Unfortunately, there are many summer activities in Rockaway that exclude me and from which I am exempt, thank God. For instance, I need not participate in, or even observe, the Bikini Contest, which takes place on a Wednesday night in August at Connolly’s, the best bar in the world, and is for many on the peninsula, including my neighbor D., the highlight of the season. There is also something called Hat Night, on Labor Day weekend. It’s basically a pub crawl that ends with a prize for the best hat and sometimes, if you’re young and restless, a new tattoo. And now there is Mustache Night, which is basically another pub crawl but on bicycles—from Connolly’s to the Lobster House, to the Tap & Grill, the Irish Circle, Blackwater’s, the Wharf, Jameson’s, and Harbor Light—with a prize for the best mustache. D. says he’d skip Jameson’s.
But I am not exempt from Friday nights. Last Friday, I met my neighbor the Catwoman and her husband, the master plumber, and D. at the Tap & Grill, a clam bar better known among the locals under its earlier incarnation as Boggiano’s, or “the old men’s bar.” I had Manhattan clam chowder and crab cakes. And a beer. And another beer. Then two seltzers with lime. (I was trying to pace myself.) And another beer. The bartender, a young woman who is also a neighbor, comes from a family of publicans. We were there partly because of her and partly because a band called the Loan Sharks was playing, and someone had heard that they were good. But the master plumber didn’t like the band (I think it was rockabilly; at any rate, there was a guy with a deep voice and a black cowboy hat), so after a while we went to Connolly’s, where everyone really wanted to go anyway.
Connolly’s is on the ground floor of a huge old gray-painted house, with a burgundy awning over the entrance and benches outside and glossy dark-wood booths and a dartboard, and Guinness on tap, and the cider that locals drink with ice. The owners live upstairs, and if you are really, really lucky, and come in with the Catwoman and the master plumber and D., who serves as bouncer on the night of the Bikini Contest, you might find your way behind the bar to the stairs leading to a very low door that you bang your head against (but only once) on the way to the garden. Connolly’s, which is open only from Memorial Day to Labor Day, gets really crowded late at night with lifeguards and surfers—beautiful people with deep tans and white teeth—so it’s best to get there early and be home in bed before the toilet breaks in the ladies’ room and the owner calls for the master plumber. (That night, only the sink stopped up.) When it was time to go, along about midnight, one of the four of us had to use the bathroom and the others had to wait, and by the time he or she came out, someone else had to go, and we had to wait again, and it was 2 A.M. and the place was jammed before we finally got out of there.
D. wanted to take the boardwalk—it was a beautiful night, with a waning moon—but C. set off up the Boulevard at a march, and I kept up with her, because we both had to go to the bathroom. We tried not to laugh when the master plumber, trailing us by half a block, suggested we stop at the Tap & Grill. We were going past a low row of attached bungalows next to the deli, and trying to be quiet and not attract any attention, because people were still sitting out on their porches, when a voice on one of the porches said “Hello” into a cell phone, and the master plumber said, “Uh-oh,” and —maybe you had to be there—we all cracked up. I leaned against the wall of the deli laughing. The master plumber stood in the middle of the road laughing. C. continued up the street laughing. I made it home and laughed myself to sleep and started laughing again the next morning when C. turned up outside my porch door to see if I was all right.
I was fine. I’d had two cranberry juice cocktails and one pint of Guinness at Connolly’s. But I can’t do this every Friday. At least, I don't think I can.