Monday, March 17, 2014
Is a bar’s testosterone level directly proportionate to the size and number of its bouncers? To solve this word problem one might stop by the PaddyWagon Irish Pub in Port Charlotte on a Saturday evening.
Pairs of young men sit curled around beers along “the wood.” Two of them, from Ohio, somehow end up sounding Irish in this setting. A gaggle of blonde girls laughs like tinkling glass at the far end of the bar. A grey-ponytailed retiree from Lynnfield, Mass., shoots pool with two younger women in jeans, under wall-sized black-and-white photos of rainy Irish streets and old men. Music thumps out of the jukebox, but not so loud that you can’t talk. Because no food is served, it’s smoker-friendly here; Smoke Eaters whisk away the yellow haze before you’re even aware of it.
In a town of strip malls this kind of pub is a rarity—a friendly neighborhood watering hole from which you can get home on foot if need be. That’s the mission of Sarasota-based Linksters Tap Rooms, managed by high school buds Tom Elliott and Rich Kunzle. Port Charlotte is the southernmost outpost of six PaddyWagons. Linksters ensures a taut operation that nonetheless oozes friendliness.
Bartender L.J.--for “Little John,” because he used to work with two larger namesakes--bounds about enthusiastically, hair tucked into a knit cap that would be quite at home in Dublin.
“When I started bartending, my mom didn’t like it, but when she came to watch me work, she said, ‘You’re phenomenal! People walk in and you have their drinks in front of them before they even sit down.’”
In his first bar job, as a door guy, L.J. cut his teeth by carding one of the Linksters owners. “I ID’d him because I didn’t know who he was. I’m this five-foot-five guy, sitting on the door stool, feet dangling, and he goes ‘Who the heck are you?’ I learned how to bartend, and now here I am.”
At some point, it dawns on you that the “SECURITY” lettering on one of the staffers’ T-shirts isn’t a joke. He seems a pleasant enough young fellow, with relaxed, curly hair and a friendly face. “Are you really a bouncer? That must be interesting.”
He grins, “I’m not the main security. They’re coming later. But don’t try anything funny. I got my eye on you!”
As the evening progresses and the alcohol-deafened volume increases, a “main” security staffer arrives to reinforce the ranks. This guy is clearly not to be toyed with. He looks to be seven feet tall, has what appears to be a shaved head, and doesn’t smile. If you joke with him, he acts like the TSA.
You don’t linger long enough to see how many such door guys clock in as the night wears on. It’s worth waiting for, but you also don’t stay long enough to sample the wares of the O’Flahertys’ Ravenous Rhino gourmet food truck. The Rhino has a symbiotic relationship with the PaddyWagon, lumbering in on Friday and Saturday after 10:30. At two a.m., the hungry pour out with such abandon that a sheriff parks over there for crowd control.
With a DJ playing Irish music and Joseph’s Deli catering corned beef and cabbage, one can only dream about what the St. Patty’s Day party might be like.
An’ with all that security, sure an’ ye’ll be safe.