“You’re not going to ruin this, are you?”
I don’t always mention when I’m writing about a place because it can feel gross and false. Instead I like to hang around, observe and chat as long as possible so I get a little bit more of a genuine feeling about the place. I was halfway through my second pint and talking with the couple next to me when I mentioned that I was a work and that I was writing about Anthony’s Liquors on 33rd Street. Mary was concerned that people would find out about Anthony’s bar and that she and her husband, Steve, who have a place walking distance from the iconic liquor store, wouldn’t have the place to themselves. When cool places get popular, it calls to mind the purported Yogi-ism, “No one goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”
In my defense, there already were a bunch of people milling about in the small bar when she said that, and they didn’t follow me there.
When I arrived, well before Mary and Steve, there were just a couple locals, late 60s, flushed and Ocean City Irish looking with no hint of tan. Both addressed the bartender, Emily Vaughan, familiarly and talked old white guy bar talk to one another. It almost made me wish we all were smoking and that it was 11 a.m., except that if it was 1978, we wouldn’t have had the kind of beer selection we did. They both had been to many if not most of the breweries in the region and we talked about the early days of Eastern Shore beer while Emily kept it coming.
A craft beer bar
Craft beer drafts are $5 per pint during happy hour, which probably added both to my interlocutors locutoring and their wishes not to be photographed. Eventually they turned inward a bit and I got the rundown from Emily. The bar, tucked away in the back left hand corner of the store, began primarily in acquiescence to the liquor rules (you need a bar if you want to sell liquor). She said it took them awhile to find themselves as a bar until they honed in on their craft beer. Just because the bar was there to serve alcohol didn’t mean alcohol had to be the main attraction. The store usually has sampling nights Tuesday-Saturday, which really helps people get a sense of the depth and breadth of the Anthony’s Liquors possibilities. But by the time Mary and Steve slid up to the bar, bringing the patron total to five souls, and the assemblage all were drinking craft beer.
With craft beer as the hook, getting people to sit and stay awhile was easy enough. This is a seasonal bar and great for afternoon drinking. Mary and Steve split a massive Italian sub the aroma of which made me homesick for Jersey (plenty of onions, quality meat and not stingy with the vinegar and oregano). A couple quality beers and a massive sub and you’re out the door for under $20? I was amazed it wasn’t packed. And then it was.
Drinking while you wait
Jeff Was and Brian Beam piled in and ordered a couple of Orange Crushes. The guys were in from Johnstown, Pa. and staying Saturday-Saturday. They had paid their respects at Buxy’s and were moving up the block. Like the rest of the patrons at Anthony’s Liquors, they lived walking distance from the bar and intended on taking advantage of the fact. Before too long, though a family wandered in and set up shop against the front-facing windows. Then a guy came in on his own, and then another.
The first one ordered a pint and handed over two fives, Emily told him one would cover the beer and he looked confused for a minute.
As it turned out he, like with many of the other new arrivals, was having a beer while his dinner (or late lunch, it was just after 5 p.m.) was prepared. He eyed the televisions over the bar, leaned up against the window stool and enjoyed a quiet moment in a packed but still quiet bar.
The music wasn’t aggressive, neither did the televisions blair. Competing conversations caused a bit of a buzz, but not a roar. I probably was the loudest person in the room (although I’m kinda used to that title).
That was the real attraction and what Mary feared losing: a packed bar that felt and sounded like a mostly-empty one. I don’t imagine it ever will get standing room only crowded but if you’re looking for a quiet place to enjoy a great beer (or something else, it is after all a full bar) knock yourself out. If you didn’t know about Anthony’s subs and deli, now you do and have no excuse. For my money, I recommend following Mary and Steve’s plan. Have a couple of pints, split a sandwich and talk to strangers until they’re not anymore.