Great Dive Bars of New England #2:
The Main Tavern


“When the Falcon was opened in 1973, Elmer Curtie thought his clientele would consist mostly of bus-riders–the terminal next door serviced three different lines: Trailways, Greyhound and Aroostock County.”
Stephen King, (1986)

The Main Tavern occupies an especial place in the hierarchy of Bangor’s bars. It is NOT for the respectable doctors, lawyers and old Yankee families in their Greek Revival and Italianate mansions on West Broadway. Nor is it for the teachers, nurses and shopkeepers who make up the town’s middle classes. The college kids from the University of Maine at Orono avoid it and even fisherman flush with cash on payday will not drink there. People speak of it in judgmental tones and being seen entering it will damage one’s reputation. Mothers when walking down Main Street will cross to the other side and pull their children along; presumably to escape its harmful vapors. It’s seen as a ‘bad’ place and potentially quite dangerous.

Needless to say, I love it.

The Main Tavern opened in 1948 and has been continually owned by the Brountas family. What makes it so unique and supposedly disreputable is that it is right next to the city’s bus terminal.  Bangor is also the final stop on Greyhound’s Northern line. After this, travelers board the Aroostook County line in order to reach impoverished villages spread like a spider’s web towards the distant Canadian border. So, for many people Bangor is the end of the line both literally and metaphorically. They have run away from their past lives, lovers and families to find themselves in an old logging city along the Penobscot. Greyhound stations attract people from all walks of life; including drifters and bums. Down to their last two dollars for a Pabst blue ribbon, they stumble next door into a dimly lit cavern and a smiling bartender. There, they soak up what little happiness they can create amidst a miasmic haze of cigarette smoke mixed with a trace of marijuana and the faint, acrid smell of spilled meth. It’s actually a very friendly place with the companionship you’d expect to find among the dead and damned.

I first ventured into the Main Tavern while on an epic pub crawl in downtown Bangor as a young man. I had been drinking at a respectable Irish pub across the street and asked the bartender where I could find a local place with colorful characters. I said that I wanted a ‘working-class place with people who had no teeth and just enough money left for one domestic beer’. He immediately pointed across the street and said, “That’s the place you’re looking for but it’s not for upscale guys like you.” I should point out that I was wearing grey suit trousers, a blue buttoned-down shirt with a Brooks Brothers striped tie, a double-breasted blazer with gold buttons and matching faux-Gucci loafers (Cole Haan) with gold straps. I conceded his point, took off my tie and unbuttoned my shirt collar. I said, “Now I’m ready” and sailed out the door leaving an astonished bartender behind. I walked across the street, sidestepped past a couple of emaciated townies in trucker hats and flannel and made my way inside.

When stepping inside, I immediately noticed the dark haze of cigarette smoke and Billy Idol wafting through the air. I walked past two gentlemen in Red Sox baseball caps drinking at a little table just inside the bar. As I made my way to the bar on the left, I noticed that the room was actually quite long. There was a pool room in the back with a few, half-interested players. I sat down at the bar and ordered a gin and tonic from the bartender. He immediately asked for my ID, which I of course took as a compliment. I am twenty-nine years old and still get carded regularly. Once he peered at it with the aid of a Maglite, he complimented me on my youthful looks and served me. After taking a first gulp of the house gin (rotgut) I turned and peered into the darkness. The various townies and troglodytes were clad in the best Northern New England garb imaginable! Carhartt jackets, Lee Jeans and Budweiser caps abounded. I watched the pool game for a few minutes and then turned back to the bar to engage in conversation.

The person to my immediate right at the bar was a mature sixtyish woman with a walker and a pink fleece tracksuit. She wore her hair back in a bun, peered out at the world through round glasses and was drinking a Bud Light. We fall to talking and she informed me that she was the owner’s mother-in-law. For the next two hours we discussed Maine culture, politics, race relations and sports. I learned that she had six children and came from a large family herself. Working from the age of fourteen, she had managed to raise a successful family. She reminded me of those tough, working-class Maine women in Stephen King’s fiction. Her mannerisms, slang and accent with its ‘ayuhs’ all resonated within me. In the words of a local author, “It’s not Vacationland for most of us, it’s work your ass off for nothing land.” Maine can be a hardscrabble life but its people are just as tough. I sipped my gin and tonic while listening to her stories about the city and its people and it was with reluctance that I finished my drink and slipped out of the bar at midnight.

The Main Tavern is an institution in Downtown Bangor. Its dark interiors, colorful characters and Eighties jukebox all appeal to me. I am brought back to the New England of my childhood and love it immeasurably. For a good night and wonderful memories, give it a try! You’ll see the real Maine writ large and it will open your eyes.

Rating: Five shots out of five.

About Peter Sayles

Peter Sayles ist eine junge rechtsextremistischem und glühender New Englander