In(n) Gloucester

by John J. Ronan

Gloucester Daily Times, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017

There are now two hotels in downtown Gloucester: the spanking new Beauport, dating back to 2016, and the venerable Crow’s Nest, dating from 1972. I want to compare the two on a couple of points, and because this is a poetry column I’ll start with the bars.

At Beauport, the 1606 opens at 11:00. I was there on a weekday at about 11:30 and was the first customer. I talked to the bartender, Brian, about business and prices. A Johnny Walker Red is $11 and a bottle of Budweiser is $5. Because of the early hour, I ordered a soda water. Really.

The hotel’s bar is circular and seats 42. There is a side rail with 7 stools; there are two sofas and a few additional chairs near the fireplace, with large screen televisions at either end of the room. The décor is dignified, tasteful. Part of the chic comes from the black and white portraits of ancient fishermen and fishing scenes along the walls, presumably from Gloucester, though they are not identified. Closer to noon, other customers arrived and I was able to strike up brief, polite conversations with tourists.

In the bar’s window there is a sweeping view of the outer harbor. The view and architecture create a restful, resort-like mood that is up to elegant, if generic, national standards. Swank enough to be in Bar Harbor, Hatteras, Santa Barbara – a fishing community or at least a community with a fishing past.

.8 miles down the road, Gregg Sousa opens the Crow’s Nest every morning at 8:00. He is the owner. This bar is also circular, seating 22. There are 8 two-seat tables. And a pool table, a juke box, a large screen TV. There is no fireplace, but Johnny Walker Red is $4.50   A bottle of Budweiser $3. Full disclosure: I visited on a different day, at a later hour – and had Johnny Walker Red. This in no way influenced my attitude, though conversations did go very smoothly. The clientele was mostly local, as it is all year, with Perfect Storm tourists visiting summers.

Gregg is the husband of Mary Anne Shatford, a Gloucester teacher, whose brother Bobby was lost on the Andrea Gail and portrayed in the movie by Mark Wahlberg. She is the daughter of Ethel Shatford, the late, famous bartender, who was portrayed by Janet Wright. Sebastian Junger, the source-book’s author, stayed at the Crow’s Nest while he worked on the book, as did Wahlberg during the shoot. Stills of Wahlberg, George Clooney, Ms. Wright, the Andrea Gail crew and others line the walls. There are no texts, but Gregg can fill in the names.

The view from the Crow’s Nest is of the inner harbor, via Main Street and Rose Marine Supplies. I include the store because it was co-opted into Manchester-by-the-Sea, the new Gloucester movie, strangely misnamed (The stairs next to the bar are also featured in the final fireworks scene between Lee and Randi.) Beyond Main St. is the State Fish Pier where the trawlers Challenger and Endeavor often tie up. They are skippered by the McCallig brothers, Danny and Gerrard, respectively. If you stop at the right time you might meet them and talk fishing.

Hotels offer rooms, of course. Beauport has 94 and they range in price from a low of$179 in the winter, to a high of $465 at peak season. Both establishments are well cared for and clean. The rooms at Beauport have, like the bar, a newly minted aroma and ocean motifs, such as clamshell door knockers. The beds follow the contemporary pillow fetish; I counted seven on a double. The Crow’s Nest has 15 rooms at two prices: $65 in winter, $75 in summer. The rooms are smaller, less ornate, but crisp and friendly, with fridges and microwaves. Another perk is pillow sanity. You won’t have to stack five of them in a corner to get under the covers.

At Trip Advisor the Crow’s Nest has four and a half bullets out of five; 85% of the reviews are excellent or very good. Beauport’s Trip Advisor page also features four and a half bullets out of five; 86% of their reviews are excellent or very good.

Beauport and the Crow’s Nest are both healthy for Gloucester. I’m glad we have them. And we can support both because they are not in competition, the choice usually obvious, dictated by specific requirements. If you want a function room and thirty beds for wedding guests, Beauport can provide that. If you are a budget-minded worker on the waterfront, if you fish – or if you’re an actor portraying a fisherman, the Crow’s Nest wins. For me, when details don’t dictate, the choice comes down to something deeper, mystical, even poetic: place, the temper of presence. At the Crow’s Nest I know where I am, sense where I am. I am here. Could be nowhere else. I am in Gloucester.