Like a night at Bert’s


brian_clareyby Brian Clarey

Among the local literary luminaries gathered at Scuppernong on Wednesday night were former state poet laureate Fred Chappell, longtime Triad scribe Nicole Crews and author Quinn Dalton. Dalton on this night would read from her newest work Midnight Bowling, a novel of family intrigue and coming of age set in Sandusky, Ohio, where midnight bowling is a thing. Chappell, her literary mentor, came to support his former student. And Crews goes wherever the action is.

Besides their connection with words, the three also have influenced my own life and work. Another thing they have in common: They all used to drink at my bar when I worked at the former Mosaic/Bert’s Seafood Grille on West Market Street.

So even more than their work, like the bartender I was for so long I remember them by their drinks. It was a long time ago — more than 10 years since I hung up my hand towel and bottle opener — but a bartender remembers. At least he thinks he does.

Fred Chappell was a Champagne guy, the good stuff, Perrier Jouet if I remember right — at least when he drank with me, usually right around cocktail hour, very civilized. He’d drain a couple flutes, sometimes with his nose in a book, sometimes as the focus of a group conversation. I remember one night in particular, when I confessed to him my own writerly tendencies. He seemed to take a sort of pity on me that didn’t fully register then but that I now understand all too well.

Quinn Dalton was a wine-by-the-glass girl, pinot noir, pinot gris, maybe — maybe — a cabernet. I seem to remember her dining at the bar once or twice — on busy nights when the dining room was full, we killed it by convincing people to eat at the bar. The waitstaff, who ran our food and whose eventual tables we were plundering, was less than enthusiastic about our enterprise.

Crews didn’t so much drink at the bar as carouse throughout the whole building, hopping tables, making friends by the ashtrays on the patio, ordering drinks from random servers passing by.

By the end of my time at Bert’s, I was working for Crews at a statewide boating and travel magazine, a job that eventually enabled me to peel off of the restaurant business, which had served me well for decades.

I think about my years behind the bar all the time — every day, probably. That’s why, every time I see Fred Chappell, I have the urge to pour him a glass of bubbly.