Thirsty Moose Has A Happy Secret

by Brenda Ann Eckels, aMGC

Tuesday was a crazy day with lots of work, but I had heard a rumor that the Thirsty Moose had open mic on Tuesday evenings, and decided that a little adventure was in order to spice up my otherwise deary day. It turned out to be well worth the expedition.

The Thirsty Moose, with the motto “Live Free, Drink Beer and East Great Food” was easy to find right in the downtown Market Square area. Contrary to popular belief, the area not only has decent parking, but there is a large parking garage in walking distance. In addition, one can park at any one of the area Lafayette / Route 1 mall lots and take the trolley in for only $1.50 a trip (seniors and disabled half fare). There is bus service to a good portion of the rest of the city, and one of the trolleys also serves the transportation hub for out of townees.

President of the multi-owner watering hole, Zachary Kelly, proved to be an easy to talk to guy, but you can tell by his eyes on his tablet he is always keeping a close eye on the place. It’s a fairly full job, as the Thirsty Moose boasts 3 impressive bars, each of which has a large assortment of beers on tap. including more than a few I had never heard of. Upstairs features a “quiet bar” with no blaring TV or stage area – this would make an excellent place for a Meet and greet, and with 50 beers on tap plus an experienced bartender who can do any cocktail you desire, it sets the warm tone for the place. Further in the historic building is a larger bar that also has a good size table height seating are and a huge flat screen TV – easily 8 feet wide, along with some extra screens. While this is not a sports bar per say, you can bet the local Boston and New England teams get plenty of play, especially during important games. This bar is gorgeous with 67 brews on tap, and again great experienced bartenders able to do much more than just pour a cold brew.

The secret jewel of the Thirsty Moose however is the Basement Lounge Room. Already known by area locals for the assortment of bands you can find there on the weekends, this is a large space with another bar with 50 beers on tap, and another bartender well versed in every latest martini and I spotted a great selection of top shelf and lower priced drinks. The great things about the TM Basement is that it is large enough to handle a good sized crowd of partying folks (up to 120), but at the same time has a more intimate feel that is welcoming even to a non-alcohol drinker.

About the only disadvantage the historic building has, like much of Market Square, is that the Basement is not wheelchair accessible, something President Zach Kelly expressed a lot of interest in rectifying once technology and cost bring the ability to allow some sort of adaptation. Having seen the effort the owners have put into creating a gorgeous space with plenty of mingle room upstairs, and a truly multifunctional basement, I have no doubt that at some point in the future they will find some wunderkind architectural student with just the perfect idea to create more disabled access downstairs. As it was, this writer, who is a partial wheel user, found the staff fairly jumping over each other in the effort to assist me in getting safely down the stairs and settled comfortably into the room.

The TM Lounge Basement, in addition to the bar seating, has two separate bar height areas along the walls that have tables large enough for a full meal and a drink, plenty of bar height small tables that are perfect for a romantic couple to share a meal or for a foursome to share drinks and a common appetizer. The décor, a mix of black with red accents and plenty of historical details like the original decorative tin roof, has been enhanced with acoustic tiling and a killer sound system that Zack not so modestly calls “one of the best in the area”.

Once the music got going, I could see that he was not just talking trash, as the balance, pitch, volume, and bass were extremely consistent throughout the room. The stage, with a raised lip even my wheelchair could manage, is roomy enough that it could have handled a band with three lead singers, full drum set, keyboard, and perhaps one or two background singers. It is also large enough to handle some of the classical small ensembles, and even a small jazz or swing band would be able to find room to groove. Boom mics, a great assortment of lighting, while oriented a bit more toward rock bands, still had the ability to take the stage from dim lit Moody Blues to Poetry Slam and up comedy bright with a touch or two from the controls.

Probably the nicest surprise however, was that the TM Lounge Basement also features in the back of the room is a wrap around leather couch easily able to hold a party of 25 or so people comfortably. Think all the fun and glamor of a bachelorette party without the parking headaches, prices or long lines on Landsdown Street.

The Lounge Basement has plenty of flatscreens scattered around, but tonight only the bar one was on with volume set low enough not to interfere with the stage action. The open Mic is run in a very laid back, comfortable, no stress manner by Dana Brearley, who sings and plays electric guitar, and Dave MacLean, who sings and plays acoustic guitar. The two play off each other well, and even when they were obviously trading an inside joke they did so in a way the audience could get it and laugh along. They have a setup with access over wifi to YouTube karaoke and other web based music in case you are a singer who doesn’t carry your own CD of music, plus they collectively boast an incredible range of music they can play while you sing – everything from folk to rock, disco to R &B, and jazz.

The beginning of each evening features a 3 ( or 4 depending on how much humorous commentary they add) set by the duo, who show with each song that they truly enjoy jamming with each other. First up was a great hard hitting cover of the Rolling Stones “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and right off you could tell that these two are fearless at tackling any guitar riff or growling rock anthem vocal. The mood changed when the second song “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon was covered by Dave with a nice bluesy riff done by Dana on the electric. Played a bit more up tempo, but not as staccato as the original gave this a very nice feel I can only describe as “peppy blues”.

Song three, “Free Fallin” by Tom Petty sounded really different as they started with the instrumental beginning extended a bit and played very soft. The slightly slower than original tempo, combined with Dana’s sweet softer vocals (showing well his ability to control it) allowed the listener to almost taste the angst of the lyrics, and the addition later in the sing of Dave’s harmony led to very satisfying finish.

