Erin's Isle

Brasher Falls, NY

Well, it's been four or five years now since I've done a bar page, and though I do enjoy creating them, it's a fact that I've never once actually set out to purposefully create a bar page. They just happen. I have a camera, I'm in the bar, things get interesting, and I take pictures.

I've been in a few bars myself, from the grit of roadside taverns to the swish and chic of upscale taprooms. Most have been ordinary bars, but just a few have been great bars. Years of visiting different bars has shown me that what separates an ordinary bar from a great bar is not large investments in high-end sound systems and big-screen TVs, nor is it fancy menus and buxom waitresses, neither is it a sprawling array of game tables and poker machines. A great bar cannot be defined by simple material tangibles. The defining element of a great bar is in its intangibles — the spirit and character of a bar — which comes only from the people in the bar, and those who serve them.

Communities in America are defined by people and their customs, and by their institutions: schools, churches, civic clubs, and sports leagues. But often overlooked in what makes a community function, and which I think can be attributed to a holdover of our early puritanical American values, is another important place of social gatherings: its taverns.

Two Great bars, both lost to fire, once stood in Brasher Falls. They were the notorious and legendary Lil's Tavern, and the venerable Ward's Hotel. Despite our tendency to regard drinking establishments as somewhat less than morally redeeming, both these bars were nonetheless essential community institutions, and they both still live today in the collective minds of the townsfolk of the Tri-Town community.

And here I'm reminded of Ireland. The Irish, pious, but not puritanical, hold their pubs as valued and important community assets, and not as "houses of sin" or "dens of iniquity" as the American mainstream tends to view them. Yet the North Country is like Ireland in many ways, and the people of Brasher Falls, like those of many other North Country communities, share that Irish sentiment toward their pubs. Another holdover — like Puritanism — from an earlier time.

So, on that note I'm brought to an American Irishman, Johnny Ward, proprietor of Erin's Isle. I know little of Johnny, personally, but what I do know is he's a very successful restaurateur who's rarely taken on a business venture without success. Tonight, his bar was the venue for a celebration after the induction ceremonies of Tri-Town area high school athletes into the St. Lawrence Hall of Fame.

I'm delighted to present to the viewing public, Erin's Isle.

Oh, and congratulations, Uncle Dougie. You made it in.

North Country