STORY BY JOHN H. WEST - PHOTOGRAPHS BY NANCY WEST
state of New Hampshire has very little seacoast but they certainly make
the most of that which they have. The town of Portsmouth
beautiful mix of historic homes, old alleys and streets that are home
to many interesting antique shops, stores, and yes even street
entertainers who can sing, play the fiddle, hula-hoop, and roller blade
all at the same time. The performance may be a little odd, definitely
funky, but certainly, quite captivating. In fact, this
apply to the entire town of Portsmouth with a major dose of history
added to the mix.
The town is also home to the Naval Shipyard which has been a fixture in the area since 1800, when it was formally established by the United States government. In fact, John Paul Jones, the famous naval hero briefly made his home in Portsmouth in 1781 and 1782 while he supervised the building of the “America,” a vessel he was scheduled to command but Congress ultimately gave the 74 gun ship to France. Interestingly, Portsmouth locals call the residence the “John Paul Jones House” but in actuality the Captain only rented a room in the house owned by the widow of another naval captain.
STREET PERFORMERS IN PORTSMOUTH
TAPS AT McMENEMY'S
on the naval yard grounds is the infamous and more than a little
imposing Naval Prison. Some may
recall that this “brig” was prominently featured in the 1973 movie “The
Last Detail” starring a young Jack Nicholson. During the course
of the prison's long history before its closure in 1974, the building
estimated to have housed over 86,000 military prisoners. This
foreboding edifice located at water’s edge on Seavey Island became
known as “Alcatraz of the East.” Despite the prison’s reputation for
strict discipline and being home to some very difficult men, according
to at least one historic account inmates were able to purchase beer at
The shipyard and prison combined to create a booming port town. During the 1940s, in the World War II era over seventy submarines were built at “The Yard”, and some 10,000 to 15,000 seamen passed through Portsmouth every week! Not surprisingly, the town built a well deserved reputation as a hard drinking, brawling and promiscuous port. Post Civil War Portsmouth’s economy was largely based on the brewing of ale. In its heyday, the town had over 120 bars and taverns serving the navy men and the town that kept the shipyard and prison operating at full steam. Even today one will never go thirsty in this port of call; seemingly there is a tavern around every corner.
In late June, on a very grey, rainy day we found ourselves on Penhallow Street in Portsmouth looking for a place to dry out and experience some of the local atmosphere. There are many places to go in this port town but we picked an Irish bar on the corner of Pen Hallow Street and State Street going by the name McMENEMY'S.
The bar is located on the second floor of an old brick building that has the feel of a place with a deep and rich history. Upon entering the bar area, we quickly spotted the hand-written chalkboard reading: “Every 17th of Every Month” the bar conducted a “St. Practice Day.” This was obviously a place where we wanted to be.
As we settled in at the bar, the bartender introduced herself as Abby and poured us two ales from a wide selection of draft and bottled domestic and imported beer. Shortly thereafter, Abby commented, almost to herself, about “The wicked intense smell of blueberry.” This is not a comment that one would hear routinely, if ever, so I asked her what she was referring to. She commented that, “one of the lady ghosts wears perfume that smells like blueberries.” Again, not something you’d hear every day and certainly not in such a casual manner. I found myself looking around and sniffing the air. I was not trying to detect the aroma of ale, but attempting to perceive the fragrance of ghostly perfume. To my disappointment, there was not even a hint of blueberry.
Intrigued, we struck up a conversation regarding the history of the establishment. In prior years, the bar was a legendary haunt known as “Molly Malone’s.” Its corner location on State Street, in a worn but stately brownstone, near the harbor and naval facilities made it accessible to the men coming and going. Not coincidentally, it would seem, Malone’s became a focal point for a rather notorious and busy red light district. In fact, as the story goes, the ladies of the night would sit on window sills in the bar's front bay windows, adorned in their seductive couture, advertising their availability to the male passers-by below.
According to Abby, there are quite a number of distinct ghostly personalities that are still working this corner, and the “Blueberry Lady” may have been one of the women who conducted her business in the location that is now McMENEMY'S. Apparently she likes this bar as much as I do, because she does not want to leave either. And although most patrons won’t have the good fortune to gather a whiff of her very discreet bouquet, the combination of good people, good times and good drink found in this historic Portsmouth tavern will more than delight the senses.
Photograph by Thea Mann
PORTSMOUTH'S IMPOSING NAVAL PRISON
CASUAL AND COMFORTABLE DINING
A PINT OF THE DARK ELIXIR JUST MIGHT SOFTEN THE BLOWS
"SURE, WE'LL STEAL YOUR HEART AWAY, WE WILL"
177 STATE STREET
PORTSMOUTH, NEW HAMPSHIRE 03801
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