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My Turn: The good old days of the Green Martini

For the Monitor
Published: 2/8/2020 6:00:25 AM

Tucked away in a small space in the lower level of a building on Pleasant Street Extension, was a memento of Concord’s past: the Green Martini restaurant and bar.

During Concord’s well-loved pre-Disneyland Main Street period, there was an abundance of restaurants with loyal patrons who appreciated the intimacy of small, locally owned businesses in the Concord area.

Harry’s Steak House, The Archway, 55 Degrees, Weeks, The Cat ’n Fiddle, Louis’ Diner, Talk of the Town, Carleen’s Cafe, Kennison’s, Garbo’s, Murphy’s Irish Pub, McKenzie’s and the Green Martini were classic examples. Each had their own specific clientele.

By some culinary standards the Green Martini may not have been a gastronomical oasis, but it did offer honest food at reasonable prices. What it may have lacked in imaginative menu offerings it more than made up for in ambiance.

The dining room had a street-facing window that was permanently stained by cigarette smoke but offered patrons an opportunity to watch the comings and goings of locals trudging up the steep sidewalks on Pleasant Street Extension. A small bar was tucked in the rear of the dining room. Large, well-worn faded green vintage leather sofas and chairs greeted patrons as they entered the restaurant.

Tall ceilings, dated lighting fixtures and an unimaginative interior decor gave the place an aura of an old pool hall. No attempt was made to guild the lily.

While other restaurants in Concord were busy filling their decor with faux antique rubbish, the GM had enough of the real stuff to spare.

I never summoned up the courage to try their food offerings, and so I may have missed an opportunity at a serious dining experience. My attraction to the GM was its location and ambiance.

The Green Martini (2002-12) was my celebratory ending to a busy day. After dinner, I would end up at Castro’s Cigar Shop on Depot Street, purchase a San Lotano Bull cigar and then hop on over to the GM.

I would settle into one of the old leather sofas along with a snifter of brandy and light up the cigar. One of the benefits of smoking a fine cigar was its effect of clearing out the riffraff in a bar.

On Jan. 20, 2007, legislation ended several hundred years of the freedom of personal choice by abolishing smoking in most public accommodations because of health concerns. There was a touch of hypocrisy when they forgot to enact companion legislation to prohibit the consumption of alcohol at the same time and for similar reasons. Perhaps the proximity of the N.H. Legislature to many Concord bars may have had something to do with that.

The best part of the Green Martini experience was the number of unusual people who called it home. There were the regulars who sat at the small bar, minding their own business. There were few distractions to keep them from their dedication to discovering the mysteries of a good bourbon whiskey.

Then there were the interlopers, like me. I met a host of interesting people there, including writers and artists, who shunned the tonier watering holes in Concord for the unpretentious character of the GM.

Many bands and musicians played there, including Crazy Chester, The Shady Rill Band from Vermont and Matt Poirier. The open mic nights were popular.

The one impediment to a perfect social experience at the GM was the lack of central air conditioning. It could be a challenge on a warm summer evening.

I miss the Green Martini. It and other restaurants and bars like it are quietly and quickly disappearing as newer and fancier gin mills open in the Concord area.

Market forces will dictate who will survive in a downtown Concord economy that has high rents, high tax burdens, ambient lighting critics and outrageous parking fees. Lifestyle challenges have also contributed to the mortality rates of many small, locally owned downtown businesses similar to the GM.

A kitchen fire in 2012 marked the demise of the Green Martini. I doubt that there were many people who mourned its passing. It was never destined to be a well-loved or memorable dining experience.

In the end, it turned out to be metaphor for how difficult it is for small businesses to succeed in downtown Concord. The gentrification experts in Concord would prefer us to forget the GM and promote larger, newer, glitzier and trendy “see and be seen” restaurants. None of those will ever come close to the special type of nostalgia and genuine grittiness that was the Green Martini.

(Jim Baer lives in Concord.)

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