Barfly on the Wall

S heppard’s Tavern in Guilford (map) is a place of spoken rules and unspoken corollaries. Along with beer, sports and music stuff, the walls are sprinkled with tough decrees: “Bartender is always right.” “Stop global whining.” Around an image of a guitarist giving customers the finger: “No tabs / Cash only / ATM in the back.”

But within those boundaries, a kind of libertarian spirit thrives. Swearing, as you may have guessed, is very allowed. “No way you’re fuckin’ payin’,” one customer told a friend who’d started to reach for his wallet after ordering a beer. “Fuck you!” a mother said to her daughter after a joke, each of them giggling and sipping a vodka soda.

The TVs were tuned to college basketball and pro hockey, with pool and darts available in back. Communal baskets of popcorn sat on the bar, where elbows have sanded through the gloss and stain and are now working their way through the wood. Among all the stuff climbing the walls was a new decoration: a painterly image of a European noble, all frilly and foppish in his officer’s uniform. Turns out it’s a joke portrait of a regular named Jason, his smiling face looking completely soused.

The story behind the portrait emerged as the bartender and many of her customers talked like old friends about recent trips, local crushes, official COVID guidance, personal cannabis guidance. Their similar accents and affectations, which I’ll recklessly summarize as Brooklynite meets Bostonian, felt rooted to the spot.

The “New York-style” pretzel I ordered ($4) was even saltier than the bar itself; I had to shave away about 90% of the white stuff. On the side, the “Shepp’s spicy mustard” felt like house-made salsa mixed with store-bought mustard. Somehow it worked. Despite a handful of craft beers on tap, a basic selection of liquors and, in the bar’s daintiest touch, a number of wine selections and specials written out in chalk, I kept my head down and went with a draft Bud Light ($4), which was cold and frothy with a pleasing half-inch of foam.

Bar Rescue would have a thing or two to say about a thing or two, including a microwave visible from the bar and ice scooped from a zip-up cooler. But in my best attempt at a Sheppard’s accent, I say: If it ain’t fuckin’ broke, don’t fix it.

Sheppard’s Tavern
5 Water St, Guilford (map)
(203) 458-7477

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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Dan has worked for a couple of major media companies, but he likes Daily Nutmeg best. As DN’s editor, he writes, photographs, edits and otherwise shepherds ideas into fully realized feature stories.

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