from 20′ above and the malt mill! Last and certainly not least – the outside patio. Nestled beside the water, and a few feet from the brewery exhaust, its the perfect place to enjoy pitcher and a clambake.
You wanted music? How about some impromptu gypsy-folk, featuring a fiddle and guitar, on the old stage? If that’s not going on, Queen Nina is sure to keep the bar’s sound waves geared up on 1960s-1970s hippy rock. They keep it mellow.
I couldn’t leave if I wanted. To some extent, I never have. I wanted so badly to have that place in my memories, that I ripped an old shirt off the wall. It was the last shirt that remained from their economic near-collapse earlier in the year. They couldn’t afford new merchandise at the time, but Nina was more than happy to send me home with the last remaining article on the wall. Best $15 I ever spent. I wear that shirt once a week – no joke.
The first time I went – we stayed for about 8 hours. The next morning, we returned for another 5 hours. I know, that’s how much I loved it. You’d certainly think that cannot be duplicated.
After weeks of giving friends my elevator pitch on Water Street, we returned. They stopped in, had some wings, had some beer and loved every moment. But 3 hours was enough for them. They decided to check out the town. Not me. I stayed by myself, enjoying the crowd, enjoying the staff, and enjoying what would come to be my last and final glimpse into the one remaining bar, which is soaked in the love of its admirers.
So……call me a sap. Do it. I deserve it, but I do not apologize or regress from my statements in this article.
Maybe you didn’t think the bar resembles anything close to what I said? Well, just rest easy knowing that such a perception of a watering hole is possible. Know that a person could be so very much overwhelmed by the aura of an institution that it could reduce them to near tears upon learning of its demise.
Know all of that, and continue searching for your own place. Aura exists. Rest in peace – Water Street.