Last of the intro set by the duo was “Moondance” by Van Morrison, which was served straight up like a classic martini. Particularly nice was the bridge from verse 1 to verse 2, handled with aplomb by Dana.

A stop to have a humorous debate about the size of the crowd broke us up laughing. The crowd was smaller than the talent on stage would indicate, but as the evening grew later the room began to fill in with folks who heard the music wafting up the stairs and out to the street each time the door opened.

Of course, the best way to try out an open mic event is to jump right in, so I went up, and using a karaoke YouTube for lyric support and music, belted out one of my all time favorites “Life This Life” by Big and Rich, which garnered me enough applause (and a wolf whistle!) to brave another tune, “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morrisette. This also was greeted warmly, despite the fact I flubbed one line of the lyrics. I like open mic events that give grades and applause for the effort of getting up, even as they certainly do show the appreciation for good music or spoken word.

This evening didn’t have any of of the latter, but the mic and atmosphere is comfortable enough that a slam poet or amateur rapper could easily slide in and get onstage between music acts and fit right in. This is an open mic that any over 21 ex drama club member, choir singer, accordion player, or drummer could ump into and quite possibly find out that they know some of the same songs Dave and Dana know, leading to a 8 person jam session on the stage.

Another performer I liked was twenty something Erik, who hitched up his electric and did “Sweet Home Alabama” by Leanord Skynard with a very nice twang and just a small hint of innocence that made the lyrics more poignant and less redneck beer hall – an excellent version of this classic.

Erik’s second song, “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd had a totally different vibe slowed down and played with just the solo guitar. In some ways it made the lyrics sound more maudlin, and it suited the song well.

By 10:30pm, there was the inevitable small group celebrating a birthday, and these do not go unnoticed by the Dana Dave Duo – all one has to do is let let one of them, or Zach, who prowls around controlling the sound from his tablet, what the happy occasion is and who the lucky person is, and it’s on. Tonight, a lovely young birthday girl got to celebrate turning 21 with the Beatles’ “Birthday” that jumped out of the stage like a rocket “They Say It’s Your Birthday…” hard, biting, fast, and excellently done.

The hilarity, music, and singers continued until I headed out about 11:30pm, still listening to the great sounds floating up the stairs as I waited for a taxi home. I would be remiss however, if I didn’t mention that in addition to being a great bar with a cool Lounge Basement and what could grow to be a fantastic Tuesday night for musicians and poets of all stripes, Thirsty Mouse also has food.

I am not talking here about the typical one page bar food menu. I got there early enough to see one of the brick oven pizzas, piled high with meats and veggies, and ranging in price from $13 to $20, I found them to be more than adequate size for the money. The restaurant also has a great “Sammy” menu, including the “deconstructed” where you can mix meat, cheese, bread, and sauce in dozens of combinations and it comes in a ½ pound for $9.99 or a full pound (enough to share) for $14.99. Unlike many a bar I have been to, they offered some nice things for the vegetarians and vegans too – in particular a Mediterranean Veggie Wrap with hummus, tomatoes, cucumber, shredded carrots, field greens, and red onions (Vegans can hold the feta cheese). Finally, I saw with relief that they also offered a chalkboard list of more than one gluten free option.

The Beer Bites Menu takes a full page, and along with the usual favorites, again, the vegetarians among us were not forgotten, with a Hummus and Tabbouleh Platter for only $7.99. French Canadians in particular will be happy to know that the Thirsty also features Poutine Fries with the rich gravy topped with fresh mozzarella. My ex-mother-in-law would be in heaven, God rest her soul. Another nice touch is that the chicken wings are available in portions from dieting gal to lumberjack. There is an impressive list of 12 different dipping sauces for those and other appetizers…next time, I am curious as to what exactly “Western Apricot” might taste like on french fries instead of ketchup.

I had the garlic knots which was a great portion of 8 very generous pizza dough knots liberally brushed with butter and garlic and served with a spicy definitely-not-your-average marinara sauce. Usually the app comes with hand shredded Parmesan on the knots, which for those who like cheese must be simply divine. The dessert menu is a little small with 4 items, but considering the burgers, fish and chips, and other offerings, along with what looked like very generous portions on the various plates I saw, I think it is reasonable that cheesecake, peanut butter pie, fried dough balls, and Boston Cream Pie be the choices to finish a meal.

I am not sure how the restaurant handles functions and young ones in general, but there must be some times when families can come in as they had a cute, reasonably priced kid’s menu with the mac and cheese, pizza, hot dog, and chicken fingers that are any toddler or school age kid’s staples. $6.50 includes the meal and a glass of milk.

Times are tough for a lot of folks, even though the “recession” is supposedly over. It is just not enough to sit there in your cubicle on Tuesday and hope for the night of Hump Day to get through the week. Change it up. Grab the guitar, harmonica, song list, poem, or whatever, bring a few dollars, and head to the Lounge Basement at Thirsty Moose on Tuesday nights from 7 to whenever. Take all the workplace stress out on a killer riff or great anthem song, sing something silly and fun, or shock the crowd with up to the minute slam poetry that has a razor edge. Shock your twenty something kids, still living at home, with a great rendition of Pat Benatar or Dire Straights. Shock your oh-so-old parents with Pink’s “Perfect”. Dare your date to add to that jazz number with the trumpet they play so well. Or, just sit back, enjoy one of 50 different beers, and listen, dance, laugh, and enjoy. Your week will seem to fly by that much faster, trust me. *