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Biden's visit to city can't hold a candle to reopening of Dutch Tavern

New London — An unintended consequence of a global pandemic comes from the lyrics of Joni Mitchell, who before she lamented paving paradise to put up a parking lot, observed the following:

"Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you got till it's gone."

This is perhaps the pandemic-related lesson the universe wanted to reiterate for the last 14 months: We are hardwired for social interaction. We all need each other. And one of the places many of us turn for live social contact is the neighborhood bar, if to watch the game, solve the world's problems or simply unwind and converse.

And so while the president was speaking to our corner of the world Wednesday, the Dutch Tavern, a city institution, was reopening simultaneously. The more worthy newsmaker?

Biden Schmiden.

The Dutch is back!

Cue Handel's Hallelujah Chorus and set up Schaefers all around. Huzzah, huzzah.

It had been since St. Patrick's Day, 2020, that the iconic community canteen on Green St., est. 1933, was open for business. It returned Wednesday. And it was a good day.

Ellie Corey and co-owner Peter Detmold were behind the bar. Burgers on the grill. Twins-White Sox matinee on TV. Patrons at the bar and tables.

Dear Dutch: We missed you and we need you.

Detmold, who was answering your humble narrator's questions while flipping the occasional burger, looked somewhere between surprised and quizzical at the questions. Totally understandable. I've never been a regular. So why all the interest now?

Cue Joni Mitchell. You don't know what you got till it's gone. New London is blessed with three such iconic precincts where the euphoric nectar flows: The Dutch, Mr. G's and the Birdseye. Combined, they've been opened nearly 200 years.

Maybe they're just bars and restaurants to some. But they are where neighborhood stories get told. Reunions happen. Friends gather. Games are watched. Televisions are cursed at. Coaches and politicians commiserate and celebrate. Problems momentarily dissipate. And they sure beat staring into a phone.

Nobody ever captured the Dutch's distinction better than my colleague and friend Rick Koster, who wrote once in The Day how "we fell comfortably under the spell of the place — with its tiny, train-car dimensions; the carved wooden bar; the pressed-tin ceiling; the small, sports- or "Jeopardy"-attenuated television hanging in one corner; eight beer taps tight-roping between solid craft brews and mainstream lagers the latter guaranteeing, as Detmold firmly believes, that a working-person should always be able to get a glass of brew in a neighborhood bar for a helpful buck-twenty-five."

You may not order an Amaretto Sour at The Dutch. You get beer or wine. They used to have Schaefer on tap, which you may remember is the one better to have when you're having more than one. There is no Wi-Fi. But there are several newspapers. (A newspaper is a printed publication issued daily and commonly contains news, sports, features, commentary and advertising, in case the word is unfamiliar.)

There is lunch, including Detmold's A-level chili every Thursday. But there is also beef jerky and hard boiled eggs, the staple of any good gin mill. It is cash only, evidenced by the sign that says "cash only" next to a photo of Johnny Cash. There is some sports memorabilia, mostly reflecting Detmold's love of the San Francisco Giants, including an autographed photo of Orlando Cepeda.

There is no music blasting at The Dutch. It's the sounds of conversation, the ballgame and the great Alex Trebek, before the pandemic hit. Locals often gathered weeknights at 7 to Jeopardy and play along.

The Dutch is homage to the old days, a monument to why they teach history in school. The walls and shelves are awash in old-time beer cans and bottles. Rheingold, Pabst, Iron City, Ballantine, Ruppert Knickerbocker, Iroquois, Narragansett, Genesee. Detmold even told the story Wednesday of a pre-Prohibition beer in Brooklyn named Dutch Tavern.

Maybe there was some symmetry in Biden's appearance in New London on the same day the conscience of the city reopened. Biden and other leaders pine for the days of returning to life as we used to know it. There are few places that stand for how life oughta be than the 81-year-old Grande Dame of the city.

You don't know what you got till it's gone? No longer. How fortunate we are to have The Dutch, G's and The Eye among us. We raise a glass and salute them all in the name of neighborhood, camaraderie and friendship.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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