If I possessed the power of premonition in July, I would’ve made a brilliant birthday wish: God, make me a mer-man,I’d pray as I reduced cake-candle flames to smoke. For if I’d undergone an aquatic evolution—say, fins for feet, hooded gills climbing my neck like a stepladder—I’d have adored last Saturday’s weather, by now New York’s summertime norm. Rain sheeted down, the drops like concrete-colored gumballs.
“Luckily, our tent is waterproof!” I told my girlfriend, as enthusiastic as a car salesman angling to unload a clunker. We’d planned to camp in seafaring Greenport, located at the dead end of Long Island’s North Fork. She trained a sleep-crusted eye on the wall of wet gray. “Nuhhhh,” she grunted, grinding her head into a pillow. It was the smart response, but I was damned if the rain consigned me to another afternoon of cleaning our apartment.
“Want to do something stupid?” I asked my friend Aaron. He’s a responsible adult with an irresponsible streak concerning bicycles and brews, so of course I pushed his bad-idea buttons. “We’ll just bike—and drink enough beer so we don’t mind our sodden underwear.” Bingo, I had a travel buddy. So as Tropical Stormy Danny turned the East Coast into muddy soup, we boarded the LIRR (armed with warm, chewy Bergen Bagel everythings) and ventured into the eye of the storm.
“You’re really going to pedal around in that?” a ticket puncher asked, motioning to the rain as if it spouted from a leaky septic tank. “Well, we didn’t ride three hours to stand beneath umbrellas,” I replied, as the train slid into the station. We wheeled our two-wheelers onto the platform, where sideways rain savaged our faces.
“Another awesomely terrible idea, Josh,” Aaron muttered, gripping his slick handlebars. But I did have an ace card up my wet sleeves: “Follow me,” I commanded, as we slogged through ankle-deep puddles to a squat former firehouse ham mered into Greenport Harbor Brewing (234 Carpenter St., 631-477-6681; harborbrewing.com), the North Fork’s first microbrewery.
Upstairs is reserved for grain milling, while the bar-equipped downstairs contains a glass partition providing views of in-process brewing and towering fermentation tanks filled with head brewer D.J. Swanson’s suds. “Care for a sample?” asked a lovely, longhaired beer lady, pointing to the taps like Vanna White.The clock read a quarter past 12. It was drinking time. While Greenport Harbor is barred from pouring pints, guests are permitted four-ounce tastes of each tipple. “Line them up, please,” I said, as we swallowed Greenport’s four-beer roster.
We sipped the honey-sweetened Summer Ale, malty and fruity Harbor Ale, robustly bitter IPA and cocoa-and-coffeetinged Black Duck Porter. The easy-drinking Harbor was hands-down our favorite, so we resolved to return later to grab a growler ($17 including bottle; $12 without). “You know, train drinks,” I told the beer pourer, before heeding her suggestion and slogging to Crabby Jerry’s (111 Main St., 631-477- 8252; crabbyjerrys.com).
Situated on a pier, tent-topped Crabby’s is an archetypal, utilitarian seafood shack: Order at a counter. Grab napkins and plastic cutlery. Then eat yourself into an early heart attack. My fryer-crisped bay scallops were splendidly briny, cork-size nuggets of juicy oceanic pleasure. By contrast, Aaron’s steamers were fresh and butter-drenched, though the clams’ dark, thin siphons extending beyond their shells were disconcertingly phallic, like whatever Lady Gaga’s packing beneath her miniskirt.
“Eat me, Josh, eat me,” Aaron taunted, waving the steamer as menacingly as a pirate flag. I passed, for I was saving stomach space for the dark, sparse Whiskey Wind (30 Front St., 631-477-6179), Greenport’s best—and only—dive bar. Quick tutorial: A whiskey wind is when harsh weather docks a fleet, forcing fishermen to head to the bar to drink away the storm. “Kind of like what you’re doing today,” sassy, good-natured owner Chris Kuhlmann said, pouring $3 pints of Bud. (“The cash discount,” Kuhlmann said—credit cards cause every drink to cost an extra 50 cents.) Befitting its name the Whiskey is a true shelter. While Greenport largely shutters come winter, the Whiskey’s open yearround, serving Hebrew National hot dogs and raucous Saturday-night karaoke from morning light to last call. “Another round?” Kuhlmann asked, sweet as a lollipop. Refusal was no option.We ordered more Bud, grasping the cool pints with pruned fingers.
Two rounds turned into three as the whiskey wind continued blowing, wet and wild. “You know, perhaps the rainstorm isn’t so bad,” Aaron said, as we drank and drank some more, landlubbers as happily stranded as those sea dogs of yore.