The Liar’s Saloon

A stiff Atlantic gust grabbed the open door and its slamming force ushered us into the dark interior with an introductory bang. The crew at the bar surveyed us with suspicion. One inebriated fellow boomed, “Welcome!” Which may or may not have been sincere; after all, we were in the Liar’s Saloon.

A couple of years ago my husband Chris and I discovered Montauk: ‘The End’, the last stop before Europe, the tip of the tail of fish-shaped Long Island. Its slogan is: “Montauk, a quaint little drinking town with a fishing problem”. Being fond of both pastimes, I frankly don’t know how we could have overlooked it all these years.

Driving around one evening, my attention was caught by the sign for the “Liar’s Saloon”. Chris’s eye was caught by the little sign underneath that read “Dollar Drafts”. We concluded that this was a must-stop spot. It was late August, right about the time of day when the happy hour crowd was winding down but the night owls had yet to come and roost. We snagged a couple of stools at the bar and looked around.

The place was a shrine to the sea. Photos of grinning fisherman displaying prize catches beamed down from the walls. The anglers in the pictures were carefully posed so that the perspective of the shots made the fish seem enormous. Their real life counterparts (the people, not the fish) hunkered together at one end of the bar, their waterproof boots still slick from the day’s catch. The floor and walls were rough-hewn wide boards and glittery little Christmas lights framed the windows around the bar.

All manner of fishing and boating gear, antique and otherwise, were mounted in improbable spots. It effortlessly achieved a décor that some cutely named ‘Day of the Week’ make-believe chain bar could only dream of attaining (‘Whaling Wednesdays’ perhaps?). Authenticity is something we just don’t get enough of in our culture, but The Liar’s Saloon was the real deal.

The bartender, Sue, (or maybe she just looked like someone I once knew by that name) warbled a friendly “What’ll-it-be-folks?” Chris got the dollar draft and I asked for a white wine, dreading the looks I might get for ordering something so wimpy in an establishment such as this. A completely full glass of quite serviceable Pinot Grigio arrived in exchange for an astonishingly paltry sum. I was secretly relieved to find the glass sparkling clean. One can only take so much authenticity.

We contentedly settled in to engage in what anthropologists call participatory observation. There is no better place for this than the local watering hole. Basically this means we gape a while, have a few drinks, and then join in the party. We listened for a bit to tales they told and eventually, as with fisherman everywhere, the lying began. The day’s exploits, the size of the catch, the stories of the ones that got away all spun around us.

As the night stretched on the stories and recollections became wilder and wilder. We heard of dolphins guiding boats through the fog, manatees speaking in tongues, and (most incredible of all) the price the Japanese will pay for tuna. I’m pretty sure the last was true, but you can never tell in the Liar’s Saloon. There was a spell binding all of us with a need to alter the truth. This struck me as okay, because the truth isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. When the evening ended we knew we’d be back.

We returned under unforeseen circumstances. My sister’s husband died that winter, devastating her and her young children. The next weekend we packed her up to get away to the Montauk Manor, a lovely old castle-like hotel featuring a cavernous lobby bejeweled with a string of glowing fireplaces. It was the off-season and all was tranquil.

We proposed a side trip to the Liar’s Saloon. “Let me get this straight”, she said incredulously, “I just buried my husband yesterday and you want to take me to a bar?” We nodded solemnly. “Okay” she agreed. The fishermen and the regulars were all there, but we paid them little attention this time. We comforted my sister and told her it was going to be all right. We all knew it was a lie, but hey, look where we were. The spell was working and we were trying hard to believe.

It had been so relaxing that we returned the next winter. Time had yet to complete its healing, so we decided another detour to the saloon might help.

That’s how we found ourselves blown into the establishment with the fellow bellowing his welcome. We hailed everyone. Most of them were pretty friendly, but I could swear I heard someone mutter, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out”. I figured it was just a friendly word of caution, since it had done exactly that on the way in.

We ordered our drinks and toasted the fishermen (who appeared already toasted) and settled in to chat with some of the other barstool occupants. It was another interesting night. There was a regular patron, a charming guy who used two initials instead of a name (J.R. or K.C. or some such). He bought a few rounds of drinks for all of us and modestly dropped the information that he owned a resort down the road.

We all relaxed, and the fishermen loosened up, and one of them even apologized for the crack about the door. I’m pretty sure he meant it. Sue claimed to remember us, but I’m pretty sure she didn’t mean it.

Mr. Two Initials told great stories, each revealing yet another large business or important position he held (“In my boatyard we use”, “Yes, well as the director of that particular charity I feel”, or “In my Mars Rover construction business we” he drawled). Finally, I asked Sue “Is he for real?” She grinned and winked. “You’ll have to decide for yourself” she advised.

So we sat and we laughed and we spun our yarns. It was great to see my sister lighten up, and I swear she was even flirting with K.C./J.R. at one point. It occurred to me that Sue’s advice about deciding for ourselves could also apply to life, love, and happiness. What did it matter what the facts and details were? There may be lots of great reasons to be sad, but happiness is a thing that you have to decide for yourself. I was delighted to see my sister starting to look like she would choose joy, despite the pain she had been through.

The raw hard truth is a little hard to take sometimes, but the Liar’s Saloon was working its spell and we were the beneficiaries. When we left that night the drunk at the bar drawled a big “Y’all come back now, hear?” Everyone waved and, I swear, the door hit me, “SMACK!” on the way out.