In the Paddock

Come see your friends. Or is it #comeseeyourfriends?

Regardless, one of the litany of catchy taglines, catchphrases or, ahem, hashtags, put out by our friends at Henry Street Taproom could not have rung more true over the last few days.

Normally they appear Sunday morning, encouraging late-night Saturday imbibers to head down for brunch. Clear your head – with a Bloody Mary, or maybe an IPA or two – and see your friends.

We’re friends with the crew at Henry Street, the name of the road the passes behind my house and also my local maybe a quarter-mile from the backyard. By we I mean me, Joe and Sean, who let off steam and get a good beer and a better meal at the Taproom more times than we can count every summer. It’s our release, our free time, our chance to take a breath.

Ryan McFadden, who owns and runs it with his wife Sonja, is a friend and by extension so are members of our teams and families.

We taped some awesome podcasts last summer, if you need a little diversion during the lockdown. Just cue up “Back On The Table” wherever you consume that sort of thing and you’ll have a good idea about what our two very different businesses – yet similar – are all about.

While word of the spread of Coronavirus trickled in late last week and into the weekend, complete with sensible recommendations to stay in and practice social distancing, I couldn’t help but think about what things might be like if it all went away.

Sunday afternoon, after a 7-mile run with the Saratoga Stryders and a couple IPAs at Unified Beerworks in Malta, it hit me.

“What if things shut down tomorrow?”

Walking out the backdoor and spotting my neighbors Scott and Janice, out for a walk with their dog Charlie, I said the same thing.

“What if things shut down tomorrow? Might as well go for one more burger and a beer at Henry Street.”

Off I went, the monstrous quarter-mile or so trek down Henry Street, past the 1960s era apartments and the in-process construction project next to Four Seasons, soaking up the warm sun of a late-winter March afternoon.

All was relatively quiet walking into the Taproom just after 4:30 – every seat at the bar empty and only a party of two at one of the hightops in the main room, but a raging fire in the corner. Oh, the wintertime fires at the Taproom. Summertime patrons, you’re truly missing out.

A few more groups came and went, while I enjoyed a Taproom Burger, fries and a few IPAs at the bar, chatting with Dylan, Dave and other members of the team with extra time to spare. Walking out into the early evening sunshine after an hour and half didn’t bring a ton of nostalgic feelings – we were still under state guidelines to keep groups of 50 or less or for businesses to operate at 50 percent capacity. Surely there would be more chances to dash down the street for a cold one or two if the fridge was light or a trip to E.B.I. too far removed.

Everything changed, again, Monday morning when the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut governors issued a joint statement that called for restaurants and bars – and other businesses that include theaters and casinos – to close by 8 p.m.

“Well, I’m glad I went last night.”

Fast forward a few hours, past starting and stopping projects and assignments that should have been long completed, watching the latest non-confidence-building White House press conference and after wrapping up a phone chat with former Saratoga Special teammate Ben Gowans, the next move seemed natural. Maybe it was a social media post earlier in the day - #quarantineisbackonthetable among them - that helped.

Go see your friends.

Walking down to Henry Street again – the first time outside all day, after practicing some social distancing – made me wonder what it might be like. Will it be sad? Happy? Like a going-out-of-business sale? A goodbye party?

Turns out a little like all that, and more.

Walking in just before 6:30, T-minus 90 minutes before Coronavirus and Cuomo pulled the plug, and not a spot at the bar could be found. Thankfully one of the handful of hightops was open, next to the server station and facing the bar, so I settled in after Dave handled his mandated sanitization of the space.

Regulars ringed the bar. Drew and Ryan held court, slinging beers and drinks, and Dave handled the room. If you didn’t know better you’d think it was just a normal, maybe a little slow, late-winter night in Saratoga.

Regulars came and went throughout the short span, saying farewells, but not exchanging any handshakes or hugs; elbow and fist bumps all the rage. Todd Shimkus, head of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, stopped in for his farewells and a much-needed farewell beer. Hey Todd, thanks for the generosity.

Dave talked about his upcoming wedding – set for mid-May – and how he’d pass the time after last call came and tomorrow started anew. He said he’d reconnect with his art – a smart move, he’s the goods – and spend some time outside, trail running with his dog. Maybe some cooking, something I confessed wasn’t all that thrilling after texting my sister over the weekend that “I’ve become so bored with the lack of sports that I’ve resorted to cooking.”

Ryan fielded calls and texts all night, the duties of the small business owner dealing with all the issues never seen by corporate America, but kept things positive. He lamented that the governor’s mandate “closed by businesses,” a fact considering the minutes he’d be able to generate any revenue from the Taproom and Flatbread Social next door were dwindling.

Eventually everyone filed out, the last of the embers from the corner fireplace died out and Ryan, Drew and Dave were left behind the bar. The chalkboard at their backs provided options to pour but no one to serve.

Somebody made a joke with a Scottish accent.

“If it’s not Scottish it’s crap.”

“You know, that movie is one of the most underrated movies out there.”

And off the conversation went.

Eventually a Caddyshack joke wound its way into the conversation.

“Oh this is the worst looking hat I ever saw. What, you buy a hat like this you get a free bowl of soup, huh? Oh, it looks good on you though.”

Here’s hoping for a return to normal sometime soon, very soon. Be safe guys, you’re the best.

